On Fridays Through Fall, See the Vatican Under the Stars

Raphael rooms of Vatican museums

If you want to avoid the usual Sistine Chapel crowds, here's one way to do it: Go to the Vatican at night.

For the third year in a row, the Vatican museums are having their "extraordinary opening" from 7pm-11pm. Last year, more than 30,000 people took advantage. And whether your day is completely booked or you'd simply like to see the Sistine Chapel and Laocoön in a bit of a more serene atmosphere, now's your chance.

The museums will be open on Friday nights from now until July 15, and then again from Sep. 2 until Oct. 28. Last admission is at 9:30pm.

The areas open in the museums are the Egyptian museum, Pio-Clementine, Galleries of Tapestries, Candelabra, and Maps, Raphael Rooms, Borgia Apartment, Collection of Modern Religious Art, and, of course, the Sistine Chapel. (There's no guarantee, and it's in fact unlikely, that other areas, like the Pinacoteca, will be open).

Tickets must be booked in advance, so the full-price ticket is €19 (includes the €4 reservation fee), or €12 reduced (students, bring your I.D.s!). Click here to book.

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Ferragosto, When All the Italians Flee Rome

Chiuse per ferie -- a common sign during ferragosto in Rome.
If you've been wondering why more stores and restaurants seem to be closed than they should be in Rome, it's because ferragosto is nearly here.

Ferrogosto — the period when Italians go on vacation, officially starting August 15 — is rooted in ancient tradition. In 18 B.C., Emperor Augustus, Rome's first emperor, instituted the feriae Augusti, or Augustan holidays. Adding to summertime festivals already celebrated, like the Consualia on August 23, the holidays celebrated the end of major agricultural work. Horse races were held; work set aside.

Two thousand years later, the holiday's origins may have dissipated — but the tradition itself continues, under the only slightly-different name of ferragosto. Italians leave the cities and flock to the seaside, taking two, three, even four weeks off work. The result for those of us left in Rome, and for tourists? Seeing door after closed door on local shops, restaurants, and drycleaner's, all with the sign "chiusa per ferie."

In other words: Come back in September.

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Rome’s Best Summer Events: Go Before They End

 Baths
August is upon us — and with it, the winding-down of some of Rome's best summer festivals and events, or "Estate Romana". A recap of Rome's best summer offerings… and when they end:

Ending August 3. The saldi (summer sales). If you miss these, you'll have to wait until January!

Ending August 8. Opera at the Baths of Caracalla (shown above). This year: Aida and Rigoletto.

Ending August 9. The "Roma Incontra Il Mondo" festival with nightly concerts at the Villa Ada, a lovely, enormous park in Rome.

Ending August 15. Rock City, a festival in the Park of the Aqueducts featuring nightly concerts and restaurant stalls. (On the smallish side, but fun).

Ending August 19. Lungo il Tevere Roma, an enormous nightly festival at the Tiber River.

Ending August 31. L'Isola del Cinema, showing films nightly at the island on the Tiber River (both foreign and Italian).

Ending September 4. Nightly jazz concerts at the Villa Celimontana

Ending September 4. All'Ombra dell'Colosseo, a pool (with events like aperitivo and concerts) in the Colosseum's shadow.

Ending September 5. La Forma del Rinascimento ("The Shape of the Renaissance"), with works by Donatello, Bregno, and Michelangelo, at the Palazzo Venezia.

Ending September 5. L’Età della Conquista ("The Age of Conquest"), an exhibit on the founding and Greek influences of the Roman Empire, at the Musei Capitolini.

Ending September 8. Colori dell'Ara Pacis, a light show showing the Ara Pacis as it would have been. Wednesday nights only.

Ending October 3. The Colosseum's Gladiators exhibit.

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The Ara Pacis in Summer: As It Was Meant to Be Seen

Ara Pacis, colored with lasers
On Wednesdays throughout the summer, you can see the Ara Pacis — the elaborately-carved, beautifully-preserved ancient altar dating from 9 B.C. — as it was meant to be seen: with color.

It's hard enough to imagine ancient Rome as it would have been: marble temples, colossal monuments, extraordinary baths. But what most visitors to Rome don't realize is that you have to take something else into account, too. You have to imagine everything painted. That's right: everything. The monuments, the sculptures, the buildings. It wasn't all shining white marble; it was also reds and yellows and blues. And greens and purples and pinks. And….

Ara not coloredThe difference that color makes is dramatic. There may be no better example of that than the Ara Pacis. Created in honor of Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C., the monumental altar symbolizes the peace and prosperity that Ara coloredthe first emperor brought about. When you go to see it at the Museum of the Ara Pacis, it appears elegant and elaborate — but when it was painted, it would have been much more than that. It would have been striking in its vibrance.

Don't believe me? Here's the panel of Aeneas sacrificing to the Penates (the household gods), with color and without, left. The color makes a big difference, no?

From now until September 8, from 9pm to midnight (last entrance 11pm), on Wednesdays only, you can see the Ara Pacis colored as it would have been (or so the best guesses have it) with lasers. At € 8 for the entrance, it's pricier than the usual € 6.50 entrance. But unless you want to get a super-close look, you don't even have to pay: Standing outside the glass-walled Museum of the Ara Pacis might be good enough.

Either way, make sure you see it. It's a special event, and it ends soon.

For more information, click here. For a map, click here.

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Summer Jazz Concerts in Rome's Villa Celimontana

On Palatine Hill, Ancient Frescoes in the House of Augustus

On Hot Summer Nights, a Cool River Festival


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