I designated this day as my museum day, and started first by walking to the Museo Nazionale Romano (National Museum of Rome). It was a great way to start as it wasn’t too crowded and had some really amazing pieces, like a fresco of a garden with birds and pomegranate trees. The whole thing had been removed from its original building and placed in its own room.
Next I went across the street to the Baths of Diocletian (Thermae Diocletiani), formerly the largest of the imperial Roman baths. Part of them was transformed into St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, which I visited on my first day, and other sections were changed into another church and the museum.
While the museum had a great collection of artifacts from the baths and other sites, I thought the most beautiful parts were the rose garden in front and the courtyard in the center, which contained giant stone heads of rhinos, elephants, and horses. However, when I got close to the heads I realized that their mouths were full of black and green, writhing lizards. It was kind of repulsive, but I guess that was the shadiest spot in the courtyard for them.
I stopped by the Palazzo Altemps to see the rest of the National Museum of Rome collection and then wandered around and happened upon the above Elephant Obelisk, officially called the Pulcino della Minerva. The elephant was designed by Bernini and is topped by one of the eleven Egyptian obelisks found throughout Rome, all of which have been Christianized by the addition of a cross or other icon at their peak. This obelisk is in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva), built over a temple to Isis which was mistakenly attributed to Minerva. It still seems to hold some its previous mystical history through its star covered blue ceiling.
There are endless fountains in Rome where you can refill your water bottle or just tilt your head for a drink. I thought the above was the coolest, with water pouring from books around a deer head.
Roman cats are the unpaid guardians of the city’s ruins, most notably at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. About 250 cats live in the temple remains excavated there, stretching out in the shade of columns and steps. This is also the site of the Theatre of Pompey where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.
Next I went to the Centrale Montemartini, an old electrical power station transformed into a museum for ancient Roman statues.
The juxtaposition between the antiquities and the industrial machinery was fascinating. Rome itself is such a mix of old and new that I think displaying the works this way displays the history of the city much better than in a large empty room. I often felt in Rome that I wasn’t in one city, but many cities on top of one another. It’s not like Paris or Berlin or New York where you can look at any corner of the city and feel like you’re in the same place. The Centrale Montemartini really embodied Rome’s multiple incarnations.
From the Centrale Montemartini, I walked to San Paolo fuori le Mura and then got on the metro to the center of town. There was still one last museum I wanted to visit: the Musei Capitolini.
The museum is housed in the massive palaces around the Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. Many of the greatest works of Rome are there, including the iconic Capitoline Wolf, nursing Rome’s legendary twin founders Romulus and Remus.
When I entered the room containing the statue of Marcus Aurelius, there was a swarm of people dressed formally and news reporters and photographers scurrying around. All the activity was around the man in the sash in the picture above. I’m not quite sure who he is, but he must be important. Also, the man behind him seems to be trying the touch the statue. The bronze used to be outdoors on the Piazza del Campidoglio, but now a replica stands in its place.
And here is the sun setting before the replica. I was absolutely exhausted so I sat on the Piazza and watched the sun go down. Then I walked past the evening-lit Roman Forum and got a slice of pizza to take back to the hostel.