National Roman Museum
The National Roman Museum, home to the world's most important collection of Greco-Roman art, is housed in four different sites – the Palazzo Massimo, the Palazzo Altemps, the Crypta Balbi, and the Diocletian Baths.
Palazzo Massimo holds the premier Roman coin collection in the world, as well as ancient Roman sculpture, mosaics, paintings, and jewelry distributed over three floors.
Designed to look like the Renaissance palace it replaced, the Palazzo Massimo was built between 1883 and 1887 by Camillo Pistrucci for Cardinal and Prince Massimiliano Massimo to house a college run by the Jesuits. During World War II, the building served as a military hospital. It was returned to the Jesuits after the war, but was abandoned a few years later.
The Italian Government bought the structure in 1981, and transformed it into a museum. Since 1998 it has been the seat of the Museo Nazionale Romano, the National Roman Museum.
The coin collection exhibit illustrates the story of Roman money, from its origins to its function in modern times.
Jewelry discovered in ancient burial grounds in Rome and its suburbs reflects the history and evolution of fashion and costume in the Roman Empire. The only known Roman mummy, an eight year old girl found in a tomb on the Via Cassia, is also on display.
The collection of ancient art, covering the ground, first, and second floors of the palace, includes many examples of Roman art dating from the late Republican period to the end of the Roman Empire, as well as several original Greek works discovered during excavations in the Gardens of Sallust in the northwest of the city.
The ground floor includes a rich display of portrait sculpture, mosaics, inscriptions and decorative sculptures, and documents the period after the Greek conquest and the transformation of the Roman State from Republic to a great Mediterranean empire.
The sculpture collection continues on the first floor. Emperor Caligula's bronze ornaments are also located on this floor.
The second floor has an impressive collection of mosaics and paintings from ancient villas, including fine frescoes and stucco designs from a Roman villa found on the grounds of the villa Farnesina, and the barrel-vaulted chamber containing the frescoes from an underground room of the Livia's villa at Prima Porta, which are among the best conserved illustrations of an ancient Roman gardens. The villa was Livia Drusilla's, also known as Livia Augusta, wife and advisor of the emperor Augustus Caesar.
The Palace of Altemps is one of the most interesting examples of the Renaissance architecture in Rome and has belonged to the complex of the National Roman Museum since 1997.
The palace is home to Renaissance and Baroque sculptures such as the famous Boncompagni Ludovisi collection, the rich 16th century collection of Asdrubale and Ciriaco Mattei and the Altemps collection itself. These collections contain noted works of art, such as the Birth of Venus which forms part of the Ludovisi Collection, probably dating back to the fifth century BC.
The sculptures of eastern deities, belonging to the Egyptian collection, are exhibited in one room, and the palace also includes the historic and recently restructured Goldoni Theater, which is used for conferences. It is also possible to see the Church of Sant’ Aniceto, whose construction was commissioned by Giovanni Angelo Altemps in 1603. Sant’ Aniceto is one of the richest churches of Rome and houses a large number of relics and the vestments of Sant’ Aniceto, one of the first Popes.
The Crypta Balbi
Originally a large courtyard annexed to the theatre which Lucio Cornelio Balbo built for Augustus at the end of the first century AD, the Crypta Balbi illustrates the development of Roman society and the urban landscape from antiquity to modern times.
Twenty years of excavation and research have revealed a series of transformations and diverse uses of the structure.
Exhibitions include artifacts recovered from excavations on the site, such as ceramic objects and tools, as well as items from the National Roman Museum proper. Certain objects found at the site of excavations near the theater have been opened to public viewing only recently.
It is also possible to the visit the cellars where one can see the actual crypt and the historical layers of the building structure.
The Diocletian Baths
The Diocletian Baths were constructed by the end of the 3rd Century AD and have been the historical seat of the Museo Nazionale Romano since 1889.
Almost a century after Caracalla gave the Romans his gargantuan Baths, Emperor Diocletian strove to outshine his imperial predecessor by commissioning the largest and most gorgeous bathing establishment the world had ever seen. The construction begun in 298 AD and was completed in 305 AD. Construction involved over 500 slaves.
These baths had a focal role in the Romans' social life – more than just a place for bathing, they were a place for gathering, a cultural center. With its many pools of different temperatures, heated marble toilets, separated areas for men and women, steam rooms, gardens, inns, gymnasiums, art galleries, libraries, and auditoriums, the complex of the Diocletian Baths could hold up to 3,000 people. Inside the complex there were open “exedras” (used perhaps for conference rooms and public readings), wide rectangular rooms (libraries) and circular rooms at the west and south corners, transformed later into the church of San Bernardo alle Terme and into a restaurant with an arena.
A part of the baths was transformed by Michelangelo into the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in in 1561.
The floor that leads to the altar is an original Roman sundial, the church structure itself is breathtaking for its vast size and elegant proportions. Italian state funerals are usually held here, and concerts of religious music are performed here during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
The Diocletian Baths are home to a collection of funereal artworks, such as sarcophagi, and decorations dating back to the Aurelian period. The Baths also have a section reserved for temporary exhibitions.
An important part of the Diocletian Baths, the Octagonal Hall lies at the southwest corner of the central building. It holds the Lyceum Apollo and the Aphrodite of Cyrene, discovered in Cyrene, Libya. Both of these sculptures date back to the 2nd century AD.