While in Rome, there are many different museums that you can visit, each with their own unique view of Ancient Rome and the Renaissance.
With my Roman Art and Architecture class, my professor Dr. Corrado took my class on many different museum trips throughout Rome that were very easily accessible.
I am going to highlight my three favorite museums on Ancient Rome, but there are also countless other Renaissance museums and ancient structures that you can visit in Rome. If you want a more comprehensive list of the best museums, monuments, and attractions to see in Rome, check out this map:
Museum #1: The Vatican Museum
As I mentioned in Dovè Papa Francesco? The Vatican!, the Vatican City holds one of the largest and most elaborate collections that show the beauty of Ancient Rome.
The Vatican Museum holds countless Roman statues depicting the different hairstyles and clothing that the Romans wore throughout their time. While all of these statues are currently white, they were painted in ancient times. There is one statue that the Vatican has that has the eyes painted so tourists can get an idea of what the statue would look like.
The Vatican Museum also holds one of the only original bronze statues. Many bronze statues were torn down and melted so there are only copies of those statues today. The bronze statue that the Vatican Museum has is called Hercules of the Forum Boarium. They found the bronze statue buried in the ground to protect it from being stolen and melted down.
The Vatican Museum also contains paintings of maps of the world, tapestries depicting the life of Christ, a collection of Rafael paintings, and the Sistine Chapel of course.
If you really want to see the Sistine Chapel in all of its glory, I suggest trying to go to the night hours at the Vatican Museum because it is much less crowded. If you want to learn more about the history and the secrets behind the paintings in the Sistine Chapel, I suggest checking out this book:
The Vatican Museum is massive so plan to spend either a whole day in the Vatican or go back for multiple visits, but most of all enjoy all the history that is contained there.
Museum #2: The Capitoline Museums
The Capitoline Museums contain some of the most well-known statues from Ancient Rome, including one of my personal favorites.
If you’ve read up on the foundation stories of Rome, then you will have heard about the Capitoline Wolf. As you travel around both Rome and Italy you will see depictions of the original statue of the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus as babies underneath her. The original is located inside of the Capitoline Museums. (Fun fact: You can see where the statue was struck by lighting.)
The statue of Marcus Aurelius Exedra is also found in the museum, while a copy of the bronze statue is located in the Piazza outside of the museum. It is a massive statue and very impressive to see all of the details in bronze.
One of my favorite statues though that is found in the Capitoline Museums is the Bust of Commodus as Hercules. After Commudus’ reign as emperor he suffered damnatio, which means that every depiction of his was to be erased and forgotten. During his reign, Commodus believed that he was the incarnation of Hercules and thus had this statue of him sculpted. Despite suffering damnatio, this statue survived buried in the ground and is the only depiction of Commodus that exists.
There are a ton of other great statues and artwork that can be found in the Capitoline Museum, but the best part is the view of the Roman Forum from the museum. If you want to see what the Roman Forum looks like from above, check out the view from the museum.
Museum #3: National Roman Museum
If you want to make a quick stop at a museum before or after you return from Termini, the Museo Nazionale Romano is located right next to Termini.
The museum is well-known for the ancient wall artwork that it contains.
The museum display all different styles of wall painting that were found in the remains of Pompeii. While the First Style is very simple, each style becomes a little more elaborate and creative. If you want to entertain yourself while looking at the wall paintings, try to figure out what style each one is in and believe me when I say the Fourth Style is the easiest to identify (and the ugliest).
In one entire room, are the wall paintings from the Villa of Livia. Livia was the wife of Augustus’, who was one of the most popular and well-known emperors of Rome. Augustus really began what the Roman Empire became known for. The wall paintings from the Villa of Livia depict a garden and cover all four walls.
Fun fact: Most rooms in a Roman household did not contain windows so the rich would paint landscapes on their walls as if to imagine that they were outside.
Definitely check out the paintings from the Villa of Livia because it is absolutely amazing how long they have survived and they are in great condition.