Winter in Rome: Palazzo Massimo

Over a period of several years, I loved to visit museums. Travelling solo in those days, I visited a variety of museums in cities far and wide. In fact, every time I visited a city or town on my own, I would head to the nearest museum and wander for hours examining the history and heritage of that particular part of the world.

For those of you who are interested in such pursuits, I would comment here that of all the myriad museums I explored worldwide, the most spectacular was undoubtedly the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, where I was so mesmerised by the precious ornaments taken from the tombs of the Pharaohs that I returned for a second look a few years later. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington are also – to my mind – memorable in their own entirely different ways.

Then in Italy, on a smaller and more personal scale and, happily, not packed with tourists, I have been mesmerised by such wonderfully particular finds as the Museo di San Matteo in Pisa (I was the only visitor and it was August!), the Museo dell’ Opera Metropolitana del Duomo in Siena and the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Citta di Cortona.

However, after many, many years of museum visits, I began to suffer from museum ‘burnout’ for want of a better word. After all, how many broken terracotta pots does one really need to see in a lifetime?  So I was delighted to find that it was indeed possible to revive my jaded outlook when I visited Palazzo Massimo in Rome.

In January, we – Tom Weber (The Palladian Traveler) and I – were invited to a blogging event in Rome by Linda Martinez of the Beehive Hostel beside Termini railway station.

This event was organised in order to explore and experience some of the many activities available in Rome during the winter season. Having joined up with Bon Appetour to dine with the locals, explored the Rome cocktail scene with The Roman Guy, eaten our way around Trastevere with Eating Europe and examined many stunningly beautiful cosmatesque mosaics with Personalized Italy, these walking tours were in the process of overheating our FitBits when we joined with our group for a tour of Palazzo Massimo with Context Travel.

This tour of Palazzo Massimo was organised in order to learn about how life was lived in an ancient Roman villa and to see some very famous sculptures. On their website, Context Travel have named it: Projecting Power: Art and Opulence of the Roman Villa.

Arriving at Palazzo Massimo, an interesting building in itself, being a nineteenth century palace built in Neo-Renaissance style, we mounted the first flight of steps to the huge, studded front door.

We then progressed up a marble staircase leading to the first floor where we met up with our guide, a very interesting art historian by the name of Patrizia Sfligiotti.

Patrizia Sfligiotti

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, a branch of the National Museum in Rome, has four floors dedicated to a collection of rare wall frescoes and mosaics that have been recovered from ancient Roman villas. It also contains sculptures, coins and jewellery from ancient Rome.

Patrizia told us how, 2000 years ago, wealthy Romans used to decorate their magnificent villas with sculpture and paintings, leaving us with strong visual evidence of the pleasure they took in poetry, drama and politics. Villa life played an integral part in ancient Roman society.

We began our tour on the second floor with a tour of the ancient villa of Livia, the wife of Augustus, at Prima Porta. This was the highlight of the visit.

We were able to see and photograph the reconstructed living and dining room with the gorgeous painted garden from Villa Livia and the reconstructed rooms from Villa Farnese.

These rare frescoes and floor mosaics were a feast for the eyes and I could hardly believe that they have somehow managed to retain a special feeling of sumptuousness more than 2000 years later.

Descending to the first floor we saw statuary, mainly marble, of, for example, the famous Discus Thrower, the Acrobat, the Sleeping Hermaphrodite and the head of Hadrian with his wife, Vilbia Sabina and a young boy from Bythinia.


For a truly interesting and uncrowded museum – at least when we were there in January – I would highly recommend Palazzo Massimo.

For full details of the Context Travel Tour, click on: Projecting Power: Art and Opulence of the Roman Villa.

Orna O’Reilly

Ostuni, Italy


6 thoughts on “Winter in Rome: Palazzo Massimo

    • Me too. They’re stunning. Really got a feel for the interior of a Roman villa…they certainly didn’t hold back on the bright colours! Well worth a visit. 🙂

  1. I agree. I remember visiting this museum a good 10 years ago now and it was empty at that time, too. As much as I would like such cultural institutions to reach a certain popularity, there’s nothing like having it all to yourself.

    • Absolutely. I find that unless it’s someplace on the tourist trail or if there’s a well publicised exhibition going on, that most museums and art galleries in Italy are empty. Museo di San Matteo in Pisa is a case in point. I was the ONLY visitor there on an August morning, whereas just down the street the queue to climb the Leaning Tower was of epic proportions.

  2. I love Palazzo Massimo and recently blogged about my visit as well-followed up by one on the hairstyles of ancient Roma. It really is hidden in plain sight. Emotions overcome me when I see the Boxer. My other favourite museum in Roma is Centrale Montemartini, also ridiculously undervisited. If you haven’t been, I’m sure you will love it. Ciao, Cristina

  3. Pingback: 2017: Settling Down in Puglia. My Year in Pictures | Orna O'Reilly: Travelling Italy

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