Capitoline Museums

Lonely Planet review

Dating to 1471, the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini), the world's oldest national museums, houses one of Italy's finest collections of classical sculpture. Crowdpleasers include the iconic Lupa capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) and the Galata morente , a moving depiction of a dying Gaul warrior. There's also an excellent picture gallery with masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto, van Dyck, Rubens and Caravaggio.

The entrance is in Palazzo dei Conservatori, where you'll find the original core of the sculptural collection on the 1st floor and the Pinacoteca (picture gallery) on the 2nd floor.

Before you head upstairs, take a moment to admire the ancient masonry littered around the ground-floor courtyard, most notably a mammoth head, hand and foot. These all come from a 12m-high statue of Constantine that originally stood in the Basilica di Massenzio in the Roman Forum.

Of the sculpture on the 1st floor, the Etruscan Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) is the most famous. Donated to the Roman people by Pope Sixtus IV, the 5th-century-BC bronze wolf stands over her suckling wards Romulus and Remus, who were added in 1471. Other highlights include the Spinario , a delicate 1st-century-BC bronze of a boy removing a thorn from his foot, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Medusa . Also on this floor, in the modern Exedra of Marcus Aurelius, is the original of the equestrian statue that you see in the piazza.

Upstairs, the Pinacoteca contains paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Reni, Van Dyck, Rubens and Caravaggio. The Sala Santa Petronella boasts two important works by Caravaggio: La buona ventura (The Fortune Teller; 1595), which shows a gypsy pretending to read a young man's hand but actually stealing his ring; and San Giovanni Battista (St John the Baptist; 1602), a sensual and unusual depiction of the New Testament saint.

A tunnel links Palazzo dei Conservatori to Palazzo Nuovo on the other side of the square via the Tabularium, ancient Rome's central archive, beneath Palazzo Senatorio.

Palazzo Nuovo contains some real show-stoppers. Chief among them is the Galata morente (Dying Gaul), a Roman copy of a 3rd-century-BC Greek original that touchingly depicts the anguish of a dying Frenchman. Another superb figurative piece, although of a very different nature, is the Venere Capitolina (Capitoline Venus), a sensual yet demure portrayal of the nude goddess.