Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme
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Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme information
One of Rome's great unheralded museums, this is a fabulous treasure trove of classical art. The ground and 1st floors are devoted to sculpture with some breathtaking pieces – check out the Pugile (Boxer), a 2nd-century-BC Greek bronze; the graceful 2nd-century-BC Ermafrodite dormiente (Sleeping Hermaphrodite); and the idealised Il discobolo (Discus Thrower). It's the magnificent and vibrantly coloured frescoes on the 2nd floor, however, that are the undisputed highlight.
The 2nd-floor fresco panels illustrate a range of natural, mythological, domestic and erotic themes, according to the rooms they were originally placed in. There are intimate cubicula (bedroom) frescoes, which feature religious, erotic and theatre subjects; and delicate landscape paintings from the dark-painted winter triclinium (dining room). Particularly breathtaking are the frescoes (dating from 30 BC to 20 BC) from Villa Livia, one of the homes of Augustus' wife Livia Drusilla. These cover an entire room and depict a paradisaical garden full of a wild tangle of roses, pomegranates, irises and camomile under a deep-blue sky. They once decorated a summer triclinium, a large living and dining area built half underground to provide protection from the heat.
The 2nd floor also features some exquisitely fine mosaics and rare inlay work.
In the basement, the unexciting-sounding coin collection is far more absorbing than you might expect, tracing the Roman Empire's propaganda offensive through its coins. There's also jewellery dating back several millennia, and the disturbing remains of a mummified eight-year-old girl, the only known example of mummification dating from the Roman Empire.
Note that the museum is one of four that collectively make up the Museo Nazionale Romano. The ticket, which is valid for three days, also gives admission to the other three sites: the Terme di Diocleziano, Palazzo Altemps and the Crypta Balbi.