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  • Writer's pictureAman Mehta

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme & Museo Nazionale Romano

What is the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme?

The Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is a 19th-century palace in Rome that houses the most important section of the Museo Nazionale Romano, the large state collection of ancient Roman art.

Palazzo Massimo alle Terme at night

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What’s in the Museo Nazionale Romano at Palazzo Massimo?

Of the National Museum of Rome's four sites, scattered around the city, the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is the star. It hosts some of the museum's finest pieces of Greek and Roman sculpture, but here you will also find mosaics, frescoes, paintings, and jewellery, as well as the world's finest coin collection. The building, constructed under the Jesuit priest Massimiliano Massimo in the late 19th century to house a Jesuit college, imitates the style of early Baroque noble Roman residences. The museum has four display floors including the basement. The latter houses the extensive numismatic collection that traces the evolution of coins from ancient Rome to the present, a must-see for any coin collector.

The second floor, which is dedicated to ancient Roman interior decoration, frescoes and floor mosaics, is undoubtedly the most spectacular and unique of all Roman museums. Entire wall decorations from 1st-century BC to late Roman Empire villas have been reconstructed, rich with colour and bearing strikingly well-preserved designs. Most famous is a reconstruction from the Villa of Livia, the wife of Rome’s first emperor Augustus. Her resurrected dining room is decorated with beautiful murals of an orchard, other trees, and a flower garden. The walls of this room, transported here from a site on the via Flaminia north of Rome, had been frescoed to create an imaginary walled garden with plants, flowers, exotic birds and animals, and fruits of all types. The walls were painted in such a way that the trees furthest from the spectator appear paler than those in the foreground, giving a remarkable sense of depth to the decoration.

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The same floor features several magnificent stuccoes and wall-paintings from another villa of the same period, discovered in 1879 on the grounds of the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere. On striking black, white or red backgrounds, these frescoes depict theatrical masks, mythological scenes, and naval battles.

The ground and the first floor both contain a variety of treasures dating from the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD, many of which are Greek or bear clear Greek influences. A couple of the most notable are the statue of Augustus found in the via Labicana (an ancient road that extended southeast from the city), which portrays the emperor as pontifex maximus (or chief priest), and the fine Portonaccio sarcophagus, with dramatic battle scenes carved in high relief.

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