The Centrale Montemartini Museum is one of my favorite museums in Rome, and a place I enjoy visiting whenever I want to get away from the tourist crowds of the historic center, or when I want a break from the summer heat. I love visiting on rainy days too!
Tourists often overlook it – after all, it’s not located along the main tourist track (though it’s very easy to reach on public transport). Significantly lesser known compared to places such as the Vatican Museums, Borghese Gallery or Doria Pamphilj Gallery, this is actually an incredible place to spend an afternoon browsing ancient Roman statues in a truly unique exhibition place.
If you find it intriguing, continue reading. In this post, I will share everything you need to know before visiting Centrale Montemartini Museum.
The History Of The Centrale Montemartini Museum
Today part of the Capitoline Museums, the Centrale Montemartini Museum began life as a temporary exhibition in the late 1990s, when it played host to an antique sculpture collection while the Capitoline Museums were undergoing renovations. However the temporary exhibition proved to be a hit, and it became a permanent fixture in Rome’s cultural landscape.
Head over to my post A Guide To Visiting The Capitoline Museums.
The building, however, is unusual. While much of Rome’s ancient art is showcased in purpose built museums and ornate palazzi, the Centrale Montemartini Museum is actually housed in a former power plant.
Situated on Via Ostiense, the power plant was first inaugurated on the 30th June, 1912, as the Montemartini Power Plant. Named after Giovanni Montemartini – an Italian politician who died during a debate in the council chamber in 1913 – it was the first of its kind to open in Rome and provided electricity to the city.
The power plant was built in the industrial Ostiense Marconi area in the south of the city, near the banks of the River Tiber. Inside the building, there were two enormous steam turbines, as well as diesel engines, which powered Rome’s electricity.
It escaped both Allied bombing and Nazi sabotage during World War II, and by the end of the war, it was the only power plant left in the city that could be relied upon for power.
But after only half a century of use, the Montemartini Power Plant was deemed no longer economically viable and was decommissioned in 1963. The enormous turbine hall and boiler rooms were left abandoned; some spaces were used as warehouses, but proposals for demolishing the entire complex were considered.
Thankfully, however, towards the end of the 1980s, the company that owned the power plant settled on the idea of restoring the building instead, transforming it into a space for exhibitions with the remaining rooms being utilized as office space, laboratories and warehouses.
In 1995 the Capitoline Museums underwent renovations. During this time, those in charge of the artworks at the storied museums did not want to remove the pieces from public view. Instead, they utilized the former power plant as a backdrop for their ancient sculpture collection.
This spurred on the use of the industrial space as a museum (much like the Tate Modern in London) and instead of being merely a temporary space, it was decided that it would become a part of the Capitoline Museums outright.
The official museum spaces were inaugurated in 1997, with the landmark exhibition Macchine e Dei, a reference to the classical pieces against the modern industrial space. Fast forward to November 2016, and the Centrale Montemartini Museum underwent further expansion; former Boiler Room No. 2 was opened to the public, which is where the ornate carriages of the Papal Train are kept.
A year later, another room opened, dedicated to Sarcophagi of the Imperial Age, given the name “From the Myth to the Miracle.”
Let’s now look into more detail what you can see when visiting the Centrale Montemartini Museum.
What To See When Visiting The Centrale Montemartini Museum
The power plant
Entering the museum, visitors are greeted with vast rooms that are lined with compressed air canisters; gigantic pillars of reinforced concrete like modern day Corinthian columns line the space. Scattered around are statues of ancient gods, sharing the rooms with hulking industrial elements, showcasing the long history of Rome, from white, shining marble to dark machinery.
It’s a fascinating contrast that was applauded in 1997, when it first opened, and still wows anybody who walks through the museum’s doors to this day.
With 400 ancient statues among other ancient artwork to see, many excavated between the 1890s and the 1930s, it helps to know a little bit about what you’re looking at. Continue reading!
Copies of Greek originals
Located in the Hall of the Machines, the copies of Greek originals here were discovered in a number of private residences of the 1st century. The marble statues, depicting various figures and gods of antiquity, are laid out around the enormous diesel engines and a steam turbine.
These provide an interesting insight into ancient art in Rome. From these sculptures, not only is it clear that ancient Romans had a penchant for collecting art that was already historic, from the ancient Greek world, but that they also paid great attention to creating faithful but stylized copies of the originals.
The copies themselves date from around the first century, with originals stretching to the fifth century BC. To create these copies, Romans would create precise molds, take accurate measurements, and use a range of specialized tools to copy the Greek art.
These “new” versions of the ancient statues would be slightly different, however, as they were often made to suit the buyers’ tastes and would reflect the fashions of the era.
One of the most interesting things about visiting this particular gallery is the placement of the original Greek statues alongside the Roman copies. This way, visitors get to see exactly how these ancient works of art differ from each other.
Here you can see a range of subjects depicted, from a Hellenistic portrait of Cleopatra to a sculpture of a boxer. They were found in a variety of spots, such as the Flaminio Circus, Theatre of Pompey, Temple of Apollo Sosianus and Largo di Torre Argentina.
I volti della Repubblica
The Hall of Columns, situated on the ground floor of the museum, is where you’ll find discoveries that date back to the era of the Roman Republic (509 to 27 BC). Part of this room is I Volti della Repubblica, a long gallery filled with sculptural portraits of Romans from various walks of life, mostly dating the first century BC.
Walking through this gallery, visitors come face to face with Romans that lived in the city over two thousand years ago: busts of slaves, plebeians and the likes of Agrippa and Augustus. Many of these are taken from funerary reliefs carved on their tombs.
There’s also a statue entitled Barberini wearing a toga, in which the subject holds up busts of two ancestors, illustrating the link to the origins of his family.
Many of these busts were discovered in the ancient Necropolis of the Esquiline, which was the largest proto-historic burial site in Rome and was in use until the first century AD. The burial site is particularly interesting because of the grave goods that were discovered there – jewelry and other riches as well as fine weaponry, which points to the existence of an elite warrior class.
Also in this part of the museum are two side rooms, which host discoveries from the Imperial Age. In one room, you’ll find the funerary equipment of the Crepereia Tryphaena. This young Roman woman lived in the city sometime between the middle of the second and the third centuries, and died aged approximately 20 years old.
Her sarcophagus was discovered during works for constructing the Palace of Justice and the Umberto I Bridge in 1889. When it was discovered, the sarcophagus was still sealed, and the members of Crepereia Typhaena’s family were named on it; the marble case is engraved with a deep bas relief, thought to tell the story of her death.
Funerary equipment discovered inside included gold ornaments, but most interestingly, an ivory doll, which was placed next to her remains; the doll is beautifully made and has hinged limbs.
In the second room lie a number of Roman sarcophagi, and the funerary equipment discovered in them, that date from the middle of the second to the beginning of the fourth.
The Train of Pope Pius IX
In Boiler Room No. 2 you’ll find one of the more modern pieces in the museum. It’s also one of the largest. Divided into three sections by rows of enormous concrete pillars, and set across two levels, this room was renovated in order to house this permanent exhibition of the carriages of Pope Pius IX’s papal train.
Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti became Pope Pius IX on 16th June, 1846, and would go on to be the longest reigning pope, in power until his death in 1878. Pope Pius IX was convinced of the role that railways would play in the development of Europe in the decades to come.
Following his election, the pope ordered the construction of a number of railways that linked Rome with prominent cities in the Papal States.
The train on display in the museum was built in 1858 and was given as a gift to the pope. Pope Pius IX made his first voyage on this locomotive in 1859, traveling in plush luxury from Porta Maggiore train station to Cecchina station in Albano.
Following the capture of Rome in 1870, the papal train was left on the railway sidings, before being moved to Termini station where it was stripped of a number of its decorations. It wasn’t until 1911 that it was considered an important artifact and was thankfully restored by the Italian State Railway.
Today the carriages, in all their elaborate, golden glory, are on show for all to see – a must for any rail fan.
Colossal Statue of a Female Deity
In the Hall of Machines, visitors can also glimpse the impressive remains of a once colossal statue. The fragments of this once giant statue, thought to have been eight meters in height, were discovered at the Largo di Torre Argentina site, where a number of Republican-era temples were situated. Specifically, they were found near a temple referred to as “temple B”.
The statue, dating back to 101 BC, is believed to be the temple’s cult icon and is thought to be a depiction of Fortuna Huiusce Diei. Meaning roughly “Today’s Fortune,” this is an aspect of the goddess Fortuna. Though you cannot see the statue in its entirety, the deity’s head, arms and feet can be seen at the museum.
Also situated in this area of the Hall of Machines is the Statue of a seated muse, but this is thought to have come from the nearby Theatre of Pompey rather than any of the temples at Largo di Torre Argentina.
Statue of Marsyas
Discovered at the ancient Villa delle Vignacce, this poignant sculpture was unusually carved out of red marble.
The villa, situated on Via Latina in the Parco degli Acquedotti, once belonged to the wealthy brick-manufacturer Quintus Servilius Pudens who worked for the imperial court. He was particularly prominent from 123 AD, through the second half of Emperor Hadrian’s reign (until 138).
The statue was discovered only in 2009. It depicts the satyr Marysas, who is hanging in a tree waiting to be flayed by the god Apollo. According to the mythology surrounding Marsyas and Apollo, the two had a contest regarding who could play their instrument better, Marsyas on his aulos (a kind of flute) or Apollo on his lyre.
The stories differ as to what actually happened during the contest, but Apollo won and flayed Marsyas alive for having the arrogance to challenge a god. The statue is noted for its pathos to the scene in relation to the expression on Marsyas’ face, rather than a celebration of Apollo’s deeds.
Practical Info About Visiting The Centrale Montemartini Museum
Centrale Montemartini Museum opening times
Centrale Montemartini Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm (closed Mondays). On 24th and 31st December, the museum is open from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. The museum is not open on 1st January, 1st May or 25th December.
The final admission is one hour before closing time.
Centrale Montemartini Museum tickets
The admission fee is €10 for adults, concessions are €9, allowing you access to exhibitions at the time. For general admission, excluding special exhibitions, the fee is €7.50 (adults) and €6.50 (concessions). A combined ticket for Centrale Montemartini Museum and the Capitoline Museums is €18, concessions are €16.
You can purchase tickets directly at the door, though the website of the museum highly recommends prebooking your admission online here. There is an additional €1 fee for online bookings.
Finally, the museum is also included in the list of places you can access with a Roma Pass, which is available for purchase here.
Should you get a guided tour?
For those who want to get a deeper insight into the pieces on display at the Centrale Montemartini Museum, a guided tour is a great option. A guided tour service (lasting 90 minutes) is provided by the museum and is available in several languages.
Guided tours need to be arranged in advance by calling +39060608 – it’s a general number for guided museum tours in Rome and you will have to specify which museum you wish to visit. The cost of a tour is €90 in total (not per person), so it turns out relatively cheap if you are visiting in a group.
You can also download the app MiC Rome to guide you around the museum. For more information, click here.
You won’t have to go through a security check to enter the Centrale Montemartini Museum. Keep in mind that certain belongings are not allowed to be taken into the museum, such as umbrellas and bulky bags or backpacks. There is a cloakroom (free of charge) however. Note also that consuming food and drink is prohibited.
Is photography allowed?
Photography is allowed at the Centrale Montemartini Museum. However, the use of flash or tripods is not permitted. At special exhibitions, photography is forbidden, and across the entire museum, video cameras are not allowed.
There are two sets of bathrooms on the Piano Terra of the Centrale Montemartini Museum. There is also a disabled bathroom.
Due to the original character of this industrial building, there may be some limitations for disabled visitors. The museum has worked to create access to the collection for all members of the public, however, and much of the Centrale Montemartini Museum is accessible for those with disabilities or those who use a wheelchair. Elevators take disabled visitors to upper levels.
How to get there
The Centrale Montemartini Museum is located in the Ostiense district of Rome, and close to the Garbatella district. The exact address is Via Ostiense 106.
The closest metro station is Garbatella, which you can reach via Metro Line B (it has stops in Termini Station and also at the Colosseum); after this, the museum is just a 12-minute walk away from Garbatella metro station. Roma Ostiense metro is also around a 13-minute walk away from the museum. The nearest bus stop is Ostiense/Garbatella, served by route 792.