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Top Museums in Rome
None other than the great Michelangelo would suffice to design the master plan for Rome's own collection of art and archaeological museums, which enticingly crown the Capitoline Hill. The museum is divided into two wings: Palazzo Nuovo, devoted to ancient sculpture; and the Palazzo dei Conservatori, with great Old Masters.
Waltzing through this 17th-century palace may be the closest you ever get to the aristocratic nobles. Fabled Old Master paintings line the walls, with pride of place going to Velàzquez's Innocent X (the family pope), perhaps the greatest portrait ever painted.
Catch a glimpse of exquisite taste in this 15th-century palace, once owned by Cardinal Altemps and today part of the Museo Nazionale Romano—on view are many legendary examples of classic Greek and Roman sculpture, including the Ludovisi Throne.
Only the best could satisfy the aesthetic taste of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose holdings evoke the essence of Baroque Rome. Spectacularly frescoed ceilings and multihue marble walls frame great Bernini sculptures and paintings by Titian and Raphael.
During the 18th century, the Spanish Steps became a gathering place for Grand Tour artists and writers, so here in 1821 the English Romantic poet John Keats came to write—and ultimately die (of tuberculosis)—in the Casina Rossa, a dusty pink house at the base of the steps.
Museo Nazionale Romano
The city's own great collections of ancient Roman sculpture, paintings, and precious relics—salvaged from excavations completed over several centuries—is so vast that four separate museums at different locations are needed: Palazzo Altemps, Aula Ottagona, Terme di Diocleziano, and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Renaissance-era version, are on display at this extravagant villa, built around 1511 by banker Agostino Chigi, with loggias decorated by Raphael. After lavish dinners, Chigi would toss his gold plates into the Tiber and slyly retrieve them with a net in the water.
The seemingly endless line waiting for entry here can be intimidating, but the reward—a vast collection of masterpieces, including the Raphael Rooms—make it worth it. The rooms here are packed with legendary works, including the Apollo Belvedere and the Laocoön (from ancient Rome), the Good Shepherd (from early Christian Rome), and great paintings such as Leonardo's St. Jerome, Raphael's Transfiguration, and Caravaggio's Deposition. The agony, not the ecstasy, of it all is summed up in Michelangelo's sublime Last Judgment and Sistine ceiling.
The three fathers of the Baroque—Bernini, Borromini, and Pietro da Cortona—whipped up this imposing 17th-century palace for the Croesus-rich Barberini family. Built around 1625, with the Gran Salone, Rome's largest ballroom, the palazzo is now home to the city's collection of Old Master paintings.
A glorious 17th-century assemblage of stuccowork and statuary, together with the impressive trompe l'oeil "trick" of its courtyard colonnade, inspired by master designer Borromini, is what draws the crowds.
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