When I hear about people visiting Rome for a mere three days or so, it completely blows my mind. So many itineraries rush through the highlights Rome is most famous for: Colosseum, The Vatican, Trevi Fountain; and move on, nothing more to see here. First though, an admission is in order: once upon a time, I too thought Rome had little to offer beyond the highlights. My previous visits had been in the middle of summer, when it is so hot and crowded that it is impossible to connect with and enjoy the Eternal City properly. I decided to give Rome another chance, and last time elected to visit in late April.
Franco Tosi industrial machinery looms behind a lovely statue. The difference between April and July was dramatic. The top attractions were much more manageable, albeit the lines are still significant and it was easier to soak up and enjoy the city. But after the iconic attractions, what else is there? Well, take a detour into the Testaccio neighborhood and visit the unique, blissfully crowd free Museo Centrale Montemartini. Housed in an old electric plant, ancient art is elegantly juxtaposed with early 20th century industrial machinery. It doesn't feel like some big-name museums, where ornery guards wait to scold you for a single toe out of line. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual, letting you wander without the crush of people typical at more famous museums. The way the majority of pieces are displayed feels intended for the visitors enjoyment, letting you really inspect them closely.
The bulk of the collection is sculpture, ranging from final centuries BC to the Republican era. Many bear the wounds of time, resulting in a certain bruised elegance. There are also quite a few mosaics and a smattering of friezes, plus a small selection of funerary pieces and domestic goods. The massive machinery from the building's previous purpose makes for a unique backdrop, adding to the overall atmosphere of the museum. While Montemartini is small compared to more famous locales, it is almost airy and is comfortably laid out, making for an enjoyable way to while away an hour or two. It's wasn't so much crowd free as nearly devoid of other visitors entirely, yet it retained a sense of calm calm rather than feeling dreary.
Battered beauty in the main room While Testaccio is just a bit outside the city center, it was easy to reach by bus and Metro from the apartment near Campo dei Fiori in about 30 minutes. The somewhat utilitarian Testaccio neighborhood may not be quite like the postcards of classic Rome, but I found it to be quiet, practical, and a place where you could easily lose an entire day exploring hidden treasures. The lovely Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura is an easy 15 minute stroll north of the museum, making for an excellent additional visit while nearby.
This is also the neighborhood where you'll find genuine Roman cooking, as there aren't many tourist palates to concede to, which would be unlikely to happen anyway. I didn't have the pleasure of dining there beyond a light snack, but Eleanora Baldwin makes several recommendations in Rick Zullo's little e-book guide to favorite restaurants in Italy, which at the time of this writing is still available for free on his site.
Tickets to the museum are very reasonable (for Rome) at 6.50E - or you can get a combined ticket for Montemartini and the terrific Capitoline Museums for 15E, which saves 4.50E. For visiting hours, directions, and more details, visit the excellent website for the civic museum system. Buon Viaggio!