Al Biondo Tevere, Art history, Art Nouveau, Basilica San Paolo Fuori le Mura, Capitoline Museum, Centrale Montemartini, Cleopatra, Industrial archeology, Italy travel tips, Roma, Stile Liberty, Temple of Apollo Sosiano, Via Ostiense
Centrale Montemartini is an amazingly awesome, undervisited museum and a stunning example of 20th Century industrial archeology. Built in 1912 in Art Nouveau style (Stile Liberty), it was the first public electric plant in Roma, providing power for the surrounding area until it was abandoned in 1963. Luckily the amazing architecture and historical importance saved it from demolition!
In 1997 during the Capitoline Museum renovation, Centrale Montemartini was used for a temporary exhibition ‘Le Macchine e gli Dei’ (The Machines and the Gods). In 2005 it became a permanent space for part of the Capitoline collection, with all of the original thermoelectric equipment left in place. Now you can visit a unique display of classical sculpture against an industrial backdrop of steam boilers, diesel engines, catwalks twisting pipes and gauges. It’s a blend of ‘vecchio e più vecchio’ (old and older), a stark contrast of ancient and industrial, art and science. Antique white marble appears translucent against the blackness of the machinery. The space is immense and silent, with high ceilings and tall windows providing natural light. The works of art are carefully chosen and placed so there is space to appreciate their beauty while you walk among them and contemplate the passage of time.
The 400 pieces include ancient Roman sculptures, rare Greek originals brought to Roma, and Roman copies of Greek originals. They date from the 5th Century BC to the 4th Century AD and were found in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Most of the works are on the upper floor in 2 massive rooms.
In Sala Macchine (Machine Room or Hall of the Machines) 2 hulking diesel engines are surrounded by Roman replicas of Greek statues. At one end, a reconstruction of the pediment of the Temple of Apollo Sosiano depicts a battle between Greeks and Amazons. These pieces are Greek originals found in the 1930’s near the Theater of Marcellus. Above this installation hangs the old ‘carroponte’ (Gantry crane).
Other ‘meraviglie’ (wonders) include a bust of Cleopatra and the giant head, right arm and feet of an 8m high statue of the Goddess Fortuna found near Largo Argentina. Her feet look very modern with their ‘infraditi’-thong style sandals!
Sala Caldaie (Boiler Room) is named for its 15m steam boiler and features a large mosaic of a hunting scene found near Santa Bibiana. The mosaic is surrounded by sculptures once adorning lavish Roman homes.
I especially like the statue of Polimnia, muse of poetry and dance. She has her elbows resting on a pillar and her shawl casually wrapped around her. My other favourite in Sala Caldaie is the Sphinx Frieze, which seems to glow against the red brick wall.
There were only 4 or 5 other people in the museum both times I visited. One of the staff told me that from October to May they have a lot of school groups visiting through their educational program, but June to September is not very busy. This is opposite to most other museums! I definitely recommend this amazing place, especially if you want to get away from crowds and lineups and see something truly unique. Even people who don’t like museums will appreciate this one-or at least find it oddly fascinating!
Centrale Montemartini is in the Ostiense area on the left bank of the Tevere. It is south of Roma’s historic center but very accessible by Metro B line Garbatella stop. When leaving the metro stop, you will cross a pedestrian bridge and then reach Via Ostiense. Bus 23 goes along Via Ostiense and Stazione Ostiense is also nearby.
The Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura is walking distance, one metro stop away. In between the Basilica and Centrale Montemartini is one of the oldest restaurants in Roma, Al Biondo Tevere at Via Ostiense 178 www.albiondotevere.it serving Roman cuisine overlooking the Tevere.
www.centralemontemartini.org Via Ostiense 106, open Tues-Sun from 09-19. Admission is € 7.50 for adults or €16 for the Capitolini Card (valid 7 days). The Romapass can also be used. Don’t forget your sketchbook!