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Accessible Rome - Borghese Park and Museums
Accessible Rome: Getting around Rome in a wheelchair, for the disabled traveler. Read Wheelchair Travel for some basic information.
In the center of Rome, as in New York City, there is a park. This is the Borghese Park, a lovely green preserve, with a zoo, a small lake with punts, several Roman ruins, 70 different fountains and springs, a hot air balloon ride, and two of the world's greatest museums: the Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese) and the Etruscan Museum (Museo de Etruscani) in the Villa Giulia.
Since the Borghese Park is quite a distance (even by bus) from the city center, we usually try to cram as much Borghese into our day as possible. From the center of Rome, we take the metro mini bus to the avenue that leads to the Borghese Gallery. This long avenue is lined with statues on both sides, some headless, others intact. At the far end from the gallery is the area where the Italian equestrian police (and Olympic team) train. We happened to arrive just as they were practicing their precision drills. Beautiful horses weaving in and out of each other in a dance of power and grace. One missed timing and the results could be very ugly. We sit enthralled for half an hour and then have to leave or we would have missed our timed admission to Borghese Gallery.
Borghese Gallery (Galleria Borghese)
The Borghese Gallery was built by Cardinal Scipio Borghese (later a pope) to house his art collection. It was never a palazzo, never designed to serve any other purpose. This was a man who knew art. He was varied and omnivorous in his appetite for collecting. The art in this collection goes from ancient Roman floor mosaics depicting the gladiatorial games, complete with the gladiator's name like Thor, ala the World Wrestling Federation, to Bernini.
Path to Borghese Gallery
Borghese was a Bernini patron. And Borghese got the best. The incredible Apollo and Daphne and the Bernini David. Several Caravaggios, Michaelangelo, Raphael, the pantheon of the renaissance all have works in this collection.
In a wheelchair you access the Borghese Gallery from the back of the building. Someone else will have to go in and purchase the tickets. If (and this is a big IF) they are feeling generous they will open the doors through the art school (scuolo) and you can access Borghese this way. However, in over six trips, we have only once had them open these doors. The usual entrance is at the back, where you have to push through several inches of soft gravel for about 50 feet. It's a tough push. You come into the museum through a small room and then you are at the elevator. This is an extremely small elevator (as in the Doria Pamphilj) where you cannot ride with your wheelchair. You transfer from your wheelchair to a chair in the elevator. The elevator goes up, you transfer off the elevator chair onto another chair. The elevator goes down, your folded wheelchair is brought up and you transfer from the chair into your wheelchair.
There is an extremely old wheelchair on the second floor. When I say extremely old I am talking turn of the century; 1900 not 2000. You are better off hassling with your own wheelchair than trying to push this old monstrosity.
Admission to the Borghese is timed and after two hours the gallery is cleared out and the next group is brought in. I did find that as a wheelchair visitor I wasn't asked to leave before the next group arrived. Whether that was a fluke or the standard procedure I was unable to determine. Maybe they could see the look of rapture on my face and realized that in a wheelchair there was no way I could make a complete circuit of the museum.
National Etruscan Museum (Museo Nazionale Etrusco) in the Villa Giulia
Located across the park is the Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia. From the Borghese Museum exit the park, find a taxi and have the taxi drive you to the entrance to the Villa Giulia. The small park buses do not go there and the distance is a good one and a half miles or more trying to push across the park, up hill and down hill.
The Villa Giulia is a Renaissance villa and only part of the museum is accessible to the wheelchair visitor. My impression was that we were the first wheelchair visitors they had ever seen. They were so overwhelmed that someone in a wheelchair actually wanted to visit their museum that they refused to take our admission fee. The staff even presented us with a small gift from the gift shop when we left.
As we were touring the museum we found ourselves facing four stairs. One of the staff went and located the keys to the lift. Amid much hilarity, we all finally figured out how to work the stair lift.
The magnificent Castellani collection is accessible. This is the jewelry and coins portion of the museum. There are several magnificent gold-work pieces with extremely minute detail. This collection, more than anything else I have ever seen, explains tomb robbing to me. I have the American abhorrence of graves, graveyards and crypts. Add in a reluctance to steal and grave robbery becomes anathema. But the chance to own one of these pieces suddenly makes it a whole lot more attractive.
To me the most touching things were the miniatures. The small plates and spoons, the miniature chariot and the miniature animals; they were obviously a child's toys. How many hours were they played with? I can see the children now, making the horses pull the chariot or playing house. All gone to dust.
Among the largest pieces in the museum is the sarcophagus lid. A handsome man with a strong face lies propped up on one arm with a beautiful woman in front of him. It is obvious from the faces that this was a happy couple. Some archeologists feel that Etruscans were believers in romantic "love". The women were certainly liberated. They owned land and were educated. It took 2300 years for Europe to return to that status for women.
Borghese Hot Air Balloon Ride
The hot air balloon is in the park by the Borghese Gallery. This tethered balloon rises into the Roman Sky about 1/4 of a mile and then hangs there for ten minutes. There is a large circular platform about four feet wide and 30 feet in diameter that hangs under the balloon. To say the views are incredible is an understatement. Go in the late afternoon so you can catch the "golden hour" and get breathtaking photographs.
To get to the balloon you will need to follow a crushed gravel path from the road in the park. A tough push. There are three steps into the balloon but the operators will lift you and your chair onto the platform. The schedule can be erratic due to high winds (balloon cannot go up in high winds). Call before going all the way out to the park and finding it was closed.
Slow Travel Photos - Accessible Rome: Photo essay to go with these pages.
www.galleriaborghese.it: Borghese Gallery.
© Mary Murphy-Hanson, 2005
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