> SlowTrav > Italy > Travel Notes > Lazio and Rome

The Lesser Rome

Mary Murphy-Hanson

Rome, been there, done that, got the T-shirt - or so you think. But much of Rome's charm lies beyond the top three of the Vatican, the Colosseum-Roman Forum and historic center. This is just a small taste, an antipasto of Rome's great treasures. Are these "secrets" of Rome. No, but in this "if this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium" travel world, they are the overlooked or the forgotten.

National Etruscan Museum (Museo Nazionale Etrusco) in the Villa Giulia

Perhaps one of Rome's most overlooked museums is the Etruscan Museum in the Villa Giulia. One of the world's premier collections of Etruscan artifacts, this beautiful museum is located in a great renaissance villa in Rome's equivalent of central park - the Borghese Gardens. The museum collection includes huge numbers of miniatures: horses, chariots, replicas of everything used in daily life. I remember miniature dishes like our modern doll dishes. Were they some little girl's toys or did they have some other significance? Why so many? There are literally thousands of them and they are all over 2500 years old.

One exhibition case has a carriage with an elaborate harness from 500 BC almost intact. Another display is of a gorgeous coffin lid with the sculpture of a man with a wonderful face, reclining with a woman in front of him. Obviously a married couple and obviously happily so. Romantic love in 500 BC and for all eternity.

The gem of the museum is the Castellani collection of ancient Etruscan coins, gold and jewelry. The pieces are as gorgeous as anything in the Tutankhamen exhibition. My niece's comment on seeing the Castellani collection was "now I understand tomb robbing". So do I. To have something that spectacular as my own raises the larcenous in me.

Accessibility: About 80% of the Villa Julia exhibits are wheelchair accessible.

Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini

Another unique museum is the Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini. Located in the Via Del Babuino 150A/B this little jewel is about the size of a standard three-bedroom rambler. Piled to the rafters with bits and pieces of plaster casts of famous Canova and Tadolini sculptures. The model for Pauline Bonaparte from the Borghese Gallery lies here next to preparatory models for finished other works in marble or bronze. I saw this wonderful museum as a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle, a maze, and an extremely enlightening lesson on just what is involved in sculpture. Admission is 3 euro and includes a cappuccino and 3-4 cookies on a small lace paper doily. Best bargain in Italy.

Accessibility: One step into the museum and tight quarters but negotiable.

Crypto Balbi

The Crypto Balbi is part of the museums of Rome group. It is a fairly small museum that contains a glimpse into a part of Rome seldom seen; the dark ages, when Rome had been plundered of everything of value including it's citizenry. The crypt was a lime kiln. Lime is made from marble. Now I understand the public health value of lime. Annie Hawes in Extra Virgin sings the praises of lime. But oh my heart breaks at the representation of what was consumed in the maws of the furnace. A beautiful marble hand here, a small roman god there, all burned to dust.

The basement of Crypto Balbi is a working archeological site which gives you a look at contemporary trench archeology. This is also a great location for purchasing the archeological jumbo ticket which lets you jump the line at Colosseum.

Accessibility: The main floor of Crypto Balbi is wheelchair accessible. There is an elevator to the basement but you can only go about 100 feet with a wheelchair and really can't see much of the archeological site. Do not pay the fee for the tour of the archeological site if you are in a wheelchair.

Museo Quirinale

The Museo Quirinale is the equivalent of our White House. Open only on Sunday it is one of Rome's premier attractions for Italians. Go stand in line and the language will not be German, French or English, it will be Italian. The Presidential palace houses a number of interesting frescoes and the great hall at 190 feet has an intimidating feel. Add in the fact that you are walking on semi-precious marble and the opulence is overwhelming.

Accessibility: In a wheelchair you are taken under guard through the back hallways of the palace to the main tour starting point - the tour is accessible.

Chiese Bautista Evangelica

Chiese Bautista Evangelica, Teatro de Valle 27. Built in the late 1800's by the Southern Baptist Convention of the United States, this is the first non-Catholic church built in Rome since Constantine. The wall murals are classically art nouveau by one of the premier Italian artists of the art nouveau style. The church is in a declining state of repair but the murals are still well preserved.

Hours: Occasionally open on Friday or Saturday for various performances, but the best time to visit is on Sunday for services at 11 am. After the service a fellowship luncheon is served. Like church suppers in America it is a competition sport. The ladies all compete to cook their specialties. A wonderful "movie" meal with the entire congregation gathered in a single room at tables that encircle the entire room. A donation to cover the cost of the food is requested; 5 - 10 euro per person is appropriate. BTW it doesn't matter if you are not Baptist.

Accessibility: For church - three steps. For luncheon - two flights of stairs, no elevator.

Baths of Diocletian

The Baths of Diocletian share a cloister designed by Michelangelo. They also have a wonderful exhibition of "cryptology". Here they define cryptology as any way that language has been preserved over the centuries. Whether carved on a grave headstone or written on papyrus and stored in jars, this museum's single goal is the preservation and dissemination of Latin. Always an honorable pursuit.

My favorite part of this museum is the courtyard NOT designed by Michelangelo. Rather it is an interior courtyard with a large oak tree in the center. Around the tree is a hedge and in the hedge are three or four bulls heads and forefronts carved of marble. The heads stick up out of the green yew and remind me of the whack-a-mole game.

Accessibility: Totally accessible although the gravel path to the museum can be difficult pushing.

Piazza Vittorio

Piazza Vittorio is modern Rome. The open markets housed in the barracks about one block away show Campo dei Fiori for the tourist trap it is. Virtually every food stuff in the world is available for sale at this market. All roads continue to lead to Rome and the immigrants bring their culture and their cuisine.

Piazza Vittorio is located on the north edge of Rome's "Chinatown". If you ask any Italian or Roman they will deny categorically that Rome has a "Chinatown". Yet the shops around here have character signs and the smells wafting from the restaurants have a definite oriental tinge. If it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck - chances are it's a duck. Hence a Rome Chinatown. This is probably one of the cheapest places to eat in Rome. Downside? You won't be eating Italian. But that's OK because the people at the next table ARE Italian and they are eating Chinese too.

Accessibility: Market is 100% accessible - restaurants will vary.

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

This sister museum of the Borghese is a look into an aristocrat family home. The current scion of the Pamphilj narrates the English taped tour. It's true, the rich are different from you and I. My favorite bit is the part about the saint's remains the family owns. A whole body!! This is a sign of the status of the family. Many wealthy families owned bits and pieces of saints but a whole body is very unique. There is a document from the 13th century where the pope gives permission for the family to travel with the relic. I can just see it now. "Anything to declare?" "Nope just a dead saint's body".

There's a discount at the Doria Pamphilj if you combined with a visit to the Borghese Gallery.

Accessibility: Three steps and a small elevator. There is a guard that will help you access the museum.


Mary Hanson is a wheelchair traveler with four months experience navigating Rome in a wheelchair. When she isn't visiting her heart in Rome, she resides in Phoenix with her husband Tom and her mutt Beau-dog. See Mary's Accessible Rome for wheelchair travelers.

© Mary Murphy-Hanson, 2005

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