Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Altemps ☆☆

The loggia, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
The loggia

The Palazzo Altemps branch of Rome's Museo Nazionale Romano has sculptures and other ancient art installed in the frescoed rooms of a 16th-century palace

The new home to the famed Ludovisi and Mattei collections of ancient sculpture is a crown jewel in Rome's touristic renaissance, and a prime example of Italy's seemingly newfound ability to craft a 21st-century museum that respects both the gorgeous architecture and frescoes of the Renaissance space in which it is installed, and the aesthetic and historic value of the classical collection it contains.

Rather than stuff lots of statues into every nook and cranny of this Altemps space, they've placed just a few choice pieces in each room, allowing and encouraging you to examine each statue carefully, walk around it, and read the accompanying placard in English and Italian that explains its significance and shows which bits are original and which were "restored" in the 17th century.

The Palazzo Altemps

The 16th- to 18th-century palazzo itself is gorgeous, with a grand central courtyard and many surviving frescoes and original painted wood ceilings, especially upstairs, where you can wander onto a bust-lined, Alberti-inspired loggia frescoed as a "Garden of Delights" in the 1590s.

The collections mix Roman originals with many Greek, Hellenstic, or Roman copies of Greek works, as well as a handful of older Egyptian sculptures collected by the ancient Romans.

Best of the museum collections

Be on the lookout for an AD 2nd-century giant Dionysus with Satyr; 2nd-century BC Ptolemaic Egyptian statuary; a pair of lute-playing Apollos; and plenty of Imperial busts.

There's also a 1st-century BC copy of master Greek sculptor Phidias' most famous statue (now lost): The 5th-century BC Athena that once held the place of honor in Athens' Parthenon (pictured above).

One touching piece is the Ludovisi Gaul in the act of commiting suicide while he holds the arm of his dying wife.

This is a Roman copy of a Hellenistic original, which was commissioned by Attalus I of Pergamon for a monument he had built around 220 BC to celebrate his victory over Galatia (modern-day Anatolia, Turkey—though most commonly associated these days with the area we now call France, the Gauls—a Celtic people—had actually settled much of Europe, the Balkans, and Turkey by the 3rd century BC).

The "Grande Ludovisi" sarcophagus

My favorite piece is an AD 3rd-century sarcophaguscarved from a single block of marble and depicting in incredible—and, incredibly, un-restored—detail the Roman legions fighting off invading Ostrogoth Barbarians.

The royal guy in the middle of the top row, directing the battle, probably represents Hostilian, son of Emperor Decius.

This is both ironic and sad, since is was his father and older brother Herennius Etruscus (already named co-emperor with their dad) who actually fought the barbarian armies at the Danube frontier—and earned themselves the distinction of being, in AD 251, the first Roman emperors to be killed in battle by a foreign enemy (on the same day, no less).

Hostilian had been left at home as he as too young to go to war. He enjoyed the imperial throne he inherited for only a few months before succumbing to a plague that swept Rome. He was probably only 20 or 21 at the time.

Photo gallery
  • The loggia, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • The courtyard, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • So-called “Grande Ludovisi” sarcophagus, with battle scene between Roman soldiers and Germans. The main character is probably Hostilian, Emperor Decius
  • So-called Ludovisi Gaul and his wife. Marble, Roman copy after an Hellenistic original from a monument built by Attalus I of Pergamon after his victory over Gauls, ca. 220 BC., Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Jastrow)
  • Drunken Dionysos and satyr. Marble, Roman copy from the 2nd century CE after an Hellenistic original. Marble; original elements: heads, torsos and thighs of Dionysos and satyr, right arm of Dionysos; restored elements: legs of Dionysos and satyr, arms of, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • So-called “Ludovisi Ares”. Pentelic marble, Roman copy after a Greek original from ca. 320 BC. Some restorations in Cararra marble by Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1622., Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • The 460BC Ludovisi Throne (back), Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • The 460BC Ludovisi Throne (side), Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Apollo Kaitharoidos. Marble, original parts (torso and right leg): Roman copy from the first half of the 1st century CE after an Hellenistic original. Heavily restored in the 17th century: head (after the Belvedere Apollo type), neck, right shoulder, left, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Jastrow)
  • Orestes and Electra, also known as the
  • So-called “Brancaccio Bull”: the bull-god Apis holding the solar disk and the uraeus. Granodiorite, Egyptian artwork from the Ptolemaic Era (2nd century BC), brought to Rome in the Imperial Era. Found in 1886 in the area of the Horti Mæcenatiani, on the E, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Front panel from a sarcophagus with the Labours of Heracles: from left to right, the Nemean Lion, the Lernaean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, the Ceryneian Hind, the Stymphalian birds, the Girdle of Hippolyta, the Augean stables, the Cretan Bull and the Mar, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • The loggia, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by MM)
  • Seated warrior, traditionnally a pendant to the statue of Ludovisi Ares. Pentelic marble (body) and Parian marble (head), Roman copy after an Hellenistic original. Slightly restored; the head is antique (type of the Skopas Meleager) but does not belong to, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen)
  • A frescoed ceiling in the palazzo, Palazzo Altemps, Italy (Photo by sailko)
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Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Palazzo Altemps for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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How long does Palazzo Altemps take?

Figure on spending about 1 hour to 90 minutes here (ancient history buffs: give it at least 2 hours).

The ticket office closes an hour before the museum.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).