During a recent trip to Rome, I paid a long overdue visit to the Centrale Montemartini, an annexe of the Capitoline Museums located on the Via Ostiense just beyond Porta San Paolo.
Centrale Montemartini was Rome’s first electrical power station when it opened in 1912, and was later converted into a museum of ancient Roman art in the late 1990s. Like the Tate Modern in London, Centrale Montemartini places art in an industrial setting but, unlike the Tate, the imposing machinery has not been moved out. The engines’ grey mass provides a stark contrast to the white marble and offers a unique backdrop for classical art.
Centrale Montemartini has a collection of about four hundred sculptures, reliefs and mosaics dating from the Republican to the late Imperial era. The works of art, exhibited in chronological order, are part of an outstanding collection of classical sculptures from the excavations carried out in Rome between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The masterpieces were moved here during the reorganisation of the Capitoline Museums in 1997 to create space in the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Museo Nuovo. The Montemartini power plant’s outstanding space made it possible to display monumental sculptures and reconstructions of architectural structures, such as the pediment of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus and the huge mosaic of hunting scenes from Santa Bibiana.
The museum is divided into four areas. The atrium on the ground floor has information panels that illustrate the history of the building. They also examine the characteristics of the main machines used inside the plant.
The next room is the Column Room which displays a rich collection from the Republican era. Exhibited here are architectural decorations, a group of sculptures in Peperino tufa (a grey volcanic stone from the Albani Hills), beautiful mosaics with seascapes and a series of portraits dating to the 1st century BCE.
On the second floor, the Engine Room is the largest and most impressive room. Here, a series of exquisite marble statues and rare Greek originals are arranged around two huge diesel engines and a steam turbine.
The Engine Room also houses two sculptures of exceptional artistic quality that were found in 1885 on the Caelian Hill during excavations. The two fragmented pieces were found inside a late-antique wall where they were reused as material construction. The restorers of the 19th century reassembled the two statues. The first one is a statue in basanite of Agrippina the Younger represented in the act of praying. The head is a moulded copy of the statue on display in the Ny Carsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (see image here). The second statue, made in dark grey marble (bigio antico), is known as the Victory of the Symmachi (an aristocratic family of the late Roman Empire). It is considered to be a work dating to the late Republican, most probably representing a dancing woman like the one from Perge in the Antalya Museum (see image here).
A whole gallery of Imperial portraits as well as splendid Roman copies of Greek originals come from a private residence of the 1st century CE and restored in the 2nd and 3rd century CE. The house was brought to light during excavations for the creation of the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
Temple of Apollo Sosiano Reconstruction
Occupying the other end of the room is a reconstruction of the pediment of the Temple of Apollo Sosiano, a temple dedicated to Apollo in the Campus Martius, next to the Theatre of Marcellus. The marble sculptures are rare Greek originals (dated to c. 450 – 425 BCE), brought to Rome in the Augustan period to decorate the temple whose remains are still visible today (see images here). The temple’s main pediment was decorated with sculptures narrating the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons (Amazonomachy) in which the figures of Hercules, Theseus, Athena and Nike take centre stage.
The cella’s interior walls were decorated with a frieze representing a triumphal procession interpreted as the representation of Octavian’s triple triumph held in 29 BCE and celebrating the Dalmatians wars, the Battle of Actium and the victory over Egypt.
The Boiler Room, named after the huge steam boiler dominating the room, is home to a number of beautiful statues and decorative sculptures that once adorned the gardens of sumptuous imperial residences (Horti Sallustiani, Horti Liciniani, Horti Lamiani, Horti Caesaris). Funerary monuments from the Ostiense Necropolis are also on display in this room.
Among the highlights here are a sculpture group depicting a Satyr and a Nymph, a head of Priapus, a wounded Niobid, a statue of a seated girl and another one of the muse Polyhymnia as well as an exquisite statue in red marble of Marsyas and a large mosaic of a hunting scene.
Centrale Montemartini is definitely one of Rome’s most striking exhibition space. It offers a unique museum experience and it is often so empty that you will likely have the place to yourself.
The museum is located on the Via Ostiense, 106. Take the Metro to Garbatella, cross over the tracks and walk through a car park to the Via Ostiense. You will see the museum across the Via on your left. You can also walk from the Pyramid Metro Station down the Via Ostiense.
Tuesday-Sunday: 9.00 – 19.00;
24 and 31 December: 9.00 – 14.00;
Last admission 1/2 hour before closing time.
Adults € 7,50
Concessions € 6,50
Roman Citizens only (by showing a valid ID):
Adults € 6,50
Concessions € 5,50
Capitolini Card (Capitoline Museums + Centrale Montemartini – valid 7 days):
Adults € 16,00
Concessions € 14,00
Roman Citizens only (by showing a valid ID):
Adults € 15,00
Concessions € 13,00
Originally published at Following Hadrian, republished with permission.