Conquering the Lonely Planet Rome List: the Villa Giulia

Special weekend post! So, the last few days have been busy, busy with finishing my chapter, but I’ve still managed to knock out a couple more places on the Lonely Planet Rome List. The other day I went up to the Villa Giulia which is at the edge of the Villa Borghese, up in the northern bit of the city. The Villa Giulia is not ugly:

not too shabby!

It’s a sixteenth-century papal villa and is lovely just on its own, with pretty frescoes and gorgeous, regular, Renaissance architecture, which you can see in the courtyard here:

looking away from the villa building
looking the opposite way towards the villa building– check out those curves!

And anyone who has spent five seconds reading this blog knows that I love a good villa. But the Villa Giulia is special because it also houses one of the biggest collections of Etruscan artifacts in the city. As I learned after snapping a quick photo and getting yelled at, photos weren’t allowed inside, but I did manage to snag a quick shot of one of the masterpieces of Etruscan art, the Sarcofago degli Sposi, or Sarcophagus of the Spouses, which is superlatively awesome:

sorry about the vitrine glare!

I’ve taught that thing over and over in the intro courses back at my university, and I’ve always thought the Etruscans were a bit dull, but after going through the museum, I don’t think that anymore. While the unending rows of Greek vases that make up the bulk of the museum do get a bit overwhelming and repetitive, there were fascinating objects hidden amongst the overflowing displays, including multiple ex-voto depictions of uteri and penises, and tiny bronze elephants, which makes me wonder how on earth the Etruscans knew about elephants? And they even had the tiny little Pyrgi Tablets, which are teeny sheets of gold, which are the most significant artifact that helps to understand the Etruscan language: there’s a dedication written in Etruscan on one, and roughly the same dedication written in Phoenician on another. The Etruscans seem so mysterious and so undeniably ancient. But even for dedicated art historians, the museum did get a bit old by the end– there was just SO MUCH STUFF. My dear companion and I were quite worn out by the end, but luckily we had saved exploring the grounds of the Villa until the end of our visit, because they were gorgeous and refreshing after getting so lost in Etruscan mysteries. While the villa grounds were dotted with more Etruscan artifacts and even a small reconstruction of an Etruscan temple:

itsy temple!

The best, best part of all of it was the Nympheum, a complex fountain/pool in the back:

pretty part 2!

Which was HUGELY influenced by classical architecture. Man, it must have not sucked to be the Pope in the Renaissance (except for the whole Reformation thing, but I’m sure that was no big deal, right?)

I certainly wouldn’t recommend the Villa Giulia for a first, or even second visit to Rome, but if you’ve already been here a time or two and you want to see something lovely and different, you should absolutely come here. If only for the peacock fresco:


One thought on “Conquering the Lonely Planet Rome List: the Villa Giulia

  1. […] If you’ve been following Museum Month(s Strike Back, Return of the Jedi With a Vengeance), you know that I’m a big fan of big, empty, museums. That I’ll eschew the blockbuster in favor of places that are what I call “pleasantly attended” (the Rodin Museum, Gemäldegalerie, and Brera all qualify) If you’re looking for that in Rome and you’re looking for something other than classical art the place to go is the Villa Giulia. […]

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