I love the lesser known Michelangelos, because I get them all to myself. In the case of the Baths of Diocletian, a huge complex of ruins across the street from Termini, you get pleasant ancient stuff, weirdo early modern stuff and an entire Michelangelo courtyard all to yourself. I commend all the Roman visitors who don’t go to the Baths of Diocletian, because then I get to sit there quietly alone for even longer.
The Baths of Diocletian are a bit confusing because they’re composed of the ruins, but within the ruins and most visible from the street is the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri right on the Piazza della Reppublica, as well as San Bernadino alle Terme. But fear not! It’s really not so confusing. Just walk half a block down Viale Enrico de Nicola and you will see a ridiculously charming gate and garden, which is the actual entrance to the actual baths. Then you’re set.
There are wonderous, soaring ruins of course. And a museum with some pleasantly weirdo ancient sculpture. But the most thrilling bit for me is the Michelangelo courtyard. Technically a cloister I guess, but most technically awesome. In the center of the cloister is a fountain surrounded with colossal paired animal heads and it’s ridiculously picturesque.
And while architecture isn’t quite the draw that say, the Sistine Chapel is, the structure is a Michelangelo nonetheless. As architecture is the most practical of the big three Renaissance arts (painting, sculpture, architecture), I love to see how these great artistic minds like Michelangelo conceive of spaces meant for human use. And if you want to get REALLY nerdy, you get to see how Michelangelo dealt with “the corner problem,” which is something that plagued fifteenth-century architects all over Italy and wasn’t “solved” until Bramante made a few advances with it at the cloister of Santa Maria della Pace across the city. In short, the corner problem is what to do when a series of arcades (arches) meet perpendicularly at a corner. EXCITING STUFF. But for reals, it actually is pretty fascinating, because there are a ton of architects who pretty much just punted on what to do with corners and they look super awkward (Francesco Laurana’s courtyard at the Ducal Palace of Urbino comes to mind), but not Michelangelo! Michelangelo’s courtyard is all precision and balance and lovely and quiet. And there’s a drinking fountain and a coffee machine and you could sit there for hours with hardly any other people around.
But beyond Renaissance architecture technicalities (you had no idea things like corners were so fascinating, did you?!), the Baths of Diocletian are a great example of all the layers of Rome in one, extremely central place. AND on top of everything, it’s one of the National Museums of Rome, so when you pay your admission fee there, you get a three-day pass for the other three National Museums, which are (at least two of them) among my favorite spots in the city. WIN.
Also a quick PS- WordPress informs me that today is my three-year anniversary of having this site and I CANNOT BELIEVE it’s been three years. Although I have taken a few hiatuses, I want to say that I really enjoy writing here and I hope to keep it up for many more years. So three cheers for three years and three cheers from Rome!