Centrale Montemartini: a power plant full of classical gems

If you are on holiday in Rome, you might be a bit disappointed if it starts to rain. But there is no need to be, because there are plenty of interesting museums to escape to during the downpours. One of my favourites, and one of the most unusual, is the Centrale Montemartini on Via Ostiense. Here you can see ancient statues and other jewels from the Capitoline museums, arranged around heavy machinery in a former electricity plant. The contrast is stark, and merges two different eras in a fascinating way.

centrale montemartini 008The statues, found during excavations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, were originally put on display temporarily in the abandoned thermoelectric plant in 1997, during renovation of the main Capitoline museums. The exhibition, called “The Machines and the Gods” proved so popular however that Roman authorities decided to make it a permanent museum.

centrale montemartini 011On the ground floor, you can first see some mosaics depicting maritime, floral and hunting scenes, and then walk past the first set of ancient Roman busts and funerary monuments, some of which were originally found on the old roads leading out of the city.

centrale montemartini 004

centrale montemartini 006Above this is the most interesting room, where statues of classical gods and prominent people in Ancient Rome are arranged around the engines and equipment of the plant, opened in 1912. Here is Roman empress Agrippina the Younger next to Franco Tosi’s machinery.

centrale montemartini 012The fact that many of the statues are white, and the machinery is dark grey and black, adds to the unusual contrast.

centrale montemartini 019centrale montemartini 029Next door is the “boiler room” containing some beautiful statues that used to stand in imperial residences and gardens, as well as a huge floor mosaic depicting hunting scenes. This is all next to the huge boiler of the plant!

centrale montemartini 039centrale montemartini 037I found a jewel right at the end of the museum: the original funerary monument of Sulpicius Maximus, dating to the First century AD. Every day for three years I walked past a copy of this monument, in the spot where it originally stood at the site of Porta Salaria, close to where I used to work. The young poet’s grieving parents erected this tombstone after he died at just 11-years-old. Historian Mary Beard recently focused on it for a BBC series. He had performed very well in a poetry competition despite his young age, but shortly after he dropped dead due to overwork- a lesson to us all to give kids a break.

centrale montemartini 044After enjoying the museum you can either get back on the metro at Garbatella or you can walk down towards Piramide and stop for some refreshments at Porto Fluviale on Via del Porto Fluviale. The mini- hamburgers are especially nice!

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