Villa Borghese, located just north of the Spanish Steps, is Rome’s largest public park. Originally a vineyard, the area was converted to a park by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V. The villa was constructed from a sketch by the cardinal himself. The city of Rome acquired the grounds from the wealthy Borghese family in 1902, and the park was opened to the public. Today, Villa Borghese offers a surprisingly peaceful respite from Rome’s bustling pace and is home to numerous museums, including the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna and the Galleria e Museo Borghese.
While it may not possess the household-name status afforded the Colosseum, the Forum, or the Pantheon, the Galleria e Museo Borghese is an absolute must-see for any visitor to Rome. Reopened in 1997 after undergoing a meticulous 14-year restoration project that began in 1984, the Borghese’s incredibly ornate rooms house an impressive private collection of Italian art, with each gallery seemingly more stunning than the previous one despite the fact that much of the collection was sold to France in 1809 and moved to the Louvre. Advanced reservations are essential.
If you don’t know who Gian Lorenzo Bernini was, you’ll be enlightened by the time you leave the Museo Borghese. Several of Bernini’s most important sculptures are here, including David (the moment before he slays Goliath); The Abduction of Proserpina by Pluto; and my personal favorite, Apollo and Daphne, which is displayed beautifully in gallery with a painting of the same subject and depicts Daphne’s transformation into a tree as she flees the sun god Apollo.
Other notable sculptures in the collection include Antonio Canova’s Pauline Bonaparte, in which Napoleon’s sister poses as Venus.
Paintings include Titian’s masterpiece, Sacred and Profane Love and Caravaggio’s David With the Head of Goliath, in which Caravaggio painted his own self-portrait to represent the slain Goliath. Interestingly, Caravaggio fled Rome after having been accused of murder in 1606, and this painting (1609-1610) was presented to the papal court as a sort of a painted request for pardon.
The museum has some stringent rules: a maximum of 300 visitors at a time are allowed on the first floor, and no more than 90 are allowed on the second floor. In addition, no cameras, bags, or purses of any kind are allowed inside the museum. Ladies, this means don’t even attempt entering with your purse in tow. It’s not going to work. You’ll be directed back to the coat room, and you’ll find yourself relegated to the end of the line.
This is one of the most amazing museums I have ever seen. Even non-art lovers will come away impressed with its dazzling collection, and the spacious park that surrounds it offers big, shady trees and pleasant walking paths.
Metro: Spagna (Line A)
Bookings and reservations: Tel.: 39.06.32810, or click here for online reservations.