National Museum, Santa Maria Maggiore

Like yesterday, steady rain fell on Rome again this morning as I set out for my day. Because of the inclement weather, I decided indoor activities were in order. I started out with the National Museum of Rome and followed that with a visit to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

I lost count of how many of Saint Mary’s religious establishments I’ve been into on this trip. And I’m toying with the idea of going to one or two others this afternoon. Was Santa Maria, aka Saint Mary, trying to corner the market on churches?

Seriously. Anti-trust regulators should look into that. Maybe break up her business and give some of the lesser saints a chance to build their brands.

But enough about that.

National Museum of Rome

I chose to go to the National Museum of Rome for three reasons:

  1. My guidebook recommended it.
  2. It isn’t far from my hotel.
  3. It’s indoors.

Normally, that might be the order of significance of those reasons. Although, I’d normally leave off the third. But considering the weather, the list is in inverse order.

The National Museum has exhibits on three levels at or above the ground level. My guidebook tells me that the basement contains one of the best coin collections in Europe. That may or may not be true. I wouldn’t know. And not just because I’m not a numismatist. The stairs to the basement were cordoned off when I was there.

I started with the second floor, which is the top floor because in Europe they think the ground level doesn’t deserve a non-zero number, and worked my way down.

The second floor contains a large collection of mosaics and frescoes recovered from ancient Roman buildings. A few of them were uncovered during excavations between 1947 and 1949 for the construction of Termini railway station, Rome’s main station. Termini is only a few blocks from the National Museum, so it’s appropriate that they came to rest there.

The mosaics and frescoes at the museum are in varying conditions. Some are complete and in very good shape, others much less so, and still others are somewhere in between.

One room on this level contains all four walls that were recovered fairly complete and, unless they were heavily restored, minimally damaged, from I forget where. The walls are painted as a beautiful garden, with a 360-degree panorama wrapping around the room. It’s quite beautiful.

The first floor of the National Museum houses a number of statues in both bronze and stone. One of the bronzes is a very well preserved Roman copy of a statue of a discus-thrower in mid throw. There is also a small collection of elaborately carved sarcophagi at the National Museum, but I forget if they are on this floor or the ground level.

I do remember that the ground floor contains a number of busts and a few more statues.

The National Museum is built around a courtyard. The ground level has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on that courtyard, along with some doors out to it. When I got down to that level, finished looking at the exhibits there, and looked out on the courtyard I saw that the steady showers of earlier had turned into a downpour.

I retraced some ground I’d already covered on the ground floor while waiting for the rain to taper off again. I considered waiting until it stopped completely, but the forecast wasn’t promising. At that point, there were only about eight or nine hours until the National Museum closed for the day and I wasn’t sure that was enough time to wait out the rain. So I pressed on as soon as the intensity returned to just showers.

Church of Santa Maria Maggiore

I chose the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore for my next stop for the same three reasons as I chose, the National Museum of Rome for my first, but substitute “close to the National Museum” for “close to my hotel” in the second reason.

I found it to be, for the most part, a fairly simple, but quite attractive church, with nice, understated decorations. The central nave has a coffered, but otherwise flat ceiling of gold and brown colours. The side aisles are arched, with attractive ribbing and decoration.

In the preceding paragraph I said that for the most part I found the church to be fairly simple. However, it also contains an elaborately decorated side chapel that borders on excessively adorned.

There is another side chapel on the other side of the church. I think it’s of the same level of over-decoration, but I couldn’t get a close look. When I was there, two men were gently adjusting red curtains pulled open on either side of the entrance to the chapel. One of the guys would almost imperceptibly adjust the folds on one of the curtains, look at his handiwork, shake his head, and again almost imperceptibly adjust it. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if they ever finished their non-work.

One of the side aisles of the Church of Santa Maggiore
One of the side aisles of the Church of Santa Maggiore

The church’s claim to fame is it contains the tomb of Bernini. It’s not what I’d expect for the tomb of a widely renowned baroque artist. Bernini is planted in the floor next to the central nave in the side aisle immediately to the right of the altar. His grave marking is a flat, rectangular marble tile with his name and a few words that I can’t read. It’s not that they’re illegible. The letters are perfectly crisp. But it’s in a language I don’t know. I think it’s Latin because I don’t recognize any of the words except possibly “et,” but only because I know that’s “and” in French. Then again, I know so few Italian words that it’s not impossible that it could be Italian.

Immediately adjacent to that tile, further from the altar, is another flat marble tile etched with a pattern and some more words. Those words undulate, rather than the straight lines of the text of the first stone. In this tile I do recognize two of the words “familia Bernini.” I know that familia is the Italian for family, so I’m guessing the words on this second tile are Italian, whether or not the ones on the first are.

I would have expected a much more ornate tomb for a celebrated artist, particularly a baroque artist. But, there it was.

When I left the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore it was still a little early for lunch. The rain had tapered to a light drizzle so I did some aimless wandering, including along a tree-lined street. After a while, the rain intensified a bit again and I decided it was now time to find someplace for a nice, leisurely lunch. And I did.

Lunch

For lunch I started with the soup of the day because I thought soup was the perfect thing for a rainy and a bit coolish day. It was some kind of lentil soup. And it was some kind of wonderful.

I followed that with spaghetti with clams and artichokes. That too was very tasty.

Of course, I had a glass of wine to wash it down. And I topped it off with an espresso. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

And I’ll leave it at this for now.

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