2) THE MUSEUM
Right, second up, it’s the museum. Museums are to me what the gelato is to Italy: life support.
Now, there’s no question that the Vatican Museums are a truly magical place. Knowing you are standing under the same roof as our very own Pope (as well as standing on top of the 15 billion popes that have been before), whilst simultaneously gazing into a Michelangelo-ey abyss can sure enough only be experienced in this very spot. But as a Vatican tour guide, doing that 3 times a week for 12 months of the year can wear thin; so it’s not surprising that I alerted my museum sensors to look elsewhere for satisfaction from inanimate friends.
This section of my top ten frustrates me. There are 5000 museums in Italy so where the diavolo am I meant to start? Answer: The Capitoline Museums.
If you want a less hectic, less sweaty, less churchy version of the Vatican, head to the Campidoglio. Like the majority of Italy, this piazza was designed by Michelangelo Buonarotti and finds itself plonked right on top of the Capitoline Hill. If you are successful in escaping ‘death by vespa’ in Piazza Venezia, you will make your way to the museums by ascending a set of sloping steps and arriving in what can only be described as geometric heaven. Paninied between Rome’s busiest piazza and the bustling Roman Forum, the Campidoglio, which forms a sort of internal courtyard to the museum buildings, is the kind of place you want to hang out if you love a stationery shop… if you know what I mean. It has the symmetrical perfection of St. Peter’s square, but on a smaller scale, and good grief there’s no queue to go inside. If heaven isn’t like this then we’re all wasting our time.
The Capitoline Museums are split: Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori. I am not going to attempt to walk you through the whole lot, but as always, it is vital I mention some of the ‘big names’. You’ve got Bernini, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck. You’ll see Rome’s iconic bronze of Romulus and Remus suckling on the she wolf, the famous Roman sculpture of Marcus Aurelius on horseback (a copy of which is in the centre of the Campidoglio) as well as hoards of other delicious Roman, Greek and Egyptian treasures. But for me, it’s the Dying Gaul that steals the show: a manifestation of perfection and pain in marble. One of those sculptures you sometimes like to just visit… as a friend… you know?
Even if you visit the Capitoline Museums just for their spaciousness, their peacefulness, or to pick up a date from one of their over-friendly guards, I can assure you that you will come away overwhelmed by its contents and thirsty for more.