Friday, March 13, 2009

Museo della civilta` romana

Before the Republic and before Julius Caesar, and before Augustus turned it from brick to marble and into an Empire, Rome was once just a village with cow paddocks and stick huts. Propertius reminds us in his poem of Aeneas, the mythical founder of Rome, that: Whatever you see here stranger, which is mighty Rome/ Was hill and grass before Phrygian Aeneas. And then time and the Barbarian invasions turned it back to cow paddocks again. To see Rome in its humble origins, and then in its greatest moments, you can go to EUR, the mock-city of the future that Mussolini had built just out of Rome, to see Rome’s Archaeological Museum, the Museo della civilta` romana, the Museum of Roman Civilisation. Few tourists bother.

It is a treasure. It houses models of Rome in all her phases, and in particular, a gigantic sixty foot-long scale-model of Imperial Rome. The diorama is housed beneath a viewing platform which allows you to follow every street and alley of the city, and to feel the layout that still lies beneath our feet. The museum was finally inaugurated in 1955 though its origins lie in the archaeological exhibition of 1911 held in the Baths of Diocletian and organized by the archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Italy.

The models and dioramas were made for the exhibition but they were so well received that it was decided to exhibit them permanently. In 1929 they were displayed in the new Palazzo dei Musei, originally an old pastry-shop which became the Museo dell’Impero romano, Museum of the Roman Empire, and served also as an archive and study centre for ancient Roman history. Mussolini had proposed to find the exhibition a permanent and more impressive home for the collection, in his ideal city, but the war intervened and so it was not until 1955 that FIAT donated the funds to have the building at EUR completed and the Museo della civilta` romana was born.

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