Have you ever seen Roman sculptures in an old thermoelectric factory?
Rome is full of beautiful museums and archaeological sites, so that often, if you spend only a few days in the capital, you are forced to select one to visit. Besides the most famous Vatican Museums and Galleria Borghese, there is a probably lesser-known gem that is absolutely worth a visit: the Centrale Montemartini. Located in the Ostiense district, originally an industrial area of the capital, this museum offers a collection of about 400 Roman sculptures, mosaics and epigraphs, in the extraordinary setting of an old thermoelectric factory, now considered an amazing example of industrial archaeology.
History of the Centrale Montemartini
Opened in 1912, this factory became the first public electricity plant, assuming the name of the councilor and municipalization theorist who supported its construction, Giovanni Montemartini. After half a century of activity, the factory become obsolete and closed in 1963, when more advanced technology was required. When, in the following decades, the building was restored, the old machines were recovered, such as the imposing steam turbine and the diesel engines. However, the factory was not supposed to become a museum until 1997, when one of the Capitoline Museums’ area needed to be closed for repairs and a part of the art collection was transferred to the plant. Thus, since the ancient works and the industrial setting seemed to coexist in a very suggestive way, what was supposed to be a temporary exhibition became permanent.
The art collection
The ancient art works are nicely divided within the museum, according to their era and theme. On the ground floor, remains of the Roman Republic (509 BC – 27 BC) are exposed in the ‘Columns Room’. In particular, you can observe finds related to the funerary sphere and typical properties of aristocratic families, such as jewelery or precious personal objects. Then, in the ‘Engine Room’ – probably the most impressive one – imposing sculptures of the Imperial age, marble portraits and the Temple of Apollo Sosiano pediment reconstruction all stand together among two huge diesel engines. The contrast between black and white, iron and marble, continues in the ‘Boiler Room’, where statues and beautiful mosaics from the Imperial domus (private residences) are framed by a massive steam boiler.
A good example of urban renewal
What is remarkable here is not only the very successful artistic experiment. The Centrale Montemartini is also an extraordinary example of how an ancient and unused factory can be revived into a new form instead of simply being an abandoned and useless builing. In a city like Rome, full of history and pieces of art, the redevelopment of this kind of building is be a smart choice, which prevents degradation and avoids unnecessary further construction. Furthermore, urban reconversions like this could attract contemporary artists and contribute to making Rome a more international city, with one foot firmly in its rich past and the other more forward-looking.