Machines, Gods and Ghosts at Rome’s Centrale Montemartini Museum
Set in Rome’s first public electrical power plant, the Centrale Montemartini Museum presents marble statues from the Capitoline Collection set against the backdrop of preserve turbines, diesel engines and steam boilers to create one of the most thought-provoking museum spaces Rome has to offer.
The carefully chosen pieces don’t overwhelm the viewer like the more packed Vatican Museums and the spacious ceilings and natural light from the high glass window panes creates a dream-like atmosphere that guides you back through time to the turn of the century and into Rome’s classical past.
It’s truly spectacular to see the hulking machines (now silenced for decades) adorned in twisting pipes and pressure gauges juxtaposed with creamy marble carved into delicate flowers, curls of hair and the faces of heroes and gods worn rough at the edges. This museum has more than works of art and history to display, its a meditation on change and time.
The Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre was built in 1912. What was intended as a power reserve quickly became a steady supplier of energy to the surrounding area. Mechanical energy was generated by combustion, a typical method for medium-large cities like Rome. The machines in the museum now are the originals, now polished, clean, and silent.
It’s also worth a stroll around this area on the bank of the Tiber river to get an idea of an early 20th century Rome striving toward modernization and industrialization while trying to find a balance with its ancient past. You can find the spidery, cylindrical Gasometer beside the power plant, the Slaughter House and General Markets across the Via Ostiense, the Ostiense train station and old docks along the river.
In 1997 the disused station was chosen as the temporary location for works from the Capitoline Museums which was under construction. The intriguing contrast of industrial architecture with weathered marble statues encouraged museum officials to make Centrale Montemartini a permanent site for the Capitoline Museum’s latest acquisitions.
Now you can see statues of heroic Gods and the weary faces of emperors dating from Republican Rome to the Late Imperial age. Worth seeing are the colossal head of a goddess found near Largo Argentina, a portrait of Cleopatra, and a stunning mosaic of hunting scenes from Santa Bibiana.
If ancient marble works lying alongside dormant industrial machines isn’t eerie enough for you, for a short time you can also enjoy the exhibit “Machines, Gods, and Ghosts,” on display until November 20.
This special exhibit, executed by American artist Patricia Cronin specifically for the museum, adds 6 fluttering, ghostly spectral shapes to the already highly evocative museum space. Made with watercolor printed on translucent silk, these ghosts add movement and delicacy to the steel and stone.
Via Ostiense, 106
How to get there
Metro Piramide and a short bus ride
Tue-Sun 9am to 7pm (closed Monday)
General Tickets € 7,50 (reduced ticket € 6,50)
Combined ticket for Capitoline Museums: € 15
“Machines, Gods, and Ghosts” will be on display until 20 November