Museo di Roma at Palazzo Braschi

Palazzo Braschi is in the heart of Renaissance Rome, between Piazza Navona and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Cosimo Morelli (1732-1812) an architect from Imola, was commissioned to design the building for Duke Luigi Braschi-Onesti (1745-1816), the nephew of Pius VI (Giovanni Angelico Braschi, 1717-1799), who had been elected Pope in 1775. Palazzo Braschi is the last tangible evidence of Papal nepotism -- that is, the last big family residence to be started in Rome with Church funds.

The Palazzo stands on the site formerly occupied by a fifteenth-century palace that had been built for Francesco Orsini, the Prefect of Rome of his day. It had then been the residence of Cardinal Oliviero Carafa and later of Cardinal Antonio Ciocchi del Monte in the 16th century. The latter commissioned Antonio da Sangallo the Younger to build a tower decorated with historical scenes at the corner of Piazza Navona and Via della Cuccagna. At the end of the 17th century, the Orsini family regained possession of the building and brought in numerous artistic masterpieces. The building then passed to Prince Caracciolo di Santobono, who sold it to the Braschi-Onesti family in 1790. Palazzo Orsini was demolished in 1791 and the construction of the new building for the Braschi family began the following year.

Pius VI never got to see the new family digs, however: in 1798, when the Palace was still not anywhere near completion, Napoleon's forces took Rome and arrested the Pope. Pius IV was expelled from Rome and died in exile the next year as "Citizen Braschi". The Duke, however, landed on his feet during Napoleonic times, and construction on the Palazzo resumed in 1802. In 1804 the monumental staircase and perhaps also the first floor chapel, both attributed to Giuseppe Valadier (1762 - 1839), were completed.

Duke Luigi Braschi-Onesti became Mayor of Rome in 1810, and was made a member of Napoleon's new "Commission for the Beautification of Rome" the next year. The Commission actually undertook many archeological and architectural projects, the most notable of which was Valadier's glorification of Piazza del Popolo, which still today is much as the Commission left it. (Some interesting notes on this period of Rome's history are in a short Internet biography of Count Camille de Tournon-Simiane, the Napoleonic Prefect of Rome and another of the three members of the Commission. See the link below.) But then Rome's Napoleonic adventure was over, and the Duke's faced financial problems -- now neither Papal nor Napoleonic money was flowing his way. Palazzo Braschi was not completed until after 1816, and by that time the Duke, also, was already dead.

The Braschi heirs sold the Palazzo to the new state of Italy after the 1870 unification, and it then became the seat of the Ministry of the Interior. During Mussolini's time it housed Fascist party and government institutions including a museum. After the liberation of Rome in World War 2, three hundred refugee families were moved into the Palazzo. By 1949, when they were evicted, they had caused serious damage to the frescoes and floors by building fires inside the palace rooms. Security inside the building was minimal, and numerous art objects were stolen. In 1950, the building was designated as the Government of Italy's "Museum of Rome" to house the remains of the accumulated collections, but it didn't open as a museum until two years later. Large additional collections of documents and photographs were added in subsequent years. Money for museum maintenance remained scarce, and by 1987 the museum, in great disrepair, had to be closed "for renovation". Some research facilities in the palazzo were still available, but no renovation work was actually done until after the state-owned property passed to the Rome Comune (City Council) in 1990. Even then, there was no visible progress for a number of years, but in 1998 work began in an attempt to ready the building for the 2000 millennium. Cleaning and restoration of the exterior side facing Piazza Navona was completed in early 2000, but several announced opening dates for the museum came and went, and the doors remained shut. Finally, on May 4, 2002, the Museum -- at least most of it -- was reopened.

The Museum has approximately 15,000 artifacts relating to the history of the city from the Middle Ages to the first half of the 20th century. Furniture, carriages and sedan chairs, architectural and civic engineering features, mosaics and frescoes saved from demolition, medieval ceramics, woodcuts for fabrics of the 18th and 19th centuries, clothing and tapestries from those periods are in the collection. The collection of paintings in noteworthy: there are, of course, works of high artistic value by Andrea Sacchi, Pierre Subleyras, Pier Leone Ghezzi, Marco Benefial and Pompeo Batoni, but, more interesting for historians, there are also many paintings that have enormous value as documents. These were painted between the 16th and 18th centuries to celebrate ceremonies and civil and religious events, and they show both the people of the times and many of Rome's important buildings and locations as they were before baroque and later changes were made.

The sculpture collection, from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, contains busts, models and terracotta studies. Works by the most important sculptors working in Rome -- Gian Lorenzo Bernini (busts of Barberinis), Francesco Mochi, Alessandro Algardi, Melchiorre Caffà, Bernardino Cametti, and others -- are all represented. Like the paintings, the sculptures have additional historic value because they mainly concentrate on important actors in the history of Rome during the period.

The Municipal Print Collection is of unparalleled value as an icongraphic and documentary representation of the topography and history of the city. It consists of approximately 25,000 items -- drawings and watercolors, prints, engravings, and old books that recount the history of the city. It includes, for example, more than 5000 engravings, drawings, and illustrated books collected by to Antonio Muñoz, who was Rome's Superintendent of Monuments in the 1930's and whose purpose was to document the city as it was before Mussolini's changes. The collection also demonstrates the development of graphic art and its techniques from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

The Palazzo also houses the Municipal Photograph Archives which provides a huge sample (about 10,000 photos and 40,000 glass-plate negatives) of Roman photography from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century plus 2,000 additional photos from 1960 to 1990. The Photo Archives provide the only available documentation of the major changes to the city during Mussolini's utopian modernization schemes, in which many ancient and Renaissance structures were destroyed, moved or modified. Other items in the photo archives were collected, commissioned, or purchased specifically to document the history of the city. Some items from the Print Collection and Photo Archives are on display, and the rest are available for research by qualified persons.

The Palazzo Braschi Rome Museum is also the proud owner of a computerized "Documentation Center" that is cataloguing all the holdings of the Museum in a databank that can be used, at various levels of access, by museum staff, students, tourists and scholars. There are large computer rooms in limited access areas, but there is also a small "research room" with several hundred books and eight computer terminals that is available to the public on a walk-in basis. It's behind the big statues in the lobby, but it may eventually be moved and enlarged. Printed catalogues for some parts of the collections are also available for use in the research room or for purchase in a small bookstore off the courtyard. (The books on the Rome museum holdings and the print and photo collections are, obviously, not complete catalogues -- even minimal lists, if complete, would fill multiple volumes.)

All of the databank info will also eventually be on the Internet, and some of it already appears (still, unfortunately, sporadically) on the Museum's big new web site. The site's Internet servers have been, to quote Jake's lament/lullaby in Porgy and Bess, "a sometime thing": at times they seem to be pulled off line for the addition of new material. This happen most often after the Museum closes for the evening (1800 GMT). This is not unusual with a big Internet startup such as this, so keep trying. I've been in the database several times in the first few days after the Museum opened, and it is well done and already extensive, just not yet always available. The Museum and Palazzo "History" sections of the web site are also the source of most of what you have read here, and there is much more information than I have included.

There is no print or Internet guide to the Museum itself -- only to the current exhibition (which, however, may be on display for a long time -- other rooms, still in preparation, will be used for exhibitions of a more temporary nature). The exhibition guide, only available in Italian, is called Il Museo Racconta la Citta, and it can be had at the bookstore for 50 Euros. An abbreviated form of the guide is on the Italian side of the Internet site listed as "Percorso". Everything on display has good signage, including the restored rooms themselves, but, for now, the signs are only in Italian. You can see a lot even without a guide, by just wandering through the two floors of exhibition space. Some important rooms -- the great hall with the tapestries, the Valadier Chapel -- were not available to visit in the first few days after the museum was reopened, nor were the coaches of the old Papal train (on the ground floor).

The Museum is at the south end of Piazza Navona, and its entrance is on Via San Pantaleo -- go down the street from the southeast corner of the Piazza and turn left at the end of the building. Signs on the other entrances direct you to the Via San Pantaleo entrance. It is open from 9 AM until 7 PM with a final entrance time of 6 PM. The ticket costs 6.20 Euros and there will be a small additional fee for the AudioGuide (English and Italian) once they are available. Guided tours in English and Italian will be conducted on Saturdays and Sundays. The Museum is completely wheelchair accessible, but the elevators can be hard to find. On the ground floor the elevator is behind a door to the left of the Grand staircase: for exhibit areas press 1 or 2. There are clean new restrooms on each exhibit level and in the research and office areas and they are also wheelchair accessible.

Contacts: telephone - 39 06 67108346; Fax - 39 06 67108303; E-mail -

Internet links:
The Museum's own web site is the only place on the net that has extensive information about the Museum and its collections. The home page, with links to the Italian and English sides of the site, is at: http://www/

As mentioned above, the site was not fully implemented as of May 8, 2002. Some links still lead nowhere, and the site itself is not always available. In addition, the menus on the English and Italian sections do not always correspond -- thus far, for example, the database is only available on the English language part of the site, but all the listings and data are in Italian. It may take months for all of the database entries to be put on line. Even at the terminals in the museum, it was not all available yet, although there seemed to be a lot more at those terminals ("only about 25,000 entries") than there is in the Internet version, where only text is available for most entries -- only limited pictures so far. Even when it's all on line, it will only be an illustrated catalogue with small-format illustrations that will never compare with the large originals.

Other links:
Cosimo Morelli, architect of the Palazzo: (in Italian)

Napoleon's Prefect of Rome, Count Camille de Tournon-Simiane -- bio:

P.S.: Pius IV Braschi is the pope whose statue, by Canova, is in the Confessio pit in front of the Papal Altar in St. Peter's Basilica. A picture of the Statue, from an angle you're unlikely to see at the Basilica, is at along with a bio note.

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