The Borghese Gallery in Rome offers one of my favorite art experiences. Period. It has an amazing art collection, is a manageable size, and is housed in an elegant 17th century villa whose grounds are now a large hilltop park.
We’ve been to many art museums before and since, but this one has continued to stand out. There are three things in particular that make the Borghese one of my all time favorites:
It’s small, but high value.
A lot of times art museums are overwhelmingly gigantic (the Louvre in Paris comes to mind). Big museums can be cool because they have so much to check out, but they can also be tiring and make you worry about what to skip. At the Borghese, however, there’s time for everything because it’s comparatively small. And you’ll want to spend all the time you can because the collection is absolutely stellar.
The collection and villa belonged to the Borghese family, a powerful papal and noble family in Rome . Throughout the 1600s, they collected the highest caliber ancient art as well as the biggest names in their time. As a result, the rooms are filled with some of the world’s best sculptures and paintings from artists including Raphael, Carravagio, Canova, Titian, and Bernini. Bernini’s work is particularly impressive; his mastery of stone is mesmerizing and his evocative compositions, such as The Rape of Persphone (above), are filled with drama.
It’s timed, but crowd controlled.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about buying a ticket to an art museum with a time limit until I experienced it — it was perfect.
Your ticket gets you into the museum for a specified two hour period, which is plenty of time to see everything. And since only a certain number of tickets are sold per time slot, the museum is never too crowded.
So unlike say the Louvre where literally hundreds of people crowd around the tiny portrait of Da Vincni’s Mona Lisa, during one point of my sold out visit to the Borghese I had Bernini’s David all to myself.
It’s in situ.
Another reason the Borghese Gallery is one of my favorite art museums is because all the art is in situ, or situated in the place it was meant to be. In the 1600s Scipione Borghese, a wealthy cardinal and nephew to Pope Paul V, commissioned the villa to be built to house his large art collection. Each room was designed specifically for the art that adorns it, which is one of the reasons why everything looks so perfectly placed. Not much has changed since then, as it has been continually maintained.
If you go.
Tips: Go the opposite direction of everyone else. When we went, the majority of people went through the exhibit in the same direction. It was a little congested, especially at first. So we opted to see everything in reverse. We quickly walked to the end of the museum outstripping everyone, then slowly worked our way back to the beginning. This let us see everything with fewer crowds. Plus we got a final walk-through at the end.
Other perks: The park! Originally this hilltop was a terraced Roman vineyard just outside the walls of ancient Rome. Scipione Borghese turned it into a garden of delights, a retreat from the city. Now in the heart of the city, it still acts as a respite from the busy congestion below. It’s filled with beautiful canopied pine trees, gardens, and other villa type structures.
Tickets: During high tourist season, tickets can sell out and it’s best to get them at least a few days in advance. You can purchase tickets on the Borghese Gallery’s official website. As of the date of this post, tickets were 11 Euros including all fees. Your hotelier should be able to help you reserve tickets.
When to arrive: Get there 30 minutes early. This gives you a little time to get lost in the park on your way there. Plus, you are required to bag check anything larger than a pocketbook, so give yourself plenty of time to get your items checked.
Photography: Since 2014 photography is allowed without flash. This is actually too bad, as not having a bunch of people posing with the art and blocking it was one of the things I appreciated about this gallery. But hopefully since it is crowd controlled, it won’t be an issue.
— Laura Rowley