Visiting Rome can be quite expensive, especially if you love art and want to see museums and art galleries.
Museum admittance is not exactly cheap and there are so many works of art in the city that you can easily end up spending a fortune – totally worth it, but quite challenging if you are on a budget. However, as it often happens in Italy, there are some absolute gems that can be seen without spending a euro cent.
Therefore, when I went to Rome a few weeks ago, I decided to go on a mission and see if I could find some works of art that are accessible without having to pay a ticket. I managed to find three, all within walking distance from one another. Needless to say, there are more – if you are willing to explore – but I decided to make a selection and choose just three.
As I told you last week, I was staying at The Beehive near Termini Train Station, so I walked down Via Cavour until I saw a staircase on my left: that’s the way to get to the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, where you can see the stunning Mosè by Michelangelo Buonarroti.
the stairs leading to San Pietro in Vincoli
If I have the chance, I try to go there every time I visit Rome. I have to admit that it’s not the Moses that takes me there – even if it is always amazing to see – but I love the fact that, from the noise of a busy street like Via Cavour, you can climb up a few stairs and get to a quiet square where you immediately forget about the rest of the world.
The church of San Pietro in Vincoli was built in the 5th century to host a precious relic: the chain that supposedly tied the body of Saint Peter, which is still on display nowadays. But I have the feeling that most people come to the church for a different reason: the statue of Moses by Michelangelo Buonarroti.
The statue had been commissioned to Michelangelo by Pope Julius II – one of the two Popes from Savona, my hometown – as part of his funerary monument. The monument was supposed to be a magnificent work of art but, at a certain point, Julius II changed his mind to focus on restoring Saint Peter’s Basilica, much to the dismay of Michelangelo.
Anyway, what remains is an imposing and magnificent sculpture, which has found its place in the church in 1545 and can be still admired nowadays. The statue is only half-lit and, if you want to see it with better light, you have to pay for it – but you can always wait for someone to do it!
If you return to Via Cavour and keep walking down, you’ll get to the Roman Forum – another beauty that can be admired for free from a distance – you walk past Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia, cross Via del Plebiscito, and if you don’t get lost in the countless little alleyways in the neighborhood, you get to the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, a magnificent church just behind the Pantheon.
the outside of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – with a rental truck who didn’t want to move
The exterior of the church is quite bare but the church inside is superbly decorated and is one of the very few examples of Gothic art in Rome. Inside the church, you’ll find the tomb of Santa Caterina da Siena, Patron Saint of Italy with San Francesco d’Assisi, and that of the painter Beato Angelico.
Among the many works of art, it is worth noting the statue of Christ Carrying The Cross, a marble sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarroti. The sculpture was placed in the church in 1521; at the beginning, Christ was completely naked but a bronze floating loincloth was added later on.
not a very flattering photo of Michelangelo’s Christ
Something worth noting is that in the monastery next to the church, in 1633, Galileo Galilei, under threat of torture by the Roman Inquisition, recanted his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun.
From Piazza della Minerva, if you walk past the Pantheon and head towards Palazzo Madama, the location of the Italian Senate, you will find the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, the national church of French people in Rome since 1589, where three incredible frescoes by Caravaggio are carefully kept.
one of Caravaggio’s frescoes inside San Luigi dei Francesi
The three frescoes can be found in the Cappella Contarelli, commissioned by the cardinal Matthieu Cointerel, to be decorated with scenes from the life of Saint Matthew (the cardinal’s name saint). The work was ended by Caravaggio in 1602.
I have to admit that this was the work of art that struck me the most. As much as I love sculptures, the incredible beauty of this frescoes is unbeatable. They are dramatic, realistic, superb. I am not very good at describing works of art – in English it is even more difficult – but let me just tell you that I was moved when I saw them.
the beautiful ceiling of San Luigi dei Francesi
Well, my little walk around free art in Rome ended here. Needless to say, there’s way more to see. Obviously, Saint Peter’s Basilica is full of art – Michelangelo’s Pietas, to name just one of them – and can be accessed for free. Moreover, if you are interested in more Caravaggio’s art, you can find it in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, right in Piazza del Popolo, and in the church of Sant’Agostino, near Piazza Navona.
All churches are open daily – check opening times before visiting – but can’t be accessed during Mass service. As I mentioned, works of art are not perfectly lit but can be if you pay one or two euros.
Now you: have you been to Rome already? What is your favorite work of art in the city?
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my brand-new program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.
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