Are you wondering if you should visit the Galleria Borghese when you come to Rome? Are you not even sure what I'm talking about? Find out why this is one of Rome's must-see museums, and all the tips you need to know about visiting it.
Based on my own visits to many of Rome's museums (several times over) over the years, if I had to pick only one museum to visit on my trip to Rome, it would be this one. Sacrilege you say? Not the Vatican Museums?
Well, really, you should see them both (and the Capitoline Museums!)
But as I say, if I had to pick one museum, the Borghese Gallery would win hands down. Here's why:
REASON 1: Caravaggio and Bernini. Some of their most exquisite (and famous) works are in this museum. (This may be a good reason for me personally, but honestly, look at this statue. Don't you want to see it up close and personal??)
REASON 2: The museum has one of the best collections of art in the world in terms of sculpture, painting and architecture (the building itself is one of the attractions.) And it's all in a space that is visitable in the 2-hour time allotment you have.
REASON 3: They only allow 360 people into the museum at once, so even if it can feel sort of crowded when everyone is gaping at one of Bernini's statues all at once, it really is not that crowded. Nothing like the Vatican Museums with its 30,000 visitors per day.
REASON 4: I can see layers of history in the form of art and architecture in a relatively small and manageable space: Floor mosaics from the Coliseum showing gladiators and their kills; ancient Roman sculptures, Egyptian art, Renaissance paintings by some of the masters like Raphael and Titian, and some of Bernini's most famous and loved sculptures.
REASON 5: The museum is in the Villa Borghese park, making a walk there (and back) a lovely experience. Depending on the season, you may even want to visit the gardens of the museum itself as well.
The villa was the summer and party residence of the noble Borghese family, built in the early 1600's. In 1605, Camillo Borghese became Pope V, and his nephew, Scipione Borghese, soon was made a cardinal. Scipione was a real art buff and at a very young age became one of Bernini's biggest fans and patrons. This villa was decorated and furnished mostly due to Scipione Borghese's tastes and very strong will (some works were purchased and other donated, but some works were "confiscated." You can figure out what that means.)
In the 1800's, another Camillo Borghese, who was actually a prince, married into the Bonaparte family (his wife Paolina is the one seen reclining in Canova's spectacular sculpture, seen in the photo just below.) During this time, Rome was under French rule.
In 1807, Prince Borghese had to give about 500 pieces of art from this museum to Napolean, so if you want to see more of the original Borghese collection, you will have to visit the Louvre in Paris. (This is not a very happy subject for Romans today, as you can imagine!)
In 1902, the Borghese family sold the villa and its contents to the Italian state.
The museum is so full of amazing works of art, that it's impossible to list them here. But to give you an idea of some of the wonderful sculpture and paintings you can see, here is a short preview:
A sculpture of Paolina Borghese by Canova that is worth the price of admission alone:
What can I say, I am a sucker for pretty much anything Bernini has ever done. OK make that anything he has ever done. Aside from the fact that three of his most important sculptures are in this museum...
...there are many more works by him, including a self-portrait (painting), a fascinating sculpture of Aeneas fleeing Troy (this is the beginning of the Rome foundation story!)...and even a sculpture he didn't finish.
Michelangelo Merisi, otherwise known as Caravaggio was a master of chiaroscuro, which means using very light colors against a dark background, for maximum effect and contrast. He perfected this style and is considered one of the best and most well-known artists in using it to create a strong atmosphere in his paintings.
There is a lot that is fascinating about Caravaggio, his life and his works. But this page is about the Galleria Borghese, so let me just show you a very little hint of some of his works you can see there:
Once again, I really cannot do these works of art justice with my photographs, taken at angles, and the sun glaring on them. But it's to give you an idea of the art you can find in this fabulous museum.
You will find paintings by Rubens, Raphael, Guido Reni, Domenicchino, Parmigianino, Correggio and so many more. It's worth spending the whole 2 hours in the museum and really soaking up the beauty all around you.
Reservations are A MUST to visit the Galleria Borghese. I don't mean, I think you should book. I mean, it is obligatory, according to the museum's website and rules. Even for free tickets such as on the Free Sunday (first of every month), for Roma Pass holders, and for children under 18.
Tickets to the museum cost 13€ for adults, and are free for European citizens under 18. The museum is also free the first Sunday of the month.
There may be additional costs if there is a special exhibit going on.
To pre-purchase your tickets, there is a 2€ fee. So even if you book for an under-18 year old, or for a free Sunday, you will pay 2€ for the reservation.
The Borghese Gallery is one of the sites available to visit with the Roma Pass. You may visit this museum as one of your "free-entry" sites, but you still need to reserve.
If you are using your Roma Pass to visit the Borghese Gallery at a reduced rate, i.e. you have used the Roma Pass for free entry to other sites, then you will need to pay the reduced rate, and also the 2€ reservation fee.
The reduced rate for the Galleria Borghese for Roma Pass holders, when not visiting the museum as one of the primary free-entry sites, is 8.50€ during special exhibits and 6.50€ when there is no exhibit.
They only allow 360 people at once in the museum, every two hours. And for most of the year, you will need to book in advance. Sometimes a day or two in advance, sometimes weeks in advance.
In low season, you can usually reserve a day in advance, and sometimes even the day of your visit. But even in low season, you need to reserve.
There are two ways to book the museum, via phone or online. Unless you have a Roma Pass, you must pay for your tickets during the reservation process (whether you book by phone or online.)
The number to call is +39 06 32810. The +39 means country code Italy. So if you are dialling from the US or Canada, you dial 011 39 06 32810. If you are dialling from another country, use whatever code you need to get an international line, then 39, then 06 32810. (You could also ask your hotel to do this for you in advance, as it's a free phone call for us from here!)
You will have the choice to speak to an operator in Italian or English.
The phone ticket office is open Monday - Friday from 9am until 6pm, and Saturday from 9am until 1pm. It is closed on Sundays and holidays.
Be ready to book with either a receipt of your Roma Pass or the actual pass, or, with credit card, and have something to write with.
Once you book, they will give you a booking code. They may ask for your email address so they can send you confirmation via email. Regardless of how you reserve, either with credit card or with Roma Pass, you still need to pick up your tickets on the day and time of your visit.
If you go to the Borghese website, in English, and click to book tickets, it will take you to their ticket vendor affiliate in Italy, which is TicketOne.
You select the date you want, the time slot, number of people etc.
Once you are ready to pay, you will see there is a fee to use that website/vendor, which is an additional 2€ per person. You will need to create a login name and password, but it's fairly straightforward.
As I just pointed out, the online booking agency used by the Galleria Borghese (and many other Rome sites, museums and events), is TicketOne. It's in Italian but can be viewed in English as long as you get there from the original museum website in English.
But you need to create a login. And sometimes there are messages in Italian (like about your browser not being set to accept cookies.) I have heard more than one person tell me they find this website frustrating and/or difficult to use.
Do you just want to book your tickets via an English-speaking website and be done with it? I recommend using Select Italy. It's easy to use and maneuver through the site. Yes, the tickets cost just a bit more than using TicketOne, but it's an agency and that includes the ease of use and your peace of mind.Click here to visit the SelectItaly website and book your tickets to the Galleria Borghese
You are only allowed a 2-hour window for your visit. But you need to be there at least half-hour before your entry time.
You may also spend a little time afterward visiting the (very small) gift-shop, having a coffee in the bar there, or even walking around the gardens.
Figure in time to get to the museum (this of course depends on where you are coming from, and how you will get there). So all together, I'd say count on a good 3-4 hours out of your day.
My top recommendation for a guide to this museum is to do their audio tour. You cannot book this in advance. You just get it on the day you visit.
The audio tour is 5€, and is self-guided. It's really well-done and has good narrators telling interesting history about specific important (numbered) pieces throughout the museum.
There is no order, so you just go at your own pace and start where you want. Very highly recommended.
Alternatively, you may book a guided tour of the Galleria Borghese with one of their docents, for 6.50€ per person. You must book this when you book your tickets.
You have the choice of a docent who speaks English or Italian, and sometimes (but not always) several other languages are also available, including French, Spanish and German.
You may also opt for a guided tour of the museum. There are several options for guided tours, including a having an art historian, a family-friendly tour, and a tour that also covers more of the park and the top of the Spanish Steps.
Click here to see and book options for guided tours of the Galleria Borghese.
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