A Tale of Three Museums

If Amazon.it is to be trusted, my replacement camera should be arriving tomorrow, meaning higher-quality, artsier photos for all! In the meantime, let me tell you about the week we've been having.

Continuing our series of weekly Tuesday excursions, we spent a day in Albano Laziale and (ancient) Lavinium. Once again the weather proved uncooperative, and many of our planned excursions were cut short. We were, however, blessed with the opportunity to visit not one but TWO entirely memorable museums—memorable for entirely different reasons.

THE FIRST MUSEUM: MUSEO DELLE NAVI

The Museo delle Navi at Lake Nemi must have, at some point in its lifetime, been a sight to behold. Nowadays, behold how pitiful it is:

If you're saying to yourself "What's so pitiful about that?" try to imagine this: in its first life, this museum housed two of Caligula's floating palaces, a pair of gargantuan ships for years sunken at the bottom of Lake Nemi before Mussolini ordered the lake to be drained to get the ships out and put them on public display. The museum was built such that visitors could view the ships on two floors (not in the picture: the other side of the room, same size; these two "rooms", if you can call them that, were at one point entirely taken up by the ships). Today, the museum is in somewhat of a state of disrepair, with leaky ceilings everywhere, bathrooms which may or may not be in the middle of a years-long renovation, and an absolute lack of heat. Caligula's ships, regrettably, were lost to either the Germans or the Americans in World War II (depending on who you ask), and the museum has since had to improvise its displays. Admittedly there was some cool stuff there, but the presentation (and temperature GAH I'm shivering just thinking about that icebox) was...unfortunate.

To give you an idea of just how large Caligula's ships were, have a to-scale reconstruction of a portion of one of the ships + oar.

Even though the rain subsided by this point, our visit to the allegedly beautiful Sanctuary of Diana was cancelled on account of we would have had to wade through two feet of water to get to it, so onwards we went to...

THE SECOND MUSEUM: MUSEO ARCHEOLOGICO DI LAVINIO

Anyone who's read the Aeneid in high school Latin should remember Lavinium as the city founded by Aeneas, the mythical forebear of Rome. Originally we were supposed to see the tomb of Aeneas and the enigmatic 12 Altars, but alas, the weather had other plans for us. 

I don't have any pictures from this part of the story because photography was strictly forbidden—you'll understand why soon—so you'll just have to use your imagination to picture what I have to describe next because it almost defies explanation.

As you walk down the tree-lined path leading to the Archaeological Museum of Lavinium, a voice whispers to you from the shadows. Not immediately do you realize that this is the pre-recorded voice of an Italian lector of the Aeneid, setting the mood for the spectacle that awaits in the museum.

Okay, I lied, here's ONE picture. Whoever took it must have been fed to the dogs after uploading it to Wikipedia though.

Okay, I lied, here's ONE picture. Whoever took it must have been fed to the dogs after uploading it to Wikipedia though.

Upon entrance to the museum, you are asked to leave your bags in the ticket office and to not cross the yellow lines (this detail become important later). Once you and/or your group have complied, enter ROOM 1. A blacked-out sliding door closes behind you so that you can focus on the presentation of the first chamber: a statue of Minerva Tritonia accompanied by a video with ~DRAMATIC MUSIC~. The video in question shows a couple of angles of the statue, which lights up accordingly.

After the lights undim, proceed to your right to ROOM 2. If there was an audiovisual component of this room, we missed out on it. Not that a collection of terra cotta tomb statues staring at you intently requires anything else to be sufficiently unsettling.

To get to ROOM 3 requires that you cross back through ROOM 1 and ascend a staircase next to ROOM 5 (don't get ahead of yourself now!). Once here, observe the oddly-displayed arrangement of mirrors and terra cotta busts, but do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES lean in past the yellow line to observe how this display is set up or you will set off the 145-decibel security alarm and effectively render everyone in your group deaf (sorry guys).

ROOM 3 continues around the corner and opens into a small theater, where the lucky first 4 entrants get to claim a spot on the driftwood-shaped bench to watch a video, complete with historical reenactments of the fall of Troy, about archaic shipbuilding projected onto a sail.

Continue down the hall to ROOM 4, where the magic happens. After everyone has assembled, gather round to witness a video showcasing the aforementioned 13 altars. Then brace yourself for the unannounced arrival of the Obi-Wan Kenobi-style of HOLOGRAPHIC TOGA MAN. Who proceeds to blather at you in Italian about the history of this site while everyone freaks out about the tiny man who just appeared out of nowhere.

After you've gathered your bearings, head back down the stairs and hook a left into the plastic tree-adorned ROOM 5, stopping to marvel at the reconstructed Tomb of Aeneas housed happily beneath a somewhat-terrifying glass floor. In the final chamber, an old stone door faces the audience, threatening some sort of haunted house scare. Don't get your hopes up though—the only thrills this final room has to offer are shadowy apparitions of Roman soldiers and a glorious voice over of Book 6 of the Aeneid, accompanied by the instantly-immortal catchphrase, "Padre, what is this senseless craving for light?" and an obligatory clip from Gladiator; the menacing door remains closed for the duration of the presentation.

I hope that conveyed just how weird that place was. If you weren't totally immersed though, I guess you'll just have to fly to Rome and see it for yourself...

On second thought, don't go there. Because the third museum, an unexpected Thursday morning change-of-plans, is the best museum in the history of museums...that I've seen. The Louvre better bring it when I (hopefully) go see it next month.

THE THIRD MUSEUM: MUSEI CAPITOLINI

If you see one museum in Rome, go see the Capitoline museum. It's AWESOME, it has a great café, great exhibits, beautiful architecture, and these views.

(Am I overreacting because it was a beautiful day and I was just kind of floored by this place? Nah.)

Finally, for all three of you who have seen The Great Beauty (which may or may not win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film next month, depending on how well the Academy takes to the image of a veiled-yet-otherwise-naked performance artist running headfirst into an aqueduct), look what I found!

The Great Beauty pose.jpg
Either there's an exact copy of this statue somewhere else in Rome, or this is photoshopped. Technically I haven't even seen this movie yet so I have no context for this whatsoever, but still.

Either there's an exact copy of this statue somewhere else in Rome, or this is photoshopped. Technically I haven't even seen this movie yet so I have no context for this whatsoever, but still.