Reflecting upon my brief time spent in Rome thus far, I noticed it continues to surprise me each and every day. Whether it is becoming aware of a local gelato shop down the street from my house, turning a corner and finding a street artist performing live music, or discovering a museum rich with history down the street from my university, I am never left unimpressed. The Centrale Montemartini in Garbatella off Via Ostiense is no different. Upon entering the Centrale Montemartini, I quickly realized it was not a typical museum with white walls, security guards, polished floors, and the like. It was much more than that.
To explain, The Centrale Montemartini used to be a thermoelectric power plant during Rome’s industrial revolution. Its strategic location surrounded by the Tiber River, the railway, and major roadways made it the perfect spot for a power plant. The proximity to the Tiber facilitated the production of steam to power an electrical generator in the power plant, while the railway and major road access made the location easily accessible to workers. In time, however, long after the industrial revolution slowed and the power plant closed, the space was completely transformed and the building became home to restored machines, magnificent artwork, and industrial archaeology.
The Centrale Montemartini was never meant to be a museum due to its original role during the industrial revolution. This feature is very clear upon entering the museum as you are immediately surrounded by industrial machinery as well as beautiful artwork. In fact, the machinery practically serves as a backdrop to the artwork; the dark, steal machines behind the white, marble sculptures create a stark contrast and prompt viewers to focus on both aspects of history when visiting the museum. In this sense, I believe the museum perfectly depicts two very opposed worlds: those of classical art and industrial archaeology.
The ingenious synthesis of the artwork and machinery allows for the space as a whole to be completely transformed to tell a story. In particular, the centermost part of the museum portrays an ancient battle between the Romans and the Greeks through the strategic use of architecture. The pediment of the temple of Apollo Sosiano was reconstructed to recreate history and give visitors insight and the opportunity to understand the story behind it all. On another note, the objects throughout the Centrale Montemartini provide visitors with a sense of both self and community. This is due in part to the fact that all facets of society are represented in the museum. Patricians, commoners, men, women, and slaves alike were all incorporated into sections of the museum. Moreover, there is a community aspect to the museum as well.
The history behind its location — Garbatella — offers a sense of community, in my opinion. To explain, under the rule of Mussolini, metropolitan Rome became very crowded and many people were forced to move to places outside the center of the city, such as Garbatella. As a result, Garbatella became a community full of likeminded, hardworking people. This is reflected in the museum as its focal point is the industrial machinery scattered throughout the museum. This reminds Garbatella natives of their roots and the history of the town, and ultimately creates a sense of community among them when they visit.
Overall, the Centrale Montemartini encompasses many things most museums I have previously visited do not. The adaptation of the building into a museum coupled with the restoration of the machinery and the industrial archaeology creates an atmosphere like no other. The branches of the museum, including industrial archeology and portraiture of historical figures, blend together to offer visitors from all over a unique experience they may not have originally expected.