Last weekend began the splendid nine-day long "Semitana della Cultura." During this annual event, all of Italy's state and municipal museums, parks, galleries, ruins, etc., are open to the public for FREE! This set of pictures comes from some of our first trips to sites that we hadn't seen yet. More to come later this week!
First, a walk through the Piazza del Popolo (which is always free and open). It is a huge open space about 10 minutes from our flat, perfect site for the best people-watching in Rome. The entrance is the huge 16th-century arch that marks the Via Flaminia, the 3rd-century BC road from Rome to the Adriatic coast. The piazza is flanked by churches on two sides and by the green, tree-covered Pincio Hill on the east. The fountain at the center of the piazza features a 3000 year-old Egyptian obelisk. The piazza is a also a favorite site for street performers and political rallies. It's where we saw the horse show during Carnevale.
The first museum I checked out is the Crypta Balbi in the old historic city center. The building sits atop an archeological dig that uncovered the gardens, recreatonal area, baths, and spas that were behind the scenes of the ancient Theater of Balbus (1st century BC), now about three stories below the current street level. The above-ground museum houses artifacts recovered from the site and explains the history of the area.
On Tuesday, we took the tram out to the Villa Giulia, an estate with a beautiful garden built as a summertime get-away for Pope Julius III (1550-1555). It now houses the National Etruscan Museum, a fantastic collection ancient pre-Roman artifacts from central Italy. The mysterious Etruscan civilization flourished in what is now Tuscany (the name derives from "Etruscan") and Umbria from ca. 700 BCE until it was conquered and absorbed by Rome in the 1st century BCE. We are now more eager than ever to visit the vast Etruscan necropolises in nearby Cerveteri and Tarquinia.