“The Machines and the Gods”: Classical Art and Industry at the Centrale Montemartini

Wander Ostiense and you’ll find a hidden gem of a museum, abandoned by all but the ticket-seller, who only makes you pay a measly 5 bucks or so to enter this fabulous place. In the Centrale Montemartini the dark metal of the massive machinery forms a backdrop to the statues sculpted from airy cream-colored marble. This museum is rarely on tourists’ itinerary during their visit to Rome, and Romans have often never even heard of the place. The absence of other visitors makes the space all the more haunting, though its beauty makes it hard to believe that more people don’t make the trek outside the city center for a visit.

The Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre, Rome’s first public power plant, is located in the heart of the city’s old industrial district, beneath the imposing gasometro, and along the Tiber river. Much like the abandoned slaughterhouse which now hosts the MACRO Testaccio museum, the Centrale Montemartini has been revived as an exhibition space. Today the centre hosts classical art inside a relic of Rome’s industrial past.

The two enormous diesel engines in the machine room (installed under the watchful eye of none other than Benito Mussolini) are just as fascinating as the carefully sculpted statues. The building itself is enormous and well-lit (especially if you go in the late afternoon as the sun pours in over the river). The scent of oil still fills the air after some fifty years of inactivity.

Cognizant of the almost mystical juxtaposition they’d created, the curators entitled the original exhibition “The Machines and the Gods”. Indeed, while wandering the Centrale Montemartini you are forced to contemplate our modern relationship with industry and science and the reverence once paid by our ancient ancestors to their gods. Centrale Montemartini is a sort of temple to the old and the new, a testament to the power of objects, and a sadly neglected space which should attract tourists by the thousands.

Location: Via Ostiense 106 – 00154 Roma

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9:00-19:00

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