Museums, Galleries & Churches in Italy

What you should know

Bellini, Botticelli, Canaletto, da Vinci, Donatello, Giacometti, Giotto, Michelangelo, Palladio, Raphael, Tintoretto, Titian ... of all the European nations, Italy has made the greatest contribution to painting and sculpture, and the country’s fragmented political history has led to a rich regional diversity in the arts.

The Italian renaissance, left a magnificent legacy of painting and sculpture that decorates Italian museums, buildings and churches throughout the country (it’s said that Italy is home to half the world’s great art).

There are some 70 state-owned museums and art galleries in Italy, in addition to countless private collections. Among the many highlights are the Accademia and Collezione Peggy Guggenheim in Venice, the Galleria degli Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia (home to Michelangelo’s David) in Florence, and the Musei Vaticani (the world’s largest museum complex, housing one of Italy’s most important art collections and incorporating the Sistine Chapel with its unique frescoes by Michelangelo), the Borghese Gallery and the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome. The Borghese Gallery can be visited by just 400 or so people at a time and you must make an appointment.

State-run museums are usually open from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 9am to 1 or 2pm and on Sundays from 9am to 1pm. They usually close on Mondays. Privately owned museums operate much the same hours, but may open briefly in the afternoons as well. Entrance fees usually range from €2 to €5, although costs are considerably higher (e.g. €10 or more) for major exhibitions.

Those under 18 and over 60 are allowed free entry, although proof of age (e.g. a passport) must be provided. Information regarding opening times, entrance fees, special events and the location of museums is provided by tourist offices, and can also be obtained via the internet (www.museionline.com ). You can also book tickets to a number of state-run museums and archaeological sites (see below) via the internet (www.beni culturali.it ).

Churches

Because so many of Italy’s Renaissance artists relied heavily on the Catholic Church for patronage, most Italian churches are ‘art galleries’ in their own right and you may be amazed to discover the treasures inside even the smallest and most insignificant-looking of churches.

Churches are usually open to visitors from around 7 or 8am to noon and reopen from 4 to 7 or 8pm, although in remote rural areas, they open only for services and possibly just on Sundays. However, visits are possible at other times by asking at the local tourist or information office. You won’t usually need to pay an entrance fee but may be expected to pay your guide if you have one or leave a donation.

When visiting places of worship, you should dress conservatively, i.e. no shorts or bare shoulders, and you shouldn’t walk around during services. As most of Italy’s churches are hundreds of years old, many are closed for restoration ( chiuso per restauro) from time to time. If you’re making a special trip to a church or historical site, check in advance whether it will be open.

Archaeological Sites

Archaeological sites have been among Italy’s principal tourist attractions since the 18th century, when it became fashionable for young British and German aristocrats to visit ruins around Europe as part of their cultural education.

The sites also provide a unique insight into the country’s colourful history, particularly the ruins of the ancient world left by the Etruscans, ancient Greeks and, of course, the Romans. Rome is home to several famous sites, including the Forum and the city’s most famous landmark, the Coliseum, a massive amphitheatre where the Romans staged gladiator fights and fed Christians to lions.

The towns of Ercolano and Pompeii have unique archaeological sites. Both were buried under volcanic mud and ash by the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in AD79 and their perfectly preserved remains have been an object of fascination for tourists since they were first excavated in 1750.

Sites within cities tend to open from 9am to 3pm in winter (7pm in summer), from Mondays to Saturdays, and until 1pm on Sundays throughout the year. Larger sites, such as Pompeii, open earlier and close later e.g. 8am to 7.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays.

The entrance fee to most sites is around €8.50 and there are usually official guides, who charge a small fee. Local tourist offices can provide further information on archaeological sites and they usually offer useful guidebooks for the most important ones.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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