Crypta Balbi is part of Museo Nationale Romano, together with Palazzo Altemps,The Baths of Diocletian and Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. When you buy your ticket to Crypta Balbi or to any other of these four buildings, you get access to all of them. If this is your first time in Rome, make Crypta Balbi your top priority, because it offers you an excellent insight into the layered urban evolution of the city. The Romans were keen on reusing old structures to build new ones. Archeological excavation sites show multiple layers of ruins sitting on top of each other, and Crypta Balbi is the best place to understand the history of Rome throughout centuries.
Why Visit Crypta Balbi?
Don’t expect virtual reality goggles or any other fancy technology. Crypta Balbi is rather about drawings, images and maps of Rome as it looked in different ages. For each of these stages, there’s a wealth of artifacts to help you get a glimpse into the day to day life of Ancient Rome.
For instance, did you know how Romans made their infrastructure and building development plans? They didn’t use computers or paper (but you know that already). Here’s a fragment of one of their city map plans carved in marble. How cool is this?
How can you not love the map of the theaters of Pompeo, Balbus and Marcellus with the Tiber river and the surrounding neighborhoods? With this map in mind, try to find the ruins of these structures during your walks in Rome.
Here’s a scene depicting the distribution of wheat to free citizens of Rome in the Porticus Minucia.
Here’s an illustration that shows the juxtaposition of the ancient Porticus Minucia and the modern Via dell Botteghe Oscure.
I find this layering of the city fascinating. The urban landscape changed almost completely during the last two millennia. Yet, you can see remains of the past scattered around everywhere in the old center of Rome. This is one of the reasons why 2, 3 or even 6 days in Rome are not enough to see everything in this impressive city.
Crypta Balbi is also one of the museums in Rome where you can go underground to see the ruins of ancient aqueducts and catacombs. On a hot summer day, you’ll have the opportunity to chill and to recharge your batteries for the afternoon. This should be part of your Rome walking tour, by all means.
Here’s a fragment of the original aqueduct in the theater of Balbo. You don’t have to be an engineer to marvel at the ingeniousness of those builders and architects. Can you see how those segments were shaped to secure the insulation of the aqueduct?
These are only a few reasons why I love Crypta Balbi so much. It manages to depict the life of Romans throughout centuries. It tells the story of generations of people who lived here. It allows us to take a glimpse into their day to day life and habits. You can see even some of the board games they used to play thousands of years ago.
There are also lots of other daily use items, coins, and fashion accessories.
When you’ll go outside, you’ll see all those ruins in Rome in a new light. Rome gives “recycling” a whole new meaning. In this society, nothing gets lost. Just like Castel Sant’ Angelo has been a tomb, a military fortress and a papal residence, the other buildings in Rome were repurposed to fit new functions over and over again to this day.
I always hated history, and yet I’ve spent about two hours in the museum of Crypta Balbi. If I were to tell you three things to see in Rome if you don’t have time for anything else, I’d say Crypta Balbi, Ostia Antica and Palazzo Altemps with the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus.
How To Get to Crypta Balbi?
Crypta Balbi is located on 31, Via delle Botteghe Oscure, very close to Piazza Venezia, Piazza d’Aracoeli, Largo di Torre Argentina and Fontana delle Tartarughe. Tram 8 passes by the museum, just after it crosses the Garibaldi bridge. Anyway, you’ll probably pass by Via delle Botteghe Oscure many times, as it leads to many of the must-see monuments and palces in Central Rome.
There’s a big banner on the building of the museum. Don’t expect crowds of tourists doing the line. There’s no line at Crypta Balbi. Most visitors prefer hoarding at the Vatican, Fontana di Trevi, the Colosseum and the Pantheon. Crypta Balbi is obscure, but this doesn’t make it less important. If you’re interested in history, you’ll spend several hours inside this museum.
The museum opening hours are 9:00 to 19:45. You can’t enter later than 18:45. The museum is closed on Mondays. Here’s the official website of the museum where you can read more about the free days and the closing days.
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