The Centrale Montemartini, on the Via Ostiense, is part of the system of the Museums in the Municipality. It houses about 400 Roman statues, already exhibited at the Capitoline Museums or recovered from the rich municipal deposits, along with epigraphs and mosaics, in an extraordinary setting of industrial archeology.
The history if the new exhibition space for the Musei Capitolini in the former Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre, an extraordinary example of industrial archaeology converted into a museum, began in 1997 with the transfer of hundreds of sculptures to the new location during the restructuring works carried out across much of the Capitoline complex.
To create space in the Museum of the Palazzo dei Conservatori, the Museo Nuovo and the Braccio Nuovo, while keeping the works of art accessible to the public, an exhibition was created in 1997 in the restructured rooms of the first public electricity plant in Rome. The exhibition was entitled “The machines and the gods”: it put side by side two diametrically opposed worlds, those of classical art and industrial archaeology.
In an atmospheric game of contrasts, the old machinery of electricity production became the backdrop for masterpieces of ancient sculpture and precious goods found in the excavations of the late nineteenth century and the 1930s. The display reconstructs some of the great monumental complexes and illustrates the development of the ancient city from the Republican era to the late imperial age.
The adaption of the building into a museum, the restoration of the machines and the educational sections about industrial archaeology have all been created by ACEA.
The outstanding museum space was originally thought of as a temporary solution. However when part of the sculptural collection was returned to the Campidoglio in 2005, on the conclusion of the restructuring works, it was decided to turn the building into a permanent location for a collection of the Museio Capitolini’s most recent acquisitions.
The space is used for continual experiments in possible display methods, particularly those connected to scientific research on the remains; bringing together works from the same area of provenance also allows the links between the museum and the fabric of the ancient city to be continually renewed.
The museum itself is part of a wider project to redefine the Ostiense Marconi area, converting it into a cultural centre for the oldest industrial area of Rome (including, as well as the electricity plant, the Slaughter House, the Gasometer, structures from the docks, the old Mira Lanza site and the old General Markets), with the defining structure of the university campus of Roma Tre.
Most of the finds are made up of pieces coming from the excavations carried out after the Unification of Italy, in particular excavations related to the ancient Roman horti. The exhibition system highlights the find area of the finds and is divided into three main themes:
Republican Rome (the religious and funeral sphere, the introduction of luxury in the private sphere, the portraiture), in the “Sala Colonne”;
the monumental center of Rome (area of the Flaminio circus, temple of Apollo Sosiano, Campidoglio, sacred area of largo Argentina, theater of Pompeo), in the “Machine Room”;
the gardens, the imperial residences and the domus (horti of the Esquiline, horti Sallustiani, horti Spei Veteris in Porta Maggiore, mosaic of Santa Bibiana), in the “Sala Caldaie”.
The exhibition is characterized by the intertwining of images of classical archeology and images of industrial archeology, with the machinery of the power station that are the background to the sculptures (or vice versa, according to the observation points inside the hall). Very disturbing is the disturbing presence of the two gigantic and silent Diesel engines of the power plant, each of which is sympathetic to an alternator, all symbols of that century that saw the advent of most of the most extraordinary technologies of the modern era.
Among the statues, two Roman copies of the Skopas Pothos.
In the spacious hall of the atrium, on the ground floor, compressed air canisters are lined up on both sides. They were used to work the Diesel engines in the Machine Room above.
History of the Centrale Montemartini
With educational panels giving an exhaustive history of the building from its installation onwards, including period photographs and technical drawings.
Also examining the characteristics of main main machines used.
Throughout the exhibit the individual machines have labels explanatory labels.
The furnishing of the museum
he sculpture of the Musei Capitolini was transfered to the Centrale Montemartini during reconstruction works at the Musei Capitolini complex, so that they could remain on display throughout the period, rather than being put into store.
Several panels describe the various phases of furnishing, including the packing in the Musei Capitolini, the transportation, and the installation in the rooms of the Centrale Montemartini.
There is a particular focus on the movement of many large and heavy pieces of sculpture, achieved using expedient technical solutions.
Hall of Columns
This large hall takes its name from the numerous pillars of reinforced cement which once supported the three boilers in the Boiler Hall on the floor above.
Several hoppers are also visible in the ceiling, similar to the truncated-pyramidical funnels, which were filled with the cinders from the coal used to feed the boilers.
A hatch in the lower part of the hoppers allowed the cinders to be recovered, collected in carts and carried on the communal trucks of the Garden Services to be used in the gardens and parks of Rome for drainage.
Hall of the Machines
The size of the two diesel engines present in the room, today completely restored, is impressive. The camshaft of each motor is made from three pieces, whose total weight in 81 tons, and which measure over 20 metres.
The colossal two-speed motors had a total power of 15.000 HP and were constructed by the Franco Tosi di Legnano Company; they were installed on the 21st April 1933, in the presence of Benito Mussolini.
A steam turbine is also installed in the room, a genuine antique piece.
This spacious rectangular room, which measures more than 1000 square metres, is dominated by a huge steam boiler fixed to one of the short walls.
The only survivor of the three boilers originally installed, it rises from the floor to the ceiling ina complex net of tubes, bricks and metal walkways.
Room of the Train of Pius IX (formerly Boiler Room no. 2)
The environment that today is dedicated to the exposition of Pope Pius IX’s train wagons was originally a sector of the Boiler Room n. 2 of the Montemartini thermoelectric plant.
The Boiler Room 2. History and reuse
The design of a second Boiler Room, adjacent to the first of 1912, began in 1921, when it became necessary to equip the production plant with a new Tosi 9000 HP turbo-alternator and its battery of boilers. The contract was entrusted to the Italian Ferrobeton Company and was completed in 1924. The result was a large room, divided into three naves by two rows of high reinforced concrete pillars, with a two-level floor plan, in which three new large steam boilers built by Tosi – Garbe were housed.
The works carried out in 1950 for the expansion of the adjacent Boiler Room no. 1 involved covering the southern front of the building’s left aisle and modifying the facade, which took on its current appearance. In 1954, concurrent with the phase of progressive decline of the thermoelectric plant, all the machinery of the Hall were abandoned and sold, while the environment, partially remodelled and divided into two sectors through metal shutters, was reused by Acea, partly as testing laboratory for high voltage power and partly as carpentry. In addition to the bridge crane, the only industrial element that survived the dismantling of the machinery of the Hall is a tank for storing naphtha for the boilers supply, which was originally placed on the trusses of the central corridor, as can be seen from an image of 1924.
After the acquisition of the spaces of the Centrale Montemartini by the Sovrintendenza Capitolina, the southern sector of the former Boiler Room n. 2 has been the subject of complex renovation work, aimed at making it the permanent exhibition site of the carriages of the papal train coming from the Museum of Rome in Palazzo Braschi.
Pope Pius IX’s train
Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, who became pope on 16 June 1846 taking the name Pius IX, was fully aware of the key role that railways would play in the economic, social and political development of European nations in the immediate future. In 1846, soon after his election, he gave orders for the construction of a series of railways linking Rome to the leading cities of the Papal States.
The papal train was built in 1858 at the initiative of the Pio Centrale and Pio Latina companies, which commissioned them from French companies as a gift for the pope. On 3 July 1859 the Pope made his maiden journey in these luxurious carriages, travelling from the Porta Maggiore train station, the terminus of the papal railways, to Cecchina station, Albano.