For those looking to see something off of the main tourist trail in Rome, the Galleria Sciarra makes for an interesting addition to your itinerary. This Art Nouveau building, complete with ornate, Liberty style frescoes, is much less visited than other sites in the capital.
Not only is it a must-visit for fans of architecture, but it’s also a reflection of the history of modern-day rather than ancient Rome.
Needless to say, I have been to Galleria Sciarra multiple times and I am about to share its secrets so that you can enjoy this unique place too!
Make sure to read my post The Best Hidden Gems In Rome.
The History Of The Galleria Sciarra
Located just a few steps from the famous Trevi Fountain, and the chic Via Del Corso, the Galleria Sciarra is a hidden gem away from the tourist crowds in Rome. It dates back to a time in Rome after the city was declared the capital of the newly unified Italy, when much modernisation and renovation took place.
One renovation project was commissioned by Prince Mafio Barberini-Colonna di Sciarra. He employed architect Giulio de Angelis to shorten a wing of his Palazzo Sciarra, thereby widening Via Minghetti. Part of the project was the construction of the Quirino theater, an opera house that opened in 1871, and the Sciarra Gallery – a courtyard and walkway that connected parts of his property. It was intended to be a shopping mall. No longer the possession of the wealthy Prince, it is today a public passageway that’s owned by the Bank of Rome.
The Sciarra Gallery was built between 1885 and 1888. At the time, de Angelis was particularly fascinated by the English Art Nouveau style, and it shows in the elaborate, almost gothic details of the structure. It rises four storeys surrounding a glass-covered courtyard.
Despite being as beautiful as it is, the galleria ultimately failed and never opened as a shopping arcade. This, combined with the Prince’s financial troubles, led to him becoming broke. He had to sell not only the galleria itself, but also his 16th century family palace and even his art collection.
The Galleria Sciarra was later renovated in the 1970s, which means that the gallery’s amazing frescoes are as eye-popping as they were when they were first painted.
What To See In Galleria Sciarra, Rome
Most notable are the gallery’s ornate frescoes, covering the entirety of the walls from the second storey upwards. These are the work of teacher and artist Giuseppe Cellini, who painted them in 1887.
As well as elaborate flourishes, florals and natural patterns in classic Liberty style, the colorful spectacle is actually focused on the many figures that adorn the walls. While men also feature, women are prominently depicted on the walls of the courtyard. It was intended by Cellini to celebrate women in all stages of life.
Particularly, it mirrors how middle-class society viewed women in the late 19th century. Women are depicted as angels of the hearth, kitchen goddesses, brides and mothers.
In the lower portion of the courtyard frescoes, the scenes of the bourgeois lifestyle play out. You can spot images of women listening to music, lunching in their homes, tending to the garden, having conversations and doing charitable deeds. There are also images of women caring for children, depictions of marriage and vanity.
Part of the reason for the celebration of women in the Cellini’s frescoes is down to Prince Mafio’s love for his mother: Donna Carolina Barberini Colonna di Sciarra. You can see her initials, CCS, inscribed throughout the frescoes, alongside the initials of her son (MS).
When first entering the passageway, make sure to note the painted scroll in the upper portion. The words inscribed here highlight certain female virtues, including modesty, sobriety, strength, humility, prudence and patience. On the opposite wall, the virtues of meekness, femininity, love, mercy and faith are painted on another scroll.
The glass ceiling
The iron and glass ceiling allows light to filter into the courtyard without letting rain in. This also means that the floor didn’t need to have any special drainage (as with the Pantheon, for example), and could be paved in highly polished marble – to luxurious effect.
The light that filters in from the ceiling illuminates the frescoes beautifully. For an extra treat, as the sun goes down, the courtyard is illuminated in soft yellow lighting, giving it a warm glow. It’s a nice time of day to visit.
Creating this vaulted ceiling of glass and cast iron was a modern technique at the time. It was a popular style of the time, a symbol of progression and looking to the future. It may not be as eye-catching as the walls, but it points back to a time when Europe, not just Italy, was rapidly modernizing.
Practical Info About Visiting Galleria Sciarra, Rome
Galleria Sciarra opening hours
The area is home to many offices, so it’s logical that the Galleria Sciarra would be only open during business hours.
Specifically, that’s 10:00 am to 8:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday. The Galleria Sciarra is closed on Mondays and 25th December.
How to get there
The Galleria Sciarra is located in Via Marco Minghetti, Piazza dell’Oratorio, just a two-minute stroll from the iconic Trevi Fountain, so it’s an easy walk. However, it can be easy to miss if you don’t know where to look. The facade of the building is far less ornate than its wonderful courtyard.
Start from the Trevi Fountain and go west and head along Via delle Muratte. Turn right after you pass the McDonald’s (it’s an easy landmark), and the Galleria Sciarra will be in front of you.
To get to the Trevi Fountain, you can take metro line A (Orange) to Barberini, the closest metro station to the fountain.
Other useful information
Entrance to the Galleria Sciarra is free of charge and in fact locals often use it as a shortcut when it is open.
Photography is allowed in the galleria and you can spend as long as you want admiring its every detail and taking photos of it.
You do not need a guide to explore the Galleria Sciarra as it is only a small space. However, it may be included on the itinerary of some guided walking tours in Rome.
For a guided tour that goes to Rome’s best hidden gems, click here.