The Getty Center—the famed, world-class museum complex perched high in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking West Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean—is one of the top attractions for visitors to L.A. But people shouldn’t forget about the original Getty Museum, now known as the Getty Villa, which is absolutely worth a visit too. Located atop another hill, right on the coast in scenic Malibu, the Getty Villa houses about 1,200 of the approximately 44,000 works from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection of Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities.
The Getty Villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country estate known as the Villa dei Papiri. Located in Herculaneum, in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, the villa was buried by the volcano’s infamous eruption in 79 A.D. Much of the Villa dei Papiri remains unexcavated to this day. This was used as inspiration for the construction of the Getty Villa, which was built in a narrow canyon to resemble an archaeological excavation. Each building is at a slightly different elevation, just like the different strata you’d encounter when unearthing ancient ruins.
The museum features twenty-three galleries devoted to its permanent collection, with five additional galleries for changing exhibitions. The galleries are arranged thematically, including rooms dedicated to Mythological Heroes, the Trojan War, Gods & Goddesses, and Monsters & Minor Deities. With objects dating from 6,500 B.C. to 400 A.D., Getty’s extraordinary collection contains classical statues and busts as well as artifacts from everyday life such as vessels made of terracotta, marble or bronze. There are several displays of ancient coins, gems, and jewelry from these lost civilizations to admire as well.
After a ten-year closure for extensive renovations, the Getty Villa reopened in 1997. Guests begin their visit at an open-air entry pavilion and then progress along a scenic pathway to a 450-seat outdoor amphitheater, located on the side of the Villa. The entrance to the museum is via the Atrium, where visitors are greeted by Lion Attacking a Horse, a massive marble sculpture on loan from the Musei Capitolini in Rome, Italy. Carved around 325 B.C. and restored in 1594, this exquisite relic from Ancient Greece is only a taste of the treasures you’ll find within the museum.
Two of Getty’s most prized possessions are located on the second floor. The Statue of a Victorious Youth (c. 300 B.C.) portrays an Olympic victor and is one of the few life-sized Greek bronzes to have survived to modern times. Another work, the Lansdowne Herakles, is a Roman marble sculpture dating to circa 125 A.D. The statue shows mighty Herakles with a club over his shoulder and one hand grasping the skin of the mythological Nemean lion.
Also on the second floor are the galleries devoted to temporary exhibitions. On my visit I experienced “The Last Days of Pompei,” which featured artwork depicting the fateful eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. There were paintings from the Renaissance to the Contemporary; by artists from Piranesi, Fragonard, and Alma-Tadema to Dalí, Rothko, and Warhol. The exhibit also included a plaster casts of the dead who were buried in ash as well as a small assortment of relics that were recovered from the Pompeii ruins.
Like the Getty Center, the architecture and grounds of the Getty Villa are spectacular. I loved the formal gardens within the Outer Peristyle and the sweeping views of the sparkling Pacific beyond. Looking at the surrounding hillsides planted with olive and cypress trees, you’d think you were somewhere in Italy’s Campania Region and not sunny Southern California.
Below are some photos from my visit. (It’s permitted to take photos of the permanent collection and outdoor areas.)
The museum entrance
Antique pottery and other relics.
A vessel from Ancient Rome.
A plaster cast of one of the dead from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
The arcades of the Outer Peristyle.
Banners for the temporary exhibition of “The Last Days of Pompeii,” featuring artwork by Andy Warhol.
Architectural detailing of the Getty Villa’s Outer Peristyle.
A second-floor gallery, featuring the ancient Greek bronze, Statue of a Victorious Youth.
A view of the Outer Peristyle.
The arcades of the Outer Peristyle.
A view of the fountain and formal gardens of the Outer Peristyle.
A view of the main museum building, fountain and formal gardens of the Outer Peristyle.
The view from the second story balcony, overlooking the formal gardens of the Outer Peristyle and Pacific Ocean.
Another perspective of Lion Attacking a Horse in the museum’s Atrium
Where: 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, California 90272 When: The Getty Villa is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays; closed Tuesdays and major holidays. How much: Admission is free, but advance tickets with designated arrival times must be pre-ordered. Parking is $15 per vehicle. For more information: Visit the official Getty website at www.getty.edu
Have you been to the Getty Villa before? What were your impressions? Feel free to comment in the section below!
This is my submission for Travel Photo Thursday. Be sure to check out Budget Travelers Sandbox for more great photos from around the world!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author