From ancient ruins and Renaissance basilicas to baroque churches and hulking fascist palazzi (mansions), Rome’s architectural legacy is unparalleled. Michelangelo, Bramante, Borromini and Bernini are among the architects who have stamped their genius on the city's remarkable cityscape, which features some of the Western world’s most celebrated buildings. In more recent times a number of high-profile building projects have drawn the world’s top architects to Rome, their futuristic designs provoking discussion, debate and soul-searching among the city’s passionate critics.
Architecture was central to the success of the ancient Romans. In building their great capital, they were among the first people to use architecture to tackle problems of infrastructure, urban management and communication. For the first time, architects and engineers designed houses, roads, aqueducts and shopping centres alongside temples, tombs and imperial palaces. To do this, the Romans advanced methods devised by the Etruscans and Greeks, developing construction techniques and building materials that allowed them to build on a massive and hitherto unseen scale.
By the 7th century BC the Etruscans were the dominant force on the Italian peninsula, with important centres at Tarquinia, Caere (Cerveteri) and Veii (Veio). These city-states were fortified with defensive walls, and although little actually remains – the Etruscans generally built with wood and brick, which don't age well – archaeologists have found evidence of aqueducts, bridges and sewers, as well as sophisticated temples. In Rome, you can still see foundations of an Etruscan temple on the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill).
Much of what we now know about the Etruscans derives from findings unearthed in their elaborate tombs. Like many ancient peoples, the Etruscans placed great emphasis on their treatment of the dead and they built impressive cemeteries. These were constructed outside the city walls and harboured richly decorated stone vaults covered by mounds of earth. The best examples are to be found in Cerveteri, north of Rome.
When Rome was founded sometime around the 8th century BC, the Etruscans were at the height of their power and Greeks colonists were establishing control over southern Italy. In subsequent centuries a three-way battle for domination ensued, with the Romans emerging victorious. Against this background, Roman architects borrowed heavily from Greek and Etruscan traditions.
Ancient Roman architecture was monumental in form and often propagandistic in nature. Huge amphitheatres, aqueducts and temples joined muscular and awe-inspiring basilicas, arches and thermal baths in trumpeting the skill and vision of the city’s early rulers and the nameless architects who worked for them.
Early republican-era temples were based on Etruscan designs, but over time the Romans turned to the Greeks for their inspiration. But whereas Greek temples had steps and colonnades on all sides, the classic Roman temple had a high podium with steps leading up to a deep porch. Good examples include the Tempio di Portunus near Piazza della Bocca della Verità, and, though they’re not so well preserved, the temples in the Largo di Torre Argentina. These temples also illustrate another important feature of Roman architectural thinking. While Greek temples were designed to stand apart and be viewed from all sides, Roman temples were built into the city’s urban fabric, set in busy central locations and positioned to be approached from the front.
The Roman use of columns was also Greek in origin, even if the Romans preferred the more slender Ionic and Corinthian columns to the plain Doric pillars. To see how the columns differ, study the exterior of the Colosseum, which incorporates all three styles.
Aqueducts & Sewers
One of the Romans' crowning architectural achievements was the development of a water supply infrastructure, based on a network of aqueducts and underground sewers. In the early days, Rome got its water from the Tiber and natural underground springs, but as its population, demand exceeded supply. To meet this demand, the Romans constructed a complex system of aqueducts to bring water in from the hills of central Italy and distribute it around town.
The first aqueduct to serve Rome was the 16.5km Aqua Appia, which became fully operational in 312 BC. Over the next 700 years or so, up to 800km of aqueducts were built in the city, a network capable of supplying up to one million cubic metres of water a day.
This was no mean feat for a system that depended entirely on gravity. All aqueducts, whether underground pipes, as most were, or vast overland viaducts, were built at a slight gradient to allow the water to flow. There were no pumps to force the water along so this gradient was key to maintaining a continuous and efficient flow.
At the other end of the water cycle, waste water was drained away via an underground sewerage system – the Cloaca Maxima (Great Sewer) – and emptied downstream into the river Tiber. The Cloaca was commissioned by Rome’s last king, Tarquin the Proud (r 535−509 BC), as part of a project to drain the valley where the Roman Forum now stands. It was originally an open ditch, but from the beginning of the 2nd century BC it was gradually built over.
While Rome’s emperors and aristocrats lived in luxurious palaces on the Palatino (Palatine Hill), the city’s poor huddled together in large residential blocks called insulae. These were huge, poorly built structures, sometimes up to six or seven storeys high, that accommodated hundreds of people in dark, unhealthy conditions. Little remains of these early palazzi but near the foot of the Aracoeli staircase − the steps that lead up to the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Aracoeli – you can see a section of what was once a typical city-centre insula.
Concrete & Monumental Architecture
Most of the ruins that litter modern Rome are the remains of the ancient city’s big, show-stopping monuments – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Terme di Caracalla, the Forums. These grandiose constructions are not only reminders of the sophistication and intimidatory scale of ancient Rome – just as they were originally designed to be – they are also monuments to the vision and bravura of the city’s ancient architects.
One of the key breakthroughs the Romans made, and one that allowed them to build on an ever-increasing scale, was the invention of concrete in the 1st century BC. Made by mixing volcanic ash with lime and an aggregate, often tufa rock or brick rubble, concrete was quick to make, easy to use, and cheap. Furthermore, it freed architects from their dependence on skilled masonry labour – up to that point construction techniques required stone blocks to be specially cut to fit into each other. Concrete allowed the Romans to develop vaulted roofing, which they used to span the Pantheon’s ceiling and the huge vaults at the Terme di Caracalla.
Concrete wasn’t particularly attractive, though, and while it was used for heavy-duty structural work it was usually lined with travertine and coloured marble, imported from Greece and North Africa. Brick was also an important material, used both as a veneer and for construction.
Feature: All Roads Lead to Rome
The Romans were the great road builders of the ancient world. Approximately 80,000km of surfaced highways spanned the Roman Empire, providing vital military and communication links. Many of Rome’s modern roads retain the names of their ancient forebears and follow almost identical routes.
Via Appia The ‘queen of roads’ ran down to Brindisi on the southern Adriatic coast.
Via Aurelia Connected Rome with France by way of Pisa and Genoa.
Via Cassia Led north to Viterbo, Siena and Tuscany.
Via Flaminia Traversed the Apennines to Rimini on the east coast.
Via Salaria The old salt road linked with the Adriatic port of Castrum Truentinum, south of modern-day Ancona.
More readily associated with ancient Egypt than Rome, obelisks are a distinctive feature of the Roman cityscape. Many were brought over from Egypt after it was conquered by Augustus in AD 31 and used to decorate the spina (central spine) of the city's circuses (chariot-racing arenas). Later the Romans began to make their own for their elaborate mausoleums.
The tallest – and one of the oldest, dating to the 15th century BC – towers 46m (32m without the base) over Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano. The most curious sits atop Bernini's famous Elefantino statue outside the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
The history of early Christianity is one of persecution and martyrdom. Introduced in the 1st century AD, it was legalised by the emperor Constantine in 313 AD and became Rome’s state religion in 378. The most startling reminders of early Christian activity are the catacombs, a series of underground burial grounds built under Rome’s ancient roads. Christian belief in the resurrection meant that the Christians could not cremate their dead, as was the custom in Roman times, and with burial forbidden inside the city walls they were forced to go outside the city.
The Christians began to abandon the catacombs in the 4th century and increasingly opted to be buried in the churches the emperor Constantine was building in the city. Although Constantine was actually based in Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople in his own honour, he nevertheless financed an ambitious building program in Rome. The most notable of the many churches he commissioned is the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. Built between 315 and 324 and re-worked into its present shape in the 5th century, it was the model on which many subsequent basilicas were based. Other period showstoppers include the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
A second wave of church-building hit Rome in the period between the 8th and 12th centuries. As the early papacy battled for survival against the threatening Lombards, its leaders took to construction to leave some sort of historical imprint, resulting in the Basilica di Santa Sabina, the Basilica di Santa Prassede and the 8th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, home of the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth).
The 13th and 14th centuries were dark days for Rome as internecine fighting raged between the city’s noble families. While much of northern Europe and even parts of Italy were revelling in Gothic arches and towering vaults, little of lasting value was being built in Rome. The one great exception is the city’s only Gothic church, the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva.
In design terms, these early Christian churches were modelled on, and built over, Rome’s great basilicas. In ancient times, a basilica was a large rectangular hall used for public functions, but as Christianity took hold they were increasingly appropriated by the city’s church-builders. The main reason for this was that they lent themselves perfectly to the new style of religious ceremonies that the Christians were introducing, rites that required space for worshippers and a central focus for the altar. Rome’s pagan temples, in contrast, had been designed as symbolic cult centres and were not set up to house the faithful – in fact, most pagan ceremonies were held outside, in front of the temple, not inside as the Christian services required.
Over time, basilica design became increasingly standardised. A principal entrance would open onto an atrium, a courtyard surrounded by colonnaded porticoes, which, in turn, would lead to the porch. The interior would be rectangular and divided by rows of columns into a central nave and smaller, side aisles. At the far end, the main altar and bishop’s throne (cathedra) would sit in a semicircular apse. In some churches a transept would bisect the central nave to form a Latin cross.
Florence, rather than Rome, is generally regarded as Italy’s great Renaissance city. But while many of the movement’s early architects hailed from Tuscany, the city they turned to for inspiration was Rome. The Eternal City might have been in pretty poor nick in the late 15th century, but as the centre of classical antiquity it was much revered by budding architects and a trip to study the Colosseum and the Pantheon was considered a fundamental part of an architect’s training.
One of the key aspects they studied, and which informs much Renaissance architecture, is the concept of harmony. This was achieved through the application of symmetry, order and proportion. To this end many Renaissance buildings incorporated structural features copied from the ancients – columns, pilasters, arches and, most dramatically, domes. The Pantheon’s dome, in particular, proved immensely influential, serving as a blueprint for many later works.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact year the Renaissance arrived in Rome, but many claim it was the election of Pope Nicholas V in 1447 that sparked off the artistic and architectural furore that was to sweep through the city in the next century or so. Nicholas believed that as head of the Christian world Rome had a duty to impress, a theory that was eagerly taken up by his successors, and it was at the behest of the great papal dynasties − the Barberini, Farnese and Pamphilj – that the leading artists of the day were summoned to Rome.
The Venetian Pope Paul II (r 1464−71) commissioned many works, including Palazzo Venezia, Rome’s first great Renaissance palazzo. His successor, Sixtus IV (r 1471−84), had the Sistine Chapel built, and enlarged the Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo.
It was under Pope Julius II (1503−13) that the Roman Renaissance reached its peak, thanks largely to a classically minded architect from Milan, Donato Bramante (1444−1514).
Considered the high priest of Renaissance architecture, Bramante arrived in Rome in 1499. Here, inspired by the ancient ruins, he developed a refined classical style that was to prove hugely influential. His 1502 Tempietto, for example, perfectly illustrates his innate understanding of proportion. Similarly harmonious is his 1504 cloister at the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace near Piazza Navona.
In 1506 Julius commissioned Bramante to start work on the job that would eventually finish him off – the rebuilding of St Peter’s Basilica. The fall of Constantinople’s Aya Sofya (Church of the Hagia Sofia) to Islam in the mid-14th century had pricked Nicholas V into ordering an earlier revamp, but the work had never been completed and it wasn’t until Julius took the bull by the horns that progress was made. However, Bramante died in 1514 and he never got to see how his original Greek-cross design was developed.
St Peter’s Basilica occupied most of the other notable architects of the High Renaissance, including Giuliano da Sangallo (1445−1516), Baldassarre Peruzzi (1481−1536) and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1484−1546). Michelangelo (1475−1564) eventually took over in 1547, modifying the layout and creating the basilica’s crowning dome. Modelled on Brunelleschi’s cupola for the Duomo in Florence, this is considered the artist’s finest architectural achievement and one of the most important works of the Roman Renaissance.
As Rome’s architects strove to build a new Jerusalem, the city’s leaders struggled to deal with the political tensions arising outside the city walls. These came to a head in 1527 when the city was invaded and savagely routed by the troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. This traumatic event forced many of the artists working in Rome to flee the city and ushered in a new style of artistic and architectural expression. Mannerism was a relatively short-lived form but in its emphasis on complexity and decoration, in contrast to the sharp, clean lines of traditional Renaissance styles, it hinted at the more ebullient designs that would arrive with the advent of the 17th-century baroque.
One of mannerism’s leading exponents was Baldassarre Peruzzi, whose Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II reveals a number of mannerist elements – a pronounced facade, decorative window mouldings, showy imitation stonework.
Feature: Bramante, the Architect’s Architect
One of the most influential architects of his day, Donato Bramante (1444−1514) was the godfather of Renaissance architecture. His peers, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, considered him the only architect of their era equal to the ancients.
Born near Urbino, he originally trained as a painter before taking up architecture in his mid-30s in Milan. However, it was in Rome that he enjoyed his greatest success. Working for Pope Julius II, he developed a monumental style that while classical in origin was pure Renaissance in its expression of harmony and perspective. The most perfect representation of this is his Tempietto, a small but much-copied temple on Gianicolo Hill. His original designs for St Peter’s Basilica also revealed a classically inspired symmetry with a Pantheon-like dome envisaged atop a Greek-cross structure.
Rich and influential, Bramante was an adept political operator who was not above badmouthing his competitors. It’s said, for example, that he talked Pope Julius II into giving Michelangelo the contract for the Sistine Chapel ceiling in the hope that it would prove the undoing of his young Tuscan rival.
As the principal motor of the Roman Renaissance, the Catholic Church became increasingly powerful in the 16th century. But with power came corruption and calls for reform. These culminated in Martin Luther’s 95 Theses and the far-reaching Protestant Reformation. This hit the Church hard and prompted the Counter-Reformation (1560−1648), a vicious and sustained campaign to get people back into the Catholic fold. In the midst of this great offensive, baroque art and architecture emerged as a highly effective form of propaganda. Stylistically, baroque architecture aims for a dramatic sense of dynamism, an effect that it often achieves by combining spatial complexity with clever lighting and the use of flamboyant decorative painting and sculpture.
One of the first great Counter-Reformation churches was the Jesuit Chiesa del Gesù, designed by the leading architect of the day, Giacomo della Porta (1533−1602). In a move away from the style of earlier Renaissance churches, the facade has pronounced architectural elements that create a contrast between surfaces and a play of light and shade.
The end of the 16th century and the papacy of Sixtus V (1585−90) marked the beginning of major urban-planning schemes. Domenico Fontana (1543−1607) and other architects created a network of major thoroughfares to connect previously disparate parts of the sprawling city and obelisks were erected at vantage points across town. Fontana also designed the main facade of Palazzo del Quirinale, the immense palace that served as the pope’s summer residence for almost three centuries. His nephew, Carlo Maderno (1556−1629), also worked on the palazzo when not amending Bramante’s designs for St Peter’s Basilica.
Bernini vs Borromini
No two people did more to fashion the face of Rome than the two great figures of the Roman baroque – Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) and Francesco Borromini (1599–1667). Two starkly different characters – Naples-born Bernini was suave, self-confident and politically adept; Borromini, from Lombardy, was solitary and peculiar – they led the transition from Counter-Reformation rigour to baroque exuberance.
Bernini is perhaps best known for his work in the Vatican. He designed St Peter’s Square, famously styling the colonnade as ‘the motherly arms of the Church’, and was chief architect at St Peter’s Basilica from 1629. While working on the basilica, he created the baldachin (canopy) over the main altar, using bronze stripped from the Pantheon.
Under the patronage of the Barberini pope Urban VIII, Bernini was given free rein to transform the city, and his churches, palazzi, piazzas and fountains remain landmarks to this day. However, his fortunes nose-dived when the pope died in 1644. Urban’s successor, Innocent X, wanted as little contact as possible with the favourites of his hated predecessor, and instead turned to Borromini, Alessandro Algardi (1595−1654) and Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi (1570−1655 and 1611−91, respectively). Bernini later came back into favour with his 1651 Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the centre of Piazza Navona, opposite Borromini’s Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone.
Borromini, the son of an architect and well versed in stonemasonry and construction techniques, created buildings involving complex shapes and exotic geometry. A recurring feature of his designs was the skilful manipulation of light, often obtained by the clever placement of small oval-shaped windows. His most memorable works are the Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, which has an oval-shaped interior, and the Chiesa di Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, which combines a complex arrangement of convex and concave surfaces with an innovative spiral tower.
Throughout their careers, the two geniuses were often at each other’s throats. Borromini was deeply envious of Bernini’s early successes, and Bernini was scathing of Borromini’s complex geometrical style.
Feature: Rococo Frills
In the early days of the 18th century, as baroque fashions began to fade and neoclassicism waited to make its 19th-century entrance, the rococo burst into theatrical life. Drawing on the excesses of the baroque, it was a short-lived fad but one that left a memorable mark.
The Spanish Steps, built between 1723 and 1726 by Francesco de Sanctis, provided a focal point for the many Grand Tourists who were pouring into town in the late 18th century. A short walk to the southwest, Piazza Sant’Ignazio was designed by Filippo Raguzzini (1680−1771) to provide a suitably melodramatic setting for the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola, Rome’s second most important Jesuit church.
Most spectacular of all, however, was the Trevi Fountain, one of the city’s most exuberant and enduringly popular monuments. It was designed in 1732 by Nicola Salvi (1697−1751) and completed three decades later.
Post-Unification & the 20th Century
Rome's nomination as capital of Italy in 1870 unleashed a wave of urban development that was later to be continued by Mussolini and his fascist regime. Post-war, the focus was on practical concerns as the city worked to house its burgeoning population.
A Capital Makeover
Rome entered the 20th century in good shape. During the last 30 years of the 19th century it had been treated to one of its periodic makeovers – this time after being made capital of the Kingdom of Italy in 1870. Piazzas were built – Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, at the centre of a new upmarket residential district, and neoclassical Piazza della Repubblica, over Diocletian’s bath complex – and roads were laid. Via Nazionale and Via Cavour were constructed to link the city centre with the new railway station, Stazione Termini, and Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was built to connect Piazza Venezia with the Vatican.
Rationalism & Rebuilding
Influenced by the German Bauhaus movement, architectural rationalism was all the rage in 1920s Europe. In its international form it advocated an emphasis on sharply defined linear forms, but in Italy it took on a slightly different look, thanks to the influence of the Gruppo Sette, its main Italian promoters, and Benito Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator. Basically, the Gruppo Sette acknowledged the debt Italian architecture owed to its classical past and incorporated elements of that tradition into their modernistic designs. Aesthetically and politically, this tied in perfectly with Mussolini’s vision of fascism as the modern bearer of ancient Rome’s imperialist ambitions.
Mussolini, a shrewd manipulator of imagery, embarked on a series of grandiose building projects in the 1920s and '30s, including the 1928−31 Foro Italico sports centre, Via dei Foro Imperiali, and the residential quarter of Garbatella. Now a colourful neighbourhood in southern Rome, Garbatella was originally planned as an English-style garden city to house city workers, but in the 1920s the project was hijacked by the fascist regime, which had its own designs. Central to these were innovative housing blocks, known as alberghi suburbani (suburban hotels), which were used to accommodate people displaced from the city centre. The most famous of these hotels, the Albergo Rosso, was designed by Innocenzo Sabbatini (1891−1983), the leading light of the Roman School of architecture.
Mussolini’s most famous architectural legacy is the EUR district in the extreme south of the city. Built for the Esposizione Universale di Roma in 1942, this Orwellian quarter of wide boulevards and huge linear buildings owes its look to the vision of the razionalisti (rationalists). In practice, though, only one of their number, Adalberto Libera, actually worked on the project, as by this stage most of the Gruppo Sette had fallen out with the ruling Fascist junta. Libera’s Palazzo dei Congressi is a masterpiece of rationalist architecture, but EUR’s most iconic building is Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro (known as the Square Colosseum), designed by Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano.
For much of the postwar period, architects in Rome were limited to planning cheap housing for the city’s ever-growing population. Swathes of apartment blocks were built along the city’s main arteries, and grim suburbs sprang up on land claimed from local farmers.
The 1960 Olympics heralded a spate of sporting construction, and both Stadio Flaminio and Stadio Olimpico date to this period. Pier Luigi Nervi, Italy’s master of concrete and a hugely influential innovator, added his contribution in the form of the Palazzetto dello Sport.
The 21st century has witnessed a flurry of architectural activity in Rome. A clutch of 'starchitects' have worked on projects in the city, including Renzo Piano, Italy’s foremost architect; renowned American Richard Meier; Anglo-Iraqi Zaha Hadid; and Odile Decq, a major French architect.
Controversy & Acclaim
The foundations of this building boom date to the early 1990s, when the then mayor Francesco Rutelli launched a major clean-up of the historic centre. As part of the process, he commissioned Richard Meier to build a new pavilion for the 1st-century-AD Ara Pacis. Predictably, Meier’s glass-and-steel Museo dell’Ara Pacis caused controversy when it was unveiled in 2006. Vittorio Sgarbi, an outspoken art critic and TV celebrity, claimed that the American’s design was the first step to globalising Rome’s unique classical heritage. The Roman public appreciated the idea of modern architecture in the city centre, but few were entirely convinced by Meier’s design.
Meier won far more acclaim for a second project, his striking Chiesa Dio Padre Misericordioso in Tor Tre Teste, a dreary suburb east of the city centre. This was one of a number of churches commissioned by the Vicariate of Rome for the 2000 Jubilee. Another, the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Presentazione, designed by the Rome-based Nemesi studio, sparked interest when it was inaugurated in the outlying Quartaccio neighbourhood in 2002.
Feature: Contemporary Bridges
In recent years, three new bridges have opened in Rome. The first, in 2011, was the Ponte della Musica footbridge, which spans the Tiber from Flaminio to the Foro Italico sports complex.
A year later, the Cavalcavia Ostiense was inaugurated in the southern Ostiense district. Known locally as the 'Cobra', this road bridge sports a sinuous white steel arch as it runs over the railway line that had long separated Ostiense from nearby Garbatella.
Also in Ostiense, the foot and cycle bridge Ponte della Scienza was opened in May 2014.
Fuksas & Future Developments
Born in Rome in 1944, Massimiliano Fuksas is known for his futuristic vision, and while he has no signature building as such, his 55,000-sq-m Nuovo Centro Congressi, aka the Nuvola, comes as close as any to embodying his style. A rectangular 40m-high glass shell containing a steel-and-Teflon cloud supported by steel ribs and suspended over a vast conference hall, its look is fearlessly modern. Yet it’s not without its references to the past: in both scale and form it owes its inspiration to the 1930s rationalist architecture that surrounds it in EUR.
Construction started on the €239 million Nuvola in 2007 and was finally completed in 2016.
Elsewhere, work continues on a contemporary arts centre by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel in the Forum Boarium area.
In the city's southern reaches, construction is set to start on a new 52,500-capacity stadium, the Stadio della Roma. The €400 million stadium will be the centrepiece of a vast development in the Tor di Valle neighbourhood, comprising a business park, training centre and public parkland.
- c 8th–3rd centuries BC
The Etruscans in central Italy and the Greeks in their southern Italian colony, Magna Graecia, lay the groundwork for later Roman developments. Particularly influential are Greek temple designs.
- c 4th century BC–AD 5th century
The ancient Romans make huge advances in engineering techniques, constructing monumental public buildings, bridges, aqueducts, housing blocks and an underground sewerage system.
- 4th–12th centuries
Church building is the focus of architectural activity in the Middle Ages as Rome’s early Christian leaders seek to stamp their authority on the city.
- 15th–16th centuries
Based on humanism and a reappraisal of classical precepts, the Renaissance hits an all-time high in the first two decades of the 16th century, a period known as the High Renaissance.
- 17th century
Developing out of the Counter-Reformation, the baroque flourishes in Rome, fuelled by Church money and the genius of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his hated rival Francesco Borromini.
- 18th century
A short-lived but theatrical style born out of the baroque, the florid rococo gifts Rome some of its most popular sights.
- late 18th–19th centuries
Piazza del Popolo takes on its current form and Villa Torlonia gets a facelift courtesy of Rome's top neoclassical architect, Giuseppe Valadier.
- late 19th century
Rome gets a major post-unification makeover – roads are built, piazzas are laid, and residential quarters spring up to house government bureaucrats.
- early 20th century
Muscular and modern, Italian rationalism plays to Mussolini’s vision of a fearless, futuristic Rome, a 20th-century caput mundi (world capital).
Rome provides the historic stage upon which some of the world’s top contemporary architects experiment. Criticism and praise are meted out in almost equal measure.
Feature: Rome's Signature Buildings
Rome's cityscape is a magical mix of ruins, monuments, palaces, piazzas and churches. Here are some of the city's most significant buildings.
Colosseum Rome's iconic arena bears the hallmarks of ancient Roman architecture: arches, the use of various building materials, unprecedented scale.
Pantheon The dome, one of the Romans' most important architectural innovations, finds perfect form atop this revolutionary structure.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore Although much modified over the centuries, this hulking cathedral exemplifies the Christian basilicas being built in the early Middle Ages.
Castel Sant'Angelo Rome's landmark castle started life as a monumental mausoleum before taking on its current form after medieval and Renaissance revamps.
Tempietto di Bramante A masterpiece of harmonious design, Bramante's 1502 temple beautifully encapsulates High Renaissance ideals.
St Peter's Basilica Michelangelo's dome and Carlo Maderno's facade are the key architectural features of this, the greatest of Rome's Renaissance churches.
Chiesa del Gesù One of Rome's finest Counter-Reformation churches with a much-copied facade by Giacomo della Porta and an ornate baroque interior.
Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane A prized example of baroque architecture, Francesco Borromini's church boasts convex and concave surfaces, hidden windows and a complex elliptical plan.
Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro Nicknamed the 'Square Colosseum', this EUR landmark is a masterpiece of 1930s Italian rationalism.
Auditorium Parco della Musica Renzo Piano's audacious arts complex is the most influential contemporary building in Rome.
MAXXI Zaha Hadid's award-winning 2010 building provides a suitably striking setting for Rome's flagship contemporary arts museum.
Feature: Architecture Glossary
|apse||a semicircular or polygonal recess with a domed roof over a church’s altar|
|architrave||a main beam set atop columns|
|baldachino (baldachin)||a permanent canopy over an altar or tomb; often supported by columns and freestanding|
|baroque||style of European art, architecture and music of the 17th and 18th centuries|
|basilica||an oblong hall with an apse at the end of the nave; used in ancient Rome for public assemblies and later adopted as a blueprint for medieval churches|
|cloister||enclosed court attached to a church or monastery; consists of a roofed ambulatory surrounding an open area|
|colonnade||a row of columns supporting a roof or other structure|
|cornice||a horizontal projection that crowns a building or wall; the upper part of an entablature|
|crypt||an underground room beneath a church used for services and burials|
|cupola||a rounded dome forming part of a ceiling or roof|
|entablature||the part of a classical facade that sits on top of the columns; it consists of an architrave, frieze and cornice|
|forum||in ancient Rome, a public space used for judicial business and commerce|
|frieze||a horizontal band, often with painted or sculptural decoration, that sits between the architrave and cornice|
|futurism||Italian early-20th-century artistic movement that embraced modern technology|
|loggia||a gallery or room with one side open, often facing a garden|
|nave||the central aisle in a church, often separated from parallel aisles by pillars|
|neoclassicism||dominant style of art and architecture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; a return to ancient Roman styles|
|portico||a porch with a roof supported by columns|
|rationalism||international architectural style of the 1920s; its Italian form, often associated with fascism, incorporates linear styles and classical references|
|Renaissance||European revival of art and architecture based on classical precedents, between the 14th and 16th centuries|
|rococo||ornate 18th-century style of architecture|
|stucco||wall plaster used for decorative purposes|
|trompe l’oeil||a visual illusion tricking the viewer into seeing a painted object as a three-dimensional image|
|transept||in a cross-shaped church, the two parts that bisect the nave at right angles, forming the short arms of the cross|
Sidebar: Roman Building Materials
The Romans used a variety of building materials. Wood and tufa, a soft volcanic rock, were used initially but travertine, a limestone quarried in Tivoli, later took over as the favoured stone. Marble, imported from across the empire, was used mainly as decorative panelling, attached to brick or concrete walls.
Sidebar: Roman Paint Job
Rome’s ancient ruins are revealing in many ways, but the one thing they lack is colour. Ancient Rome would have been a vivid, brightly coloured place with buildings clad in coloured marble, gaudily painted temples and multicoloured statues.
Sidebar: Early Basilicas
- Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (San Giovanni & Testaccio)
- Basilica di Santa Sabina (San Giovanni & Testaccio)
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Monti, Esquilino & San Lorenzo)
Sidebar: Architecture Reads
- Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Amanda Claridge; 2010)
- The Genius in the Design: Bernini, Borromini and the Rivalry that Transformed Rome (Jake Morrissey; 2005)
- Rome and Environs: An Archaeological Guide (Filippo Coarelli; 2008)
Sidebar: Giuseppe Valadier
Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839) was the Pope's go-to architect in the early 19th century. He is best known for his neoclassical revamp of Piazza del Popolo and the Pincio Hill, but also worked on important restorations of Ponte Milvio and the Arco di Tito.
The hard-to-miss Vittoriano, also known as the Altar of the Fatherland, was built to honour King Vittorio Emanuele II, united Italy's first king. Completed in 1935 after 50 years' construction, it boasts some impressive statistics, standing 135m wide and rising to a height of 81m.
Sidebar: Key Bernini Works
- St Peter’s Square (Vatican City, Borgo & Prati)
- Chiesa di Sant’Andrea al Quirinale (Tridente, Trevi & the Quirinale)
- Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Centro Storico)
Sidebar: Key Borromini Works
- Chiesa di San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Tridente, Trevi & the Quirinale)
- Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone (Centro Storico)
- Chiesa di Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Centro Storico)
Sidebar: The Roman School
The term Scuola romana (Roman School) is used to define a group of architects working in the 1920s and '30s, mainly on large-scale housing projects. Their designs sought to ally modern functionalism with a respect for tradition and a utopian vision of urban development.
Sidebar: Postmodernist Mosque
Designed by Paolo Portoghesi, Rome's postmodernist mosque is one of Europe's largest. Its critically acclaimed design is centred on a beautiful, luminous interior capped by a cupola and 16 surrounding domes.
Sidebar: Controversial Road
Via dei Fori Imperiali, the road that divides the Roman Forums from the Imperial Forums, was one of Mussolini’s most controversial projects. Inaugurated in 1932, it was conceived to link the Colosseum (ancient power) with Piazza Venezia (fascist power) but in the process tarmacked over much of the ancient forums.
Sidebar: Modern Icons
- Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro (Southern Rome)
- Auditorium Parco della Musica (Villa Borghese & Northern Rome)
- MAXXI (Villa Borghese & Northern Rome)
Sidebar: Urban Regeneration
Rome's Eataly complex is a masterclass in urban regeneration, bringing life back to a derelict train station. Until the complex opened in 2012, the Air Terminal Ostiense, which had originally been designed to serve airport trains arriving for the 1990 football World Cup, had been an abandoned shell.
Sidebar: Aurelian Wall
Forget the Colosseum, Rome’s largest ancient monument is the 3rd century Aurelian Wall. Started by the emperor Aurelian (r 270–275) and completed by his successor Probus (r 276–282), the wall circled the city for a length of 19km, of which some 12.5km survives intact.
Sidebar: Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Award
In 2010 starchitect Zaha Hadid won the UK's prestigious RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling prize for her work on MAXXI. Her sinuous, curvaceous design beat out competition from projects in Berlin and Oxford.
Sidebar: Triumphal Arches
Triumphal arches were designed as honorary monuments to commemorate military victories or important individuals. Only three of the 36 that stood in 5th-century Rome survive: the Arco di Tito and Arco di Settimio Severo in the Roman Forum, and the Arco di Costantino next to the Colosseum.
Rome’s turbulent history and magical cityscape have long provided inspiration for painters, sculptors, film-makers, writers and musicians. The great classical works of Roman antiquity fuelled the imagination of Renaissance artists; Counter-Reformation persecution led to baroque art and popular street satire; the trauma of Mussolini and WWII found expression in neo-realist cinema. More recently, urban art has flourished and film-making has returned to the streets of Rome.
Painting & Sculpture
Home to some of the Western world’s most recognisable art, Rome is a visual feast. Its churches alone contain more masterpieces than many small countries, and the city’s galleries are laden with works by world-famous artists.
Laying the groundwork for much later Roman art, the Etruscans placed great importance on their funerary rites and they developed sepulchral decoration into a highly sophisticated art form. Elaborate stone sarcophagi were often embellished with a reclining figure or a couple, typically depicted with a haunting, enigmatic smile. A stunning example is the Sarcofago degli Sposi (Sarcophagus of the Betrothed) in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. Underground funerary vaults, such as those unearthed at Tarquinia, were further enlivened with bright, exuberant frescoes.
The Etruscans were also noted for their bronze work and filigree jewellery. Bronze ore was abundant and was used to craft everything from chariots to candelabras, bowls and polished mirrors. One of Rome’s most iconic sculptures, the 5th-century-BC Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf), now in the Capitoline Museums, is, in fact, an Etruscan bronze. Etruscan jewellery was unrivalled throughout the Mediterranean and goldsmiths produced elaborate pieces using sophisticated filigree and granulation techniques that were only rediscovered in the 20th century.
For Italy’s best collection of Etruscan art, head to the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia; to see Etruscan treasures in situ head up to Cerveteri and Tarquinia.
In art, as in architecture, the ancient Romans borrowed heavily from the Etruscans and Greeks. In terms of decorative art, the Roman use of mosaics and wall paintings was derived from Etruscan funerary decoration. By the 1st century BC, floor mosaics were a popular form of home decor. Typical themes included landscapes, still lifes, geometric patterns and depictions of gods. Later, as production and artistic techniques improved, mosaics were displayed on walls and in public buildings. In the Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, you’ll find some spectacular wall mosaics from Nero’s villa in Anzio, as well as a series of superb 1st-century-BC frescoes from Villa Livia, one of the homes of Livia Drusilla, Augustus’ wife.
Sculpture was an important element of Roman art, and was largely influenced by Greek styles. In fact, early Roman sculptures were often made by Greek artists or were, at best, copies of imported Greek works. They were largely concerned with the male physique and generally depicted visions of male beauty in mythical settings – the Apollo Belvedere and Laocoön in the Vatican Museums’ Museo Pio-Clementino are classic examples.
However, over time Roman sculpture began to lose its obsession with form and to focus on accurate representation, mainly in the form of sculptural portraits. Browse the collections of the Capitoline Museums or the Museo Nazionale Romano: Palazzo Massimo alle Terme and you’ll be struck by how lifelike so many of the marble faces are.
In terms of function, Roman art was highly propagandistic. From the time of Augustus (r 27 BC−AD 14), art was increasingly used to serve the state, and artists came to be regarded as little more than state functionaries. This new narrative art often took the form of relief decoration illustrating great military victories – the Colonna Traiana and Ara Pacis are stunning examples of the genre.
Early Christian Art
The earliest Christian art in Rome are the traces of biblical frescoes in the Catacombe di Priscilla and the Catacombe di San Sebastiano. These, and other early works, are full of stock images: Lazarus being raised from the dead, Jesus as the good shepherd, the first Christian saints. Symbols also abound: the dove representing peace and happiness, the anchor or trident symbolising the cross, fish in reference to an acrostic from the ancient Greek word for fish (Ichthys) which spells out Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.
With the legalisation of Christianity in the 4th century, these images began to move into the public arena, appearing in mosaics across the city. Mosaic work was the principal artistic endeavour of early Christian Rome and mosaics adorn many of the churches built in this period, including the Chiesa di Santa Pudenziana, the Mausoleo di Santa Costanza, and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Eastern influences became much more pronounced between the 7th and 9th centuries, when Byzantine styles swept in from the East, leading to a brighter, golden look. The best examples in Rome are in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and the 9th-century Basilica di Santa Prassede.
Originating in late-14th-century Florence, the Renaissance had already made its mark in Tuscany and Venice before it arrived in Rome in the latter half of the 15th century. But over the next few decades it was to have a profound impact on the city as the top artists of the day were summoned to decorate the many new buildings going up around town.
Michelangelo & the Sistine Chapel
Rome’s most celebrated works of Renaissance art are Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel – his cinematic ceiling frescoes, painted between 1508 and 1512, and the Giudizio universale (Last Judgment), which he worked on between 1536 and 1541. Regarded as the high point of Western artistic achievement, these two works completely outshine the chapel’s wall frescoes, themselves important 15th-century masterpieces by Pietro Vannucci (Perugino; 1446−1523), Sandro Botticelli (1445−1510), Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449−94), Cosimo Rosselli (1439−1507), Luca Signorelli (c 1445−1523) and Bernadino di Betto (Pinturicchio; 1454−1513).
Michelangelo Buanarroti (1475−1564), born near Arrezzo in Tuscany, was the embodiment of the Renaissance spirit. A painter, sculptor, architect and occasional poet, he, more than any other artist of the era, left an indelible mark on the Eternal City. The Sistine Chapel, his Pietà in St Peter’s Basilica, sculptures in the city’s churches − his masterpieces are legion and they remain city highlights to this day.
Raphael, Master of Perspective
Renaissance art, inspired by humanism, which held man to be central to the God-created universe and beauty to represent a deep inner virtue, focused heavily on the human form. This, in turn, led artists to develop a far greater appreciation of perspective. Early Renaissance painters made great strides in formulating rules of perspective but they still struggled to paint harmonious arrangements of people. And it was this that Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael; 1483−1520) tackled in his great masterpiece La scuola di Atene (The School of Athens; 1510−11) in the Vatican Museums.
Originally from Urbino, Raphael arrived in Rome in 1508 and went on to become the most influential painter of his generation. A paid-up advocate of the Renaissance exaltation of beauty, he painted many versions of the Madonna and Child, all of which epitomise the Western model of ‘ideal beauty’ that perseveres to this day.
Counter-Reformation & The Baroque
The baroque burst onto Rome’s art scene in the early 17th century in a swirl of emotional energy. Combining an urgent sense of dynamism with highly charged emotion, it was enthusiastically appropriated by the Catholic Church, which used it as a propaganda tool in its persecution of Counter-Reformation heresy. The powerful popes and cardinals of the day eagerly championed the likes of Caravaggio, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Domenichino, Pietro da Cortona and Alessandro Algardi.
Not surprisingly, much baroque art has a religious theme and you’ll often find depictions of martyrdoms, ecstasies and miracles.
One of the key painters of the period was Michelangelo Merisi (1573−1610), the enfant terrible of the Roman art world better known as Caravaggio. A controversial and often violent character, he arrived in Rome from Milan around 1590 and immediately set about rewriting the artistic rule books. While his peers and Catholic patrons sought to glorify and overwhelm, he painted subjects as he saw them. He had no time for ‘ideal beauty’ and caused uproar with his lifelike portrayal of hitherto sacrosanct subjects – his Madonna dei pellegrini (Madonna of the Pilgrims) in the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino is typical of his audacious approach.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
While Caravaggio shocked his patrons, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598−1680) delighted them with his stunning sculptures. More than anyone else before or since, Bernini was able to capture a moment, freezing emotions and conveying a sense of dramatic action. His depiction of Santa Teresa traffita dall’amore di Dio (Ecstasy of St Teresa) in the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria does just that, blending realism, eroticism and theatrical spirituality in a work that is widely considered one of the greatest of the baroque period. Further evidence of his genius is his series of mythical sculptures at the Museo e Galleria Borghese.
Fresco painting continued to provide work for artists well into the 17th century. Important exponents include Domenichino (1581−1641), whose decorative works adorn the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi and the Chiesa di Sant’Andrea della Valle; Pietro da Cortona (1596−1669), author of the extraordinary Trionfo della divina provvidenza (Triumph of Divine Providence) in Palazzo Barberini; and Annibale Carracci (1560−1609), the genius behind the frescoes in Palazzo Farnese, reckoned by some to equal those of the Sistine Chapel.
Often associated with fascism, Italian futurism was an ambitious wide-ranging movement, embracing not only the visual arts but also architecture, music, fashion and theatre. The futurists, who first met in 1906 in a studio on Via Margutta, were evangelical advocates of modernism and their works highlighted dynamism, speed, machinery and technology.
One of the movement’s founding fathers, Giacomo Balla (1871–1958) encapsulated the futurist ideals in works such as Espansione dinamica velocità (Dynamic Expansion and Speed) and Forme grido Viva l’Italia (The Shout Viva l'Italia), an abstract work inspired by the futurists’ desire for Italy to enter WWI. Both are on show at La Galleria Nazionale.
Rome’s contemporary art scene is centred on the capital's two flagship galleries: the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, better known as MAXXI, and the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, aka MACRO.
Both struggled after opening in 2010 and 2011 respectively, but recent years have seen an upturn in fortunes and both now host exhibitions by trend-setting international artists. MAXXI has also made a lot of new friends with its its Cinema al MAXXI festival, a two-month season of film screenings.
Rome also has a thriving gallery scene with a growing number of privately owned galleries across town.
Increasingly, though, you don’t have to go to a gallery to see thought-provoking paintings. A recent trend for street art has taken the city by storm and many suburbs boast colourful wall displays. These range from a William Kentridge frieze on the Tiber embankment to a Ron English mural in the outlying Quadraro neighbourhood. Providing an impetus for all this is the Outdoor Festival, an urban art event now in its eighth year.
Feature: Rome’s Top Art Churches
St Peter’s Basilica Michelangelo’s divine Pietà is just one of the many masterpieces on display at the Vatican’s showcase basilica.
Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli Moses stands as the muscular centrepiece of Michelangelo’s unfinished tomb of Pope Julius II.
Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi Frescoes by Domenichino are outshone by three Caravaggio canvases depicting the life and death of St Matthew.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo A veritable gallery with frescoes by Pinturicchio, a Raphael-designed chapel, and two paintings by Caravaggio.
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria The church’s innocuous exterior gives no clues that this is home to Bernini’s extraordinary Santa Teresa traffita dall’amore di Dio (Ecstasy of St Teresa).
Basilica di Santa Prassede The Cappella di San Zenone features some of Rome’s most brilliant Byzantine mosaics.
Emerging in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, neoclassicism signalled a departure from the emotional abandon of the baroque and a return to the clean, sober lines of classical art. Its major exponent was the sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822), whose study of Paolina Bonaparte Borghese as Venere Vincitrice (Venus Victrix) in the Museo e Galleria Borghese is typical of the mildly erotic style for which he became known.
Rome has a long cinematic tradition, spanning the works of the postwar neo-realists and film-makers as diverse as Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone and Paolo Sorrentino, the Oscar-winning director of La grande belleza (The Great Beauty).
The Golden Age
For the golden age of Roman film-making you have to turn the clocks back to the 1940s, when Roberto Rossellini (1906−77) produced a trio of neo-realist masterpieces. The first and most famous was Roma città aperta (Rome Open City; 1945), filmed with brutal honesty in the Prenestina district east of the city centre. Vittorio de Sica (1901−74) kept the neo-realist ball rolling in 1948 with Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves), again filmed in Rome’s sprawling suburbs.
Federico Fellini (1920−94) took the creative baton from the neo-realists and carried it into the following decades. His disquieting style demands more of audiences, abandoning realistic shots for pointed images at once laden with humour, pathos and double meaning. Fellini’s greatest international hit was La Dolce Vita (1960), starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.
The films of Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922−75) are similarly demanding. A communist Catholic homosexual, he made films such as Accattone (The Scrounger; 1961) that not only reflect his ideological and sexual tendencies but also offer a unique portrayal of Rome’s urban wasteland.
Born in Naples but Roman by adoption, Paolo Sorrentino (b 1970) is the big name in Italian cinema. Since winning an Oscar for his 2013 hit La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty), he has gone on to direct Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in Youth (2015) and Jude Law in the HBO–Atlantic Sky series The Young Pope (2016), a sumptuous, and at times surreal, tale of Vatican intrigue.
In contrast to Sorrentino, a Neapolitan best known for a film about Rome, Matteo Garrone (b 1968) is a Roman famous for a film about Naples. Gomorra (Gomorrah; 2008), his hard-hitting exposé of the Neapolitan camorra (mafia), enjoyed widespread acclaim.
More recently, Emanuele Crialese (b 1965) impressed with Terraferma (Dry Land; 2011), a thought-provoking study of immigration, and Lamberto Sanfelice won applause at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival for Cloro (Chlorine), a slow-burning drama centred on a teenage girl’s struggles to keep her dreams alive in the face of family tragedy.
Gabriele Muccino (b 1967), director of the 2001 smash L’ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss), has by now established himself in Hollywood where he’s worked with the likes of Russell Crowe and Will Smith, star of his 2006 hit The Pursuit of Happyness (2006).
Going back a generation, Carlo Verdone (b 1950) and Nanni Moretti (b 1953) are two veterans of the Rome scene. Verdone, a comedian in the Roman tradition, specialises in satirising his fellow citizens in bittersweet comedies such as Viaggi di nozze (Honeymoons; 1995).
Moretti, on the other hand, falls into no mainstream tradition. A politically active writer, actor and director, his films are often whimsical and self-indulgent. Arguably his best work, Caro diario (Dear Diary; 1994) earned him the Best Director prize at Cannes in 1994 – an award he topped in 2001 when he won the Palme d’Or for La stanza del figlio (The Son’s Room).
On Location in Rome
Rome itself has featured in a number of recent productions. Villa Borghese and the Terme di Caracalla were among the locations for Ben Stiller’s camp fashion romp Zoolander 2 (2016), whilst the Tiber riverside and Via della Conciliazione both appeared in the last James Bond outing, Spectre (2015). Down in the city's southern reaches, a remake of Ben-Hur was filmed at the Cinecittà film studios, the very same place where the original sword-and-sandal epic was shot in 1959.
This renaissance in the city's cinematic fortunes has been kick-started by a series of government tax breaks designed to lure film-makers back to Rome. For years the city was a favourite location, drawing big-name American directors and earning itself the nickname 'Hollywood on the Tiber'. However, competition from cheaper eastern European countries, combined with a fall in domestic production and cuts in government funding, led to a serious decline in fortunes in the late noughties and early 2010s.
Feature: Sergio Leone, Mr Spaghetti Western
Best known for virtually single-handedly creating the spaghetti western, Sergio Leone (1929−89) is a hero to many. Astonishingly, though, he only ever directed seven films.
The son of a silent-movie director, Leone cut his teeth as a screenwriter on a series of sword-and-sandal epics, before working as assistant director on Quo vadis? (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959). He made his directorial debut three years later on Il colosso di Rodi (The Colossus of Rhodes; 1961).
However, it was with his famous dollar trilogy – Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars; 1964), Per qualche dollari in piu (For a Few Dollars More; 1965) and Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; 1966) – that he really hit the big time. The first, filmed in Spain and based on the 1961 samurai flick Yojimbo, set the style for the genre. No longer were clean-cut, morally upright heroes pitted against cartoon-style villains, but characters were complex, often morally ambiguous and driven by self-interest.
Stylistically, Leone introduced a series of innovations that were later to become trademarks. Chief among these was his use of musical themes to identify his characters. And in this he was brilliantly supported by his old schoolmate, Ennio Morricone. One of Hollywood’s most prolific composers, Morricone (b 1928) has worked on more than 500 films, but his masterpiece remains his haunting score for Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo.
Feature: Rome in the Movies
Rome's monuments, piazzas and atmospheric streets provide the backdrop to many classic, and some not so classic, films.
Roma città aperta (Rome Open City; 1945) Neo-realist masterpiece shot on the streets of Prenestina.
Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves; 1948) Classic drama that ranges from the city's desolate outskirts to Porta Portese market.
Roman Holiday (1953) Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn scoot around Rome's headline sights.
La Dolce Vita (1960) The Trevi Fountain stars in Fellini's great Roman masterpiece.
The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) Rome sets the stage for this chilling psychological thriller.
Pranzo di ferragosto (Midsummer Lunch; 2008) A gentle comedy-drama set in a deserted Trastevere.
Il divo (Il Divo; 2008) Paolo Sorrentino's stylised portrait of controversial politician Giulio Andreotti.
Angels & Demons (2009) Characters bounce between locations in this glossy Dan Brown adaption.
To Rome with Love (2012) Rome gets the Woody Allen treatment in this cliché-ridden comedy.
La grande belleza (The Great Beauty; 2013) Rome's beauty masks cynicism and moral decadence in Sorrentino's Oscar-winner.
A history of authoritarian rule has given rise to a rich literary tradition, encompassing everything from ancient satires to dialect poetry and anti-fascist prose. As a backdrop, Rome has inspired authors as diverse as Goethe and Dan Brown.
Famous for his blistering oratory, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106−43 BC) was the Roman Republic’s pre-eminent author. A brilliant barrister, he became consul in 63 BC and subsequently published many philosophical works and speeches. Fancying himself as the senior statesman, he took the young Octavian under his wing and attacked Mark Antony in a series of 14 speeches, the Philippics. But these proved fatal, for when Octavian changed sides and joined Mark Antony, he demanded, and got, Cicero’s head.
Poetry & Satire
A contemporary of Cicero, Catullus (c 84−54 BC) cut a very different figure. A passionate and influential poet, he is best known for his epigrams and erotic verse.
On becoming emperor, Augustus (aka Octavian) encouraged the arts, and Virgil (70−19 BC), Ovid, Horace and Tibullus all enjoyed freedom to write. Of the works produced in this period, it’s Virgil’s rollicking Aeneid that stands out. A glorified mix of legend, history and moral instruction, it tells how Aeneas escapes from Troy and after years of mythical mishaps ends up landing in Italy where his descendants Romulus and Remus eventually found Rome.
Little is known of Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, better known as Juvenal, but his 16 satires have survived as classics of the genre. Writing in the 1st century AD, he combined an acute mind with a cutting pen, famously scorning the masses as being interested in nothing but ‘bread and circuses’.
The two major historians of the period were Livy (59 BC−AD 17) and Tacitus (c 56−116). Although both wrote in the early days of the empire they displayed very different styles. Livy, whose history of the Roman Republic was probably used as a school textbook, cheerfully mixed myth with fact to produce an entertaining and popular tome. Tacitus, on the other hand, took a decidedly colder approach. His Annals and Histories, which cover the early years of the Roman Empire, are cutting and often witty, although imbued with an underlying pessimism.
Street Writing & Popular Poetry
Rome’s tradition of street writing goes back to the dark days of the 17th century Counter-Reformation. With the Church systematically suppressing criticism, disgruntled Romans began posting pasquinades (anonymous messages; named after the first person who wrote one) on the city’s so-called speaking statues. These messages, often archly critical of the authorities, were sensibly posted in the dead of night and then gleefully circulated around town the following day. The most famous speaking statue stands in Piazza Pasquino near Piazza Navona.
Poking savage fun at the rich and powerful was one of the favourite themes of Gioacchino Belli (1791−1863), one of a trio of poets who made their names writing poetry in Roman dialect. Born poor, Belli started his career with conventional and undistinguished verse, but found the crude and colourful dialect of the Roman streets better suited to his outspoken attacks on the chattering classes.
Carlo Alberto Salustri (1871−1950), aka Trilussa, is the best known of the trio. He also wrote social and political satire, although not exclusively so, and many of his poems are melancholy reflections on life, love and solitude. One of his most famous works, the anti-fascist poem All’ ombra (In the Shadow), is etched onto a plaque in Piazza Trilussa, the Trastevere square named in his honour.
The poems of Cesare Pescarella (1858−1940) present a vivid portrait of turn-of-the-century Rome. Gritty and realistic, they pull no punches in their description of the everyday life of Rome’s forgotten poor.
Rome as Inspiration
With its magical cityscape and historic atmosphere, Rome has provided inspiration for legions of foreign authors.
In the 18th century the city was a hotbed of literary activity as historians and Grand Tourists poured in from northern Europe. The German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe captures the elation of discovering ancient Rome and the colours of the modern city in his celebrated travelogue Italian Journey (1817).
Rome was also a magnet for the English Romantic poets. John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and other writers all spent time in the city. Keats came to Rome in 1821 in the hope that it would cure his ill health, but it didn’t and he died of tuberculosis in his lodgings at the foot of the Spanish Steps.
Later, in the 19th century, American author Nathaniel Hawthorne took inspiration from a sculpture in the Capitoline Museums to pen his classic The Marble Faun (1860).
Rome as Backdrop
In the first decade of the 2000s it became fashionable for novelists to use Rome as a backdrop. Most notably, Dan Brown’s thriller Angels and Demons (2001) is set in Rome, as is Jeanne Kalogridis sumptuous historical novel The Borgia Bride (2006).
Robert Harris’s accomplished fictional biographies of Cicero, Imperium (2006) and Lustrum (Conspirata in the US; 2010), are just two of many books set in ancient Rome. Other popular books in the genre include Lindsey Davis' Falco series of ancient murder mysteries.
Literature & Fascism
A controversial figure, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938) was the most flamboyant Italian writer of the early 20th century. A WWI fighter pilot and ardent nationalist, he was born in Pescara and settled in Rome in 1881. Forever associated with fascism, he wrote prolifically, both poetry and novels.
Roman-born Alberto Moravia (1907−90) was banned from writing by Mussolini and, together with his wife, Elsa Morante (1912−85), was forced into hiding for a year. The alienated individual and the emptiness of fascist and bourgeois society are common themes in his writing. In La Romana (The Woman of Rome; 1947) he explores the broken dreams of a country girl, Adriana, as she slips into prostitution and theft.
The novels of Elsa Morante are characterised by a subtle psychological appraisal of her characters and can be seen as a personal cry of pity for the sufferings of individuals and society. Her 1974 masterpiece, La Storia (History), is a tough tale of a half-Jewish woman’s desperate struggle for dignity in the poverty of occupied Rome.
Taking a similarly anti-fascist line, Carlo Emilio Gadda (1893−1973) combines murder and black humour in his classic whodunnit, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de Via Merulana (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana; 1957). The book’s a brilliant portrayal of the pomposity and corruption that thrived in Mussolini’s Rome.
Feature: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Master of Controversy
Poet, novelist and film-maker, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922−75) was one of Italy’s most important and controversial 20th-century intellectuals. His works, which are complex, unsentimental and provocative, provide a scathing portrait of Italy’s postwar social transformation.
Although he spent much of his adult life in Rome, he had a peripatetic childhood. He was born in Bologna but moved around frequently and rarely spent more than a few years in any one place.
Politically, he was a communist, but he never played a part in Italy’s left-wing establishment. In 1949 he was expelled from the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI; Italian Communist Party) after a gay sex scandal and for the rest of his career he remained a sharp critic of the party. His most famous outburst came in the poem Il PCI ai giovani, in which he dismisses left-wing students as bourgeois and sympathises with the police, whom he describes as ‘figli di poveri’ (sons of the poor). In the context of 1968 Italy, a year marked by widespread student agitation, this was a highly incendiary position to take.
Pasolini was no stranger to controversy. His first novel Ragazzi di Vita (The Ragazzi), set in the squalor of Rome’s forgotten suburbs, earned him success and a court case for obscenity. Similarly, his early films – Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962) – provoked righteous outrage with their relentlessly bleak depiction of life in the Roman underbelly.
True to the scandalous nature of his art, Pasolini was murdered in 1975. A young hustler, Pino Pelosi, was convicted of the crime, but recent revelations have raised doubts that he acted alone, and question marks still hang over the case.
Rome-born Niccolò Ammaniti is one of Italy’s best-selling authors. In 2007 he won the Premio Strega, Italy’s top literary prize, for his novel, Come Dio comanda (As God Commands), although he’s best known internationally for Io non ho paura (I’m Not Scared; 2001), a soulful study of a young boy’s realisation that his father is involved in a child kidnapping.
Another Strega winner is Melania Mazzucco, whose acclaimed 2003 novel Vita tells of two boys from Campania who emigrate to the US in the early 20th century. A later book, Sei come sei (2013) caused controversy when right-wing students protested at its gay subject matter.
Also of note is Andrea Bajani (b 1975), the award-winning author of Ogni promessa (Every Promise; 2010), a beautifully written novel exploring themes of relationships and vulnerability.
Despite austerity-led cutbacks, Rome’s music scene is bearing up well. International orchestras perform to sell-out audiences, jazz greats jam in steamy clubs and rappers rage in underground venues.
Choral & Sacred Music
In a city of churches, it’s little wonder that choral music has deep roots in Rome. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Rome’s great Renaissance popes summoned the top musicians of the day to tutor the papal choir. Two of the most famous were Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c 1525−94), one of Italy’s foremost Renaissance composers, and the Naples-born Domenico Scarlatti (1685−1757).
The papal choirs were originally closed to women and the high parts were taken by castrati, boys who had been surgically castrated to preserve their high voices. The use of castrati lasted until the early 20th century, when in 1913 Alessandro Moreschi (1858−1922), the last known castrato, retired from the Sistine Chapel choir.
To support the pope's musicians, Sixtus V established the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in 1585. Originally this was involved in the publication of sacred music, but it later developed a teaching function, and in 1839 it completely reinvented itself as an academy with wider cultural and academic goals. Today it is a highly respected conservatory with its own world-class orchestra.
Rome is often snubbed by serious opera buffs, who prefer their Puccini in Milan, Venice or Naples. Exacerbating the situation, the city opera house, the Teatro dell’Opera, has been plagued by financial crises and labour disputes in recent years. But things took a decided turn for the better in May 2016 when Hollywood director Sofia Coppola's lavish production of La Traviata proved to be box-office gold.
The Romans have long been keen opera-goers and in the 19th century a number of important operas were premiered in Rome, including Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville; 1816), Verdi’s Il trovatore (The Troubadour; 1853) and Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (1900).
Tosca not only premiered in Rome but is also set in the city. The first act takes place in the Chiesa di Sant’Andrea della Valle, the second in Palazzo Farnese, and the final act in Castel Sant’Angelo, the castle from which Tosca jumps to her death.
Jazz, Rap & Hip Hop
Jazz has long been a mainstay of Rome’s music scene. Introduced by US troops during WWII, it grew in popularity during the postwar period and took off in the 1960s. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength and the city now boasts some fabulous jazz clubs, including Alexanderplatz, Big Mama, and the Casa del Jazz. Big names to look out for include Enrico Pieranunzi, a Roman-born pianist and composer, and the acclaimed trio performing as Doctor 3.
Rome also has a vibrant underground scene. Rap and hip hop arrived in the city in the late 1980s and spread via the centro sociale (organised squat) network. Originally the scene was highly politicised and many early exponents associated themselves with Rome’s alternative left-wing. Since then, exposure and commercialisation has diluted, though not entirely extinguished, this political element. Names to look out for include Colle der Formento, Cor Veleno, Jesto, Assalti Fromntali, and the ragamuffin outfit Villa Ada Posse.
Theatre & Dance
Surprisingly for a city in which art has always been appreciated, Rome has no great theatrical tradition. That said, theatres such as Teatro Vascello and Teatro India stage wide-ranging programs offering everything from avant-garde dance to cutting-edge street theatre.
Although not strictly speaking a Roman, Dacia Maraini (b 1936) has produced her best work while living in Rome. Considered one of Italy's most important feminist writers, she has more than 30 plays to her name, many of which continue to be translated and performed around the world.
Dance is a major highlight of Rome’s big autumn festival, Romaeuropa. But while popular, performances rarely showcase homegrown talent, which remains thin on the ground.
Major ballet performances are staged at the Teatro dell’Opera, home to Rome’s principal ballet company, the Balletto del Teatro dell’Opera.
Sidebar: Top Galleries & Museums
- Vatican Museums (Vatican City, Borgo & Prati)
- Museo e Galleria Borghese (Villa Borghese & Northern Rome)
- Capitoline Museums (Ancient Rome)
Sidebar: Etruscan Frescoes
The best-surviving examples of Etruscan frescoes are found in Tarquinia, where up to 6000 tombs have been discovered. Particularly impressive are the illustrations in the Tomba delle Leonesse (Tomb of the Lionesses).
Sidebar: Pietro Cavallini
One of Rome's great medieval artists was Pietro Cavallini (c 1240−1330). Little is known about this Roman-born painter, but his most famous work is the Giudizio universale (Last Judgment) fresco in the Chiesa di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
Sidebar: Key Renaissance Works
- Pietà (St Peter’s Basilica)
- La Scuola di Atene (Vatican Museums)
- Deposizione di Cristo (Galleria e Museo Borghese)
- Handing over of the Keys (Sistine Chapel)
Sidebar: Renaissance Rivals
Michelangelo and Raphael didn’t get on. Despite this, Raphael felt compelled to honour his elder after sneaking into the Sistine Chapel to look at Michelangelo’s half-finished ceiling frescoes. He was so impressed with what he saw that he painted Michelangelo into his masterpiece La Scuola di Atene.
Sidebar: Big-Name Baroque Artists
- Annibale Carracci (1560−1609)
- Caravaggio (1573−1610)
- Domenichino (1581−1641)
- Pietro da Cortona (1596−1669)
- Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598−1680)
Emerging about 1520, mannerism bridged the gap between the Renaissance and baroque era. Signature traits include the use of artificial colours, and figures with elongated limbs posed in florid settings.
Sidebar: Ornamental Floors
A number of Rome's churches boast impressive ornamental floors with geometrical arrangements of coloured marble. This revolutionary paving style was developed in the 12th and 13th centuries by a group of Roman stoneworking families, collectively known as the Cosmati.
Sidebar: Ancient Wisdom
Virgil gave us some of our most famous expressions: 'Fortune favours the bold', 'Love conquers all' and 'Time flies'. However, it was Juvenal who issued the classic warning: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who guards the guards?)
Sidebar: The Vulgate Bible
Rome’s most influential contribution to literature was the Vulgate Bible. This dates to the 4th century when Pope Damasus (r 366−384) had his secretary Eusebius Hieronymous, aka St Jerome, translate the bible into accessible Latin. His version is the basis for the bible currently used by the Catholic Church.
Sidebar: Forbidden Books
In 1559 Pope Paul IV published the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books), a list of books forbidden by the Catholic Church. Over the next 400 years it was revised 20 times, the last edition appearing in 1948. It was officially abolished in 1966.
Sidebar: Roman Reads
- Roman Tales (Alberto Moravia)
- That Awful Mess on Via Merulana (Carlo Emilio Gadda)
- The Secrets of Rome, Love & Death in the Eternal City (Corrado Augias)
Sidebar: Ara Pacis
Dramatically ensconced in a Richard Meier−designed pavilion, the Ara Pacis is a key work of ancient Roman sculpture. The vast marble altar is covered with detailed reliefs, including one showing Augustus at the head of a procession, followed by the entire imperial family.
Sidebar: Film Festival
Since its inception in 2006 the Festa del Cinema di Roma has established itself on the European circuit. But years of austerity have seen it pare back its ambitions and it now strives to champion home-grown talent.
Inaugurated in 1937, Rome's Cinecittà studios are part of cinematic folklore. Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, La Dolce Vita and Martin Scorsese's 2002 epic Gangs of New York are among the classics that have been shot on the studios' vast 40-hectare site.
Sidebar: Master of Horror
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s Italy was a prolific producer of horror films. Rome’s master of terror was, and still is, Dario Argento (b 1940), director of the 1975 cult classic Profondo rosso (Deep Red) and more than 20 other movies.
Sidebar: Modern Satire
Niccolò Ammaniti's 2009 novel Che la festa cominci (Let the Games Begin) offers debauchery, laughs, and Satanic sects as it gleefully satires the bizarre excesses of modern society.
Sidebar: The Great Beauty
Focused on a world-weary habitué of Rome's dolce vita society, Paolo Sorrentino's 2013 film La grande belleza (The Great Beauty) presents Italy's ancient capital as a complex, suffocating city whose lavish beauty masks a decadent, morally bankrupt heart.
The Roman Way of Life
As a visitor, it’s often difficult to see beyond Rome’s spectacular veneer to the large, modern city that lies beneath: a living, breathing capital that's home to almost three million people. So how do the Romans live in their city? Where do they work? Who do they live with? How do they let their hair down?
A Day in the Life
Rome’s average office worker lives in a small, two-bedroom apartment in the suburbs and works in a government ministry in the city centre. Their working day is typical of the many who crowd i mezzi ('the means'; public transport) in the morning rush hour.
The morning routine is the same as city dwellers the world over: a quick breakfast – usually nothing more than a sweet, black espresso – followed by a short bus ride to the nearest metro station. On the way they stop at an edicola (kiosk) to pick up their local paper (Il Messaggero) and share a joke with the kiosk owner. A quick scan of the headlines reveals few surprises – the usual political shenanigans in city hall; the Pope's latest utterances; Roma and Lazio match reports.
Rome’s metro is not a particularly pleasant place to be in l’ora di punta (the rush hour), especially in summer when it gets unbearably hot, but the regulars are resigned to the discomfort and bear it cheerfully.
Their work, like many in the swollen state bureaucracy, is not the most interesting in the world, nor the best paid, but it’s secure, and with a much sought-after contratto a tempo indeterminato (permanent contract) they don't have to worry about losing it. In contrast, their younger colleagues work in constant fear that their temporary contracts will not be renewed when they expire.
Lunch, which is typically taken around 1.30pm, is usually a snack or pizza al taglio (by the slice) from a nearby takeaway. Before heading back to the office for the afternoon session, there's time for a quick coffee in the usual bar.
Clocking off time in most ministries is typically from 5pm onwards and by about 7pm the evening rush hour is in full swing. Once home, there's time to catch the 8pm TV news before sitting down to a pasta supper at about 8.30pm.
Employment in the capital is largely based on Italy’s bloated state bureaucracy. Every morning armies of suited civil servants pour into town and disappear into vast ministerial buildings to keep the machinery of government ticking over. Other important employers include the tourist sector, finance, media and culture – Italy’s state broadcaster RAI is based in Rome, as is much of the country's film industry, and there are hundreds of museums and galleries across town.
But as Italy's economy continues to stagnate, it's tough for young people to get a foot on the career ladder. To land it lucky, it helps to know someone. Official figures are impossible to come by, but it’s a widely held belief that personal or political connections are the best way of landing a job. This system of raccomandazioni (recommendations) is widespread and, while being tacitly accepted, regularly gives rise to scandal. In recent years controversies have centred on nepotistic appointments at Rome's La Sapienza University, at the city's public transport operator, and its waste disposal company.
Like everywhere in Italy, Rome’s workplace remains predominantly male. Female unemployment is an ongoing issue and Italian women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. That said, recent signs have been positive. Half of PM Matteo Renzi's 2014 cabinet were women and in June 2016, Rome elected its first ever female mayor. Virginia Raggi, a 37-year old lawyer and city councillor, swept to a landslide victory in the city's 2016 municipal elections, thus becoming the first Roman able to call herself sindaca, as opposed to the more usual (and masculine) form, sindaco.
Home Life & the Family
Romans, like most Italians, live in apartments. These are often small – 75 to 100 sq m is typical – and expensive. House prices in Rome are among the highest in the country and many first-time buyers are forced to move out of town or to distant suburbs outside the GRA (the grande raccordo anulare), the busy ring road that marks the city’s outer limit.
Almost all apartments are in self-managed condomini (blocks of individually owned flats), a fact which gives rise to no end of neighbourly squabbling. Regular condominio meetings are often fiery affairs as neighbours argue over everything from communal repairs to noisy dogs and parking spaces.
Rates of home ownership are relatively high in Rome and properties are commonly kept in the family, handed down from generation to generation. People do rent, but the rental market is largely targeted at Rome’s huge student population.
Staying at Home
Italy’s single most successful institution, and the only one in which the Romans continue to trust, is the family. It’s still the rule rather the exception for young Romans to stay at home until they marry, which they typically do at around age 30. Figures report that virtually two thirds of Rome's 18-to-34-year olds still live at home with at least one parent. To foreign observers this seems strange, but there are mitigating factors: up to half of these stay-at-homes are out of work and property and rental prices are high. There's also the fact that young Romans are generally reluctant to downgrade and move to a cheaper neighbourhood. Seen from another perspective, it could just mean that Roman families like living together.
But while faith in the family remains, the family is shrinking. Italian women are giving birth later than ever and having fewer children – in 2016 the average number of children per woman was 1.34, a record low. Rome’s army of nonni (grandparents) berate their children for this, as does Pope Francis, who has criticised married couples for not having children, claiming it's selfish. For their part, Italy’s politicians worry that such a perilously low birth rate threatens the future tax returns necessary for funding the country’s already over-burdened pension system.
Despite perpetual economic and political crises, and all the trials and tribulations of living in Rome – dodgy public transport, iffy services and sky-high prices – few Romans would swap their city for anywhere else. They know theirs is one of the world’s most beautiful cities and they enjoy it with gusto. You only have to look at the city’s pizzerias, trattorias and restaurants to see that eating out is a much-loved local pastime. It’s a cliché of Roman life but food really is central to social pleasure.
Drinking, in contrast, is not a traditional Roman activity. Recent times have seen trends for craft beer and cocktails sweep the city but the drinks are often little more than accessories to the main business of hanging out and looking cool. Romans are well practiced at this – just look at all those photos of dolce vita cafe society – and an evening out in Rome is as much about flirting and looking gorgeous as it is about consuming alcohol.
Clothes shopping is a popular Roman pastime, alongside cinema-going and football. Interest in Rome’s two Serie A teams, Roma and Lazio, remains high and a trip to the Stadio Olimpico to watch the Sunday game is still considered an afternoon well-spent. Depending on the result, of course.
Plenty of people play football as well, although sport isn't limited to calcio (soccer). The city's gyms and indoor pools are a hive of activity, while joggers take to the parks and groups of impeccably clad cyclists hit the roads out of town.
Romans are inveterate car-lovers and on hot summer weekends they will often drive out to the coast or surrounding countryside. Beach bums make for nearby Ostia or more upmarket Fregene, while those in search of a little greenery head to the Castelli Romani, a pocket of green hills just south of town famous for its Frascati wine and casual eateries.
Feature: Fashion & the Bella Figura
Making a good impression (fare la bella figura) is extremely important to Romans. For a style-conscious student that might mean wearing the latest street brands and having the right smartphone. For a middle-aged professional it will involve being impeccably groomed and dressed appropriately for every occasion. This slavish adherence to fashion isn’t limited to clothes or accessories: it extends to all walks of life and trend-conscious Romans will frequent the same bars and restaurants, drink the same aperitivi and hang out on the same piazzas.
Feature: Religion in Roman Life
Rome is a city of churches. From the great headline basilicas in the historic centre to the hundreds of parish churches dotted around the suburbs, the city is packed with places to worship. And with the Vatican in the centre of town, the Church is a constant presence in Roman life.
Yet the role of religion in modern Roman society is an ambiguous one. On the one hand, most people consider themselves Catholic, but on the other, church attendance is in freefall, particularly among the young, and atheism is growing.
But while Romans don’t go to mass very often, the Church remains a point of reference for many people. The Vatican’s line on ethical and social issues might not always meet with widespread support, but it’s always given an airing in the largely sympathetic national press. Similarly, more than half of people who get married do so in church and first communions remain an important social occasion entailing gift-giving and lavish receptions.
Catholicism's hold on the Roman psyche is strong, but an increase in the city’s immigrant population has led to a noticeable Muslim presence. This has largely been a pain-free process, but friction has flared on occasion and there were violent scenes in summer 2015 when far-right anti-immigration protestors clashed with police in the Casale San Nicola neighbourhood in north Rome.
Sidebar: House Prices
In 2017 the average price for a square metre of residential property was around €3200, with rates topping €8000 in the historic centre. In the suburbs, the going rate ranged from about €2500 to €4000 per square metre.
Sidebar: Traffic Congestion
Rome is the most congested city in Italy, according to research carried out by traffic analysts Inrix. In 2016 the city's drivers spent an average of 35 hours stuck in traffic. Topping Europe's blacklist were Moscow (91 hours) and London (73 hours).
Sidebar: Average Salary
According to figures released in late 2016, the average salary in Rome was €30,685. This compared to €34,414 in Milan and €27,302 in Naples. Italy's national average was €29,176.
Sidebar: Serie A Champions
Rome's finest footballing hour came in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, the city turned sky-blue as Lazio fans celebrated their team's scudetto (championship). A year later it was the turn of Rome's red-and-yellow fans as their team ran out Serie A champions.
Sidebar: The Italians
English journalist John Hooper examines the contradictions and insecurities that lie beneath the smooth veneer of Italian society in his entertaining 2015 book The Italians. Like Luigi Barzini's 1964 classic of the same name, it's an entertaining and informative read full of obscure details and quirky facts.