Rome: a city spanning over 3 millennia with one of the highest concentrations of architecture in the world, not to mention a transcendental influence on culture the world over. The city’s crowning feature is the countless layers of history that have manifested here, all converging to become a fixture of modern life in The Eternal City.
In this article, we present the works of architecture that highlight the city’s diverse history. We will omit the universally-known “tourist traps” in order to give a much more profound picture of what makes Rome the architectural capital of the world.
1. Auditorium Parco della Musica / Renzo Piano
Location: Via Pietro de Coubertin, 30
Year Completed: 2002
Designed by Renzo Piano, the Parco della Musica is a notable architectural as well as cultural fixture. The complex is made up of three buildings, colloquially known as “the Beetles” for their shape and glassy exterior. The buildings house the complex’s main concert halls, all fit for hosting any number of events that would serve as the perfect opportunity to glimpse the project in its entirety. Interestingly, while breaking ground for the project, the construction team discovered the foundation from a villa dating back to the 6th century BC, which can be viewed at the complex’s archaeological museum.
2. Villa Doria Pamphilj
Location: Via di San Pancrazio
Year completed: 1972
Rome is a green city, which makes visiting its plethora of villas a must for both casual visitors and architectural aficionados alike. Once the stomping ground of the city’s elite, these villas have become optimal spaces for the public to visit and enjoy. Villa Doria Pamphilj, located in the Gianicolense sector, is one of the best preserved. Nestled on 184 hectares of green space, its the centerpiece of one of the largest and oldest parks in the city, watched over by the world-famous stone pines which can be found in abundance throughout the park.
3. Mosque of Rome / Paolo Portoghesi
Location: Viale della Moschea, 85
Year completed: 1995
The mosque, designed by Paolo Portoghesi, is the main cultural and worship center for Rome’s muslims and is an exceptional work of architecture in its own right. Located in the north of the city on 30,000m² of urban terrain, the mosque embodies the Islamic value of “adapting to the situation at hand,” and expresses this is both its interior and exterior spaces. Its pillars, in the form of white trees, intertwine to form elaborate geometric patterns, a modern twist on traditional Islamic art.
4. La Rinascente / Franco Albini y Franca Helg
Ubicación: Piazza Fiume
Year completed: 1961
This department store built in the 1960s is a prime example of integrating contemporary style into an historic urban setting. Albini intertwines traditional elements in Roman architecture like chiaroscuro and plastic articulation throughout the project. La Rinascente stands out for the spectacular colors that result from the fusion of materials used to build it, like granite, steel, red marble, and glass. Together with the building opposite, the shopping center replaced the Porta Salaria, which was demolished in 1921 to make way for car traffic and the completion of Piazza Fiume.
5. MACRO (Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome) / Studio Odile Decq
Location: Via Nizza, 138
Year Built: 2010
Rome’s Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the few new additions to the city’s architectural scene and simultaneously jars and complements the buildings surrounding it, due to its contrasting design and the outdoor terrace that seems to melt into the surrounding rooftops. Inside, the museum houses a wide variety of temporary exhibitions that can be viewed from a multitude of perspectives thanks to the dynamism of the building’s interior.
6. Mercado de Porta Portese
Location: Via Portuense
Year Completed: 1945
Every Sunday morning, locals and visitors alike congregate in this massive open air market, making it one of Rome’s most vibrant public spaces. The starting point for the market, as well as its namesake, is a Roman gate built in 1644, the Porta Portese. The market exemplifies ephemeral architecture, as it transforms from a quiet, urban space to a bustling urban nucleus every Sunday. It has been a fixture in the work of numerous artists, and none more famous than Vittorio De Sica’s film Bicycle Thieves, a cinematic ode to both the vibrancy and timelessness of the market.
7. Tor Marancia Street Art / 999 Contemporary
Location: Viale Tor Marancia, 63
Year Completed: 2014
Epitomizing Rome’s street art movement, Tor Marancia features the work of 20 international artists that have transformed the area’s residential buildings into enormous canvases, adding more than a pop of color to this tranquil Roman suburb. For urban art and architectural junkies alike, this area holds a lot to explore and enjoy.
8. Casa “Il Girasole” / Luigi Moretti
Location: Via Bruno Buozzi, 64
Year Built: 1950
This house, whose name means “sunflower,” is one of many of Rome’s architectural fixtures designed by Luigi Moretti. It is built in the “palazzina romana” fashion, a building style made popular by the economic boom that saw to the construction of new neighborhoods, including the one where the house is situated, Parioli. It’s characterized by its all-white exterior, its blue mosaics, and its central courtyard, all of which converge to form a cornucopia of chaotic geometric shapes.
9. Quartiere Coppedè / Gino Coppedè
Location: Piazza Mincio
Year Built: 1915
The confluence of architectural styles such as Baroque, Art Deco, Liberty, Medieval and Gothic, is one of the many factors that distinguish this sector of Rome as an urban treasure. The area boasts a complex consisting of 18 palaces and 27 buildings, all centered around the Piazza Mincio. The compound was designed by Gino Coppedè and the architect oversaw every minute detail of it in an effort to merge art with architecture. We recommend entering through the principal archway located at the intersection of Via Arno, Via Dora and Via Tagliamento to take in the full effect of the neighborhood.
10. Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana / Ernesto Lapadula, Giovanni Guerrini and Mario Romano
Location: Quadrato della Concordia, 3
Year Built: 1940
The impressiveness of this building speaks for itself. The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, also known as the Colosseo Quadrato, or Square Colosseum, is the poster child of the Rationalism movement made popular under the fascist rule of Benito Mussolinih. Every part of the building’s facade contains some homage to the dictator (6 vertical arches for the 6 letters in Benito and 9 horizontal for Mussolini). In fact, the building was commissioned by “Il Duce” himself for the 1942 Esposizione Universale Roma, or EUR, where he planned to celebrate 20 years of fascism. Today, the EUR neighborhood serves as a business and financial district and is the home of new and contemporary projects like the Roma Convention Center by Massimiliano Fuksas.
11. Church of 2000 / Richard Meier & Partners Architects
Location: Piazza Largo Terzo Millennio, 8
Year Built: 2003
The church, designed by Richard Meier, is distinguished by the three stone “sails” that stand beside the main structure. The project was the winning entry of an architectural design contest aimed at demonstrating modern spirituality as well revitalizing the Tor Tre Teste neighborhood. Along with its distinctive ship-shaped structure, the church is marked by its all-white exterior and its use of light as an essential component in all of its spaces.
12. Corviale / Mario Fiorentino
Location: Via Poggio Verde, 389
Year Built: 1982
Inspired by the “social utopias” of the 1960s, Corviale, colloquially called “the Snake,” was once touted as the prime example of a modernist housing complex. Modeled as a city within a building, the complex consists of two 9 story blocks that stretch over a 1 km area. Today, Corviale is undergoing a series of projects in an effort to revamp and modernize the building. Located in the Gianicolense neighborhood, Corviale is a must-see for anyone interested in urban revitalization.
13. MAXXI Museum / Zaha Hadid
Location: Via Guido Reni, 4
The MAXXI, or National Museum of 21st Century Art, is one of several renowned works by Zaha Hadid and was created as a space for innovation in art and architecture. Comprised of a series of concrete shapes and curved walls, the museum’s dynamic spaces make for an interesting walk-through. For Hadid, the objective of the project was not only creating a building, but a vital public space that offers visitors a unique experience.
14. Forced Perspective Gallery at the Palazzo Spada / Francesco Borromini
Location: Piazza Capo di Ferro, 13
Year Built: 1653
This Baroque masterpiece resides in the Palazzo Spada, close to the Palazzo Farnese and the Campo di Fiori. Designed by Francesco Borromini in 1653 under the commission of Cardinal Bernardino Spada, the gallery was a part of the expansion of the palace gardens. Built using the forced perspective technique, the gallery’s 8 meter length appears over 3 times longer than it actually is. Borromini achieved this effect by placing columns of decreasing size one after the other and slightly inclining the gallery floor. We highly recommend a visit in order to see this effect in person.
15. Olympic Village / Vittorio Cafiero, Adalberto Libera, Amedeo Luccichenti, Vincenzo Monaco, and Luigi Moretti
Location: Between Via Stati Uniti, Via Canada, Viale De Coubertin and Via degli Olimpionici
Year Built: 1960
The Olympic Village is a Modernist residential complex built to house nearly 8,000 athletes during the 1960 Olympics. It’s distinguished by its extensive walls and “pilotis,” or stilts, which let visitors see the entirety of the complex from one vantage point. The village is something of an architectural hermit, being relatively cut off from the area surrounding it, the Flaminio neighborhood. However, this hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of Rome’s most in demand places to live. Visitors are especially encouraged to check out the Piazza Grecia, the complex’s primary public space that allows residents and visitors alike to take in and appreciate this unique living space.
16. Ex Mattatoio
Location: Piazza Orazio Giustiniani, 4
This former slaughterhouse, located across from the Testaccio market, currently houses the architectural school of the Roma Tre University. Built in 1891 and restored in the 2000s, the complex is considered to be one of Rome’s most exemplary pieces of industrial architecture. The building itself is made up of several pavilions that today serve as classrooms, libraries, and a site of the MACRO. Along with its unique architectural qualities, the slaughterhouse is also a testament to how a building can be re-purposed as times and the needs of the people around it change.
17. Piazza Perin del Vaga
Ubicación: Piazza Perin del Vaga
This plaza, tucked away in the Flaminio neighborhood seems unassuming at first glance. Nestled in between 3 earth-colored residential buildings, the plaza is distinguished by its various dolphin fountains and the holly oak that stands in its center. In 2019, the plaza was made fully pedestrian in the hopes to revamp its use as an optimal public space for the Flaminio neighborhood.
18. Palazzetto dello Sport / Annibale Vittellozzi and Pier Luigi Nervi
Location: Piazza Apollodoro, 10
Year Built: 1960
If you find yourself en route to the Villaggio Olimpico or the Parco della Musica, then you’re bound to stumble upon this peculiar structure created by Per Luigi Nervi, the acclaimed structural engineer known for his ingenious knack of using re-enforced concrete and natural light in his works. The building, aptly called “The Little Sport Palace,” was an additional site for the 1960 Olympic Games. In spite of its worn-down interior, the overall structure has managed to withstand the test of time.
19. Palazzo Zuccari / Federico Zuccari
Location: Via Gregoriana, 28
Year Built: 1590
This peculiar palace, built in Mannerism style, currently houses the Bibliotheca Hertziana of the Max Planck Institute, one of the world’s premier research centers for art history. Known as “The House of Monsters” for the gaping mouths of the stone figures that form its windows and main entryway, the palace is worth a visit for both it form as well as its function.
20. Casa Sperimentale by Perugini / Giuseppe Perugini
Location: Via Marina di Campo, 7, Fregene
Year Built: 1968
An experimental project constructed by Giuseppe Perugini in the coastal resort area of Fregene in the late 60s, this abandoned Brutalist style “treehouse” makes for an intriguing visit. The mix of geometric shapes and red-stained concrete, steel, and glass along with the organic shapes of its structure set the house apart from the rest of the houses found in Fregene.
21. Barrio Garbatella / Gustavo Giovannoni and Massimo Piacentini
Year Built: 1920
Garbatella is a village within a metropolis, built in the 1920s as social housing project marked by curving streets, stairways, and apartment buildings known as “lotti.” Every lot is surrounded by three-story buildings, each with interior patios that are open to the public. Gardens serve as large public meeting spaces for the neighborhood’s residents, keeping true to the city’s goal of remaining a “green” city. Thanks to its singular atmosphere, architecture, and layout, Garbatella is an excellent opportunity to explore an authentic Roman neighborhood.
22. National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art / Cesare Bazzani
Location: Viale delle Belle Arti, 131
Year Built: 1911
An impressive building that, like many of Rome’s architectural treasures, seems to appear when you least expect it. Home to a wide collection of artwork from the 19th century to the 21st, the museum features work by both Italian and foreign artists and its spacious, brightly lit interior makes for a pleasant and relaxing visit.
23. Città del Sole / Labics
Location: Via Arduino, 32
Year Built: 2016
This multi-use complex is the result of an urban regeneration project designed by the Labics firm. Once the site of an abandoned railway station, the new complex features living, commercial, and public spaces that add both artistic and functional value to the area as a whole. Since opening, Città del Sole has been Labics’ poster child for thinking of buildings as living, working systems and offers a fresh new perspective on creating an integrated urban living model.
24. Marmorata Post Office / Adalberto Libera and Mario De Renzi
Location: Via Marmorata, 4
Year Built: 1935
The post office, built in the rationalist style and located close to the Aurelian Wall’s Porta San Paolo and across from the Pyramid of Cestius, is one of four post offices resulting from a public design contest. The renowned architects behind the project, Libera and De Renzi, aimed to combine tradition with modernity in a geometric building made up of three principal structures. We recommend using the main entrance to access the service hall.
25. Piazza di Sant’Ignazio / Filippo Raguzzini
Locationn: Piazza di Sant’Ignazio
Year built: 1727
The plaza of the Saint Ignazio di Loyola Church was designed in 1727 by Filippo Raguzzini. Nestled between 5 concave residential buildings and the Baroque church after which it is named, the plaza takes on the shape of a perfect semi-circle. Visitors are encouraged to view the plaza from inside this same church, taking the chance to also glimpse the dome, a famous work by Andrea Pozzo.
26. Museum of the Ara Pacis / Richard Meier & Partners Architects
Location: Via di Ripetta, 190
The Museum of the Ara Pacis, located beside the Mausoleum of Augustus on the Tiber River, houses some of Rome’s most prized artifacts. While its namesake, the monument commissioned by Augustus to celebrate peace between Rome and Gaul and Hispania, may serve as the museum’s centerpiece and principal draw for visitors, the museum itself is worth noting for its architectural value. Constructed using glass, concrete and marble, the museum strikes a balance between history and modernity, with both its style and the history within it.