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Many people think of Rome as an open-air museum of ancient architecture. However, Rome has many architectural styles, and, indeed, is one of the preeminent centers of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Note also that many Roman buildings and squares may exhibit attributes of multiple architectural periods.
Rome's traditional founding date is said to be April 21, 753 BC; however, archaeological evidence shows that the first settlement was already present in the 8/9th centuries BC. The ancient Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks, as well as the Etruscans, in their architecture. Roman architecture literally forged the look of the world we know today. Indeed, some of today’s architectural features, such as the floor plan of many of today’s churches or the use of domes, stem from this this time period.
The ancient Romans took building to an entirely new level, using arches, vaults, and domes. Along with impressive advancements in engineering, building materials were also developed, such as concrete, including special versions that were waterproof. Brick, travertine, and marble were used, and with the expansion of the Roman Empire, beautiful colored stone, such as granite from Egypt, was imported to Rome. Massive memorial buildings such as tombs, temples, and centers of law and commerce (basilicas), villas, and even shopping arcades (such as Trajan’s Market) were created. Some of the amazing architecture from this period which survive today include:
Appian Way (tombs, monuments and catacombs)
Arch of Constantine
Baths of Caracalla and Diocletian
Castel Sant’Angelo (Mausoleum of Hadrian)
Domus Romane (in Palazzo Valentini, remains of urban housing)
Largo Argentina (remains of Republican-era temples)
Mausoleum of Augustus
Ostia Antica (including more modest housing and commercial shops)
Palatine Hill (remains of villas and temples)
Theater of Marcellus
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the population of Rome dropped dramatically, from perhaps a high of 1.5 million to under 20,000 by the 6th century. Consequently, medieval Rome was small. Moreover, much has been lost: unfortunately, during the Renaissance, Baroque and Fascist periods, large sections of what remained of medieval Rome were destroyed or otherwise renovated.
Two of the outstanding features of the medieval churches is the development of beautiful, intricate, colored marble floors (the “Cosmatesque” style) and marvelous mosaics. These medieval churches often re-used columns and stone from ancient sites.
Architecture from this period includes:
San Giorgio in Velabro
San Lorenzo in Lucina
San Nicola in Carcere
San Pietro in Vincoli
Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Santa Maria in Trastevere
Santa Maria Maggiore
Santi Cosma e Damiano
Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Santi Quattro Coronati
Santo Stefano Rotondo
Rome has few Gothic structures: an example is Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
Palazzo Venezia is one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in Rome, a somewhat ungainly Renaissance shell built around an older core (note the medieval-era tower on one corner). Compare this to the perfectly balanced and elegant Palazzo Farnese. The greatest example of the Renaissance in Rome, however, may be the Capitoline Hill where Michelangelo designed not just a building, but a harmonious urban complex. And don’t miss the tiny jewel created by Bramante, the Tempietto.
Palazzo della Cancelleria
Piazza del Campidoglio (Michelangelo)
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Michelangelo)
Santa Maria del Popolo (Chigi Chapel by Raphael)
St. Peter’s Basilica (Michelangelo, and other architects)
Tempietto del Bramante
Villa Farnesina (Raphael frescoes)
After the beauty of the Renaissance, the next step was to move forward with sometimes bold, rhythmic, emotional designs, in some cases unlike anything seen before – the Baroque. The leading architects of this period are Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his rival, Francesco Borromini, who left their mark all over the Eternal City.
Chiesa del Gesù
Oratorio dei Fillipini (Borromini)
Palazzo Spada (Borromini’s Gallery)
Piazza di Spagna (The Spanish Steps, Francesco de Sanctis)
Piazza Navona (Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers versus Borromini’s
Piazza San Pietro (Bernini)
Propaganda Fide (one part by Bernini, one by Borromini)
Sant’Agnese in Agone)
Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (Bernini)
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Borromini)
San Giovanni in Laterano (Borromini)
Sant'Andrea al Quirinale (Bernini)
Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza (Borromini)
Santa Maria della Pace (Pietro da Cortona)
Santa Maria della Vittoria (Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel)
Santa Maria Maddalena
Trevi Fountain (Nicola Salvi)
After the annexation of Rome by the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy, in 1870, the new government saw fit to bring the city up to modern standards; in doing so, the Tiber river was enclosed in its current embankments, many decaying - but ancient - neighbourhoods were razed and a plethora of new buildings, districts and boulevards were created. The era's prevalent style, based upon the “classical” architectural style of ancient Rome, can be seen in the following:
Piazza della Repubblica (semicircular buildings by Gaetano Koch)
Vittorio Emanuele II Monument (Giuseppe Sacconi)
Prati, Esquilino, Testaccio and Trieste districts
An example of Art Nouveau architecture in Rome is the Galleria Alberto Sordi (architect Dario Carbone), and there is the fantastical Coppedè district by Gino Coppedè.
A notable example of of Gothic Revival is Sacro Cuore del Suffragio (Church of the Sacred Heart of Sufferance). There’s also All Saint’s Church, near Piazza del Popolo. And the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Chiesa di Sant'Alfonso di Liguori all'Esquilino).
Under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini in the early to mid-20th century, a new type of architecture developed. The style was an attempt to inspire feelings of national pride and power, building on the grandeur of ancient Rome through a modern style. To a viewer today, however, Fascist architecture often comes across as intimidating and impersonal. Propagandist slogans and carvings were also utilized.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (Square Colosseum) at EUR District (Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Lapadula and Mario Romano)
EUR District (Marcello Piacentini)
Foro Italico (Enrico Del Debbio and Luigi Moretti)
Museo della Civiltà Romana, EUR (Aschieri, Bernardini, Pascoletti and Peressutti,)
Palazzo dei Congressi, EUR (Palace of Congresses) (Alberto Libera)
Piazza Augusto Imperatore buildings (Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo)
Via Marmorata Post Office (Adalberto Libera and Mario De Renzi)
Post WWII Rome - apart from the many pachidermic condos that can be found in the suburbs - has some funky and interesting architecture. For example, next time you are in Termini, take a second to look at the building itself versus all the distractions of the shops and station kiosks.
Palazzetto dello Sport (Pier Luigi Nervi)
Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican City (Pier Luigi Nervi)
Stadio Flaminio (Pier Luigi Nervi)
Termini Train Station (Angiolo Mazzoni; Leo Calini and Eugenio Montuori; Massimo Castellazzi, Vasco Fadigati, Achille Pintonello and Annibale Vitellozzi)
Rome has also some exciting examples of modern architecture:
Ara Pacis Museum (Richard Meier)
Biblioteca della Pontificia Università Lateranense (Riccardo Roselli)
Chiesa del Dio Padre Misericordioso (Jubilee Church; Richard Meier)
Auditorium Parco della Musica (Renzo Piano)
Lanterna di Fuksas ("Fuksas' Lantern"; Massimiliano Fuksas)
MAXXI (Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo)(Zaha Hadid)
MACRO (modern wing by Odile Decq)
Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center (Paolo Portoghesi)
Nuovo Centro Congressi (Massimiliano Fuksas)
Ponte della Musica "Armando Trovajoli" (Kit Powell-Williams with C. Lotti e Associati)
Cavalcaferrovia Ostiense "Settimia Spizzichino" (Solidus)
Ponte della Scienza (APsT)
Roma Tiburtina train station (Paolo Desideri)