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19 Historic Buildings to Visit in Rome

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The term historic may be understated for a city that can trace its origins, as a continuous settlement, to the first millennium BCE. Nearly everything about Rome might be considered historic. This list merely skims the surface of the buildings worth seeing in Italy’s national capital.

Earlier versions of the descriptions of these buildings first appeared in 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die, edited by Mark Irving (2016). Writers’ names appear in parentheses.

  • Pyramid of Cestius

    This white mausoleum, built in the 1st century BCE during the last years of the Roman Republic, looks incongruous at first glance. The tomb’s pyramidal form is a reflection of the “Cleopatra fad” that swept through the empire’s capital after the conquest of Egypt just a few years earlier, in 30 BCE. That victory had made the monuments and funerary practices of the powerful province very fashionable indeed. The fact that a single citizen was able to build a personal tomb worthy of a pharaoh says much about the wealth of ancient Rome.

    Already considered one of antiquity’s most significant monuments back in the 1400s, this Roman pyramid has a burial chamber inside once adorned with vibrant frescoed panels of female figures. Discovered during excavations in 1660, it was found to contain the ashes of Caius Cestius, magistrate, tribune, and epulonum (member of the septemvirate, one of Rome’s four great religious organizations). The strength of the materials—brick-faced concrete overlaid with white marble slabs on a travertine foundation—made possible a truly firm construction, built at a much sharper angle than any of its Egyptian counterparts. Inscriptions on its eastern and western faces record the names and titles of the deceased as well as the circumstances relating to the construction. Built in less than a year and intact to this day, Caius Cestius’s funerary monument has proved far more enduring than anything he achieved while alive. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Colosseum

    One of the most impressive monuments surviving from the Roman Empire, the Colosseum is the largest of all the Roman amphitheaters. Its elliptical form covers a surface of 617 feet (188 m) by 512 feet (156 m) on its major axes. It was built for the Flavian emperors on a site previously occupied by a private lake adjoining the luxurious palace-villa of Nero. It was dedicated in 80 CE. Entirely clad in travertine blocks, it filled a nodal position at the intersection of the Imperial Forum and the Sacred Way.

    The Colosseum was the prime venue for gladiatorial contests and venations—wild beast hunts—and it could accommodate around 70,000 people. Entry and exit to the building influenced its design: the 76 arcaded and numbered openings—vomitoria—on the ground-floor exterior corresponded to stair ramps that brought spectators directly to their seats on the different levels of the 157-foot-high (48 m) building. The outer facade is arranged on four levels, and presents the canonical arrangement of the Classical orders; the first three levels are formed by arcades framed by half-columns from the Doric ground floor, through the Ionic and Corinthian, and terminate with the flat surface of the attic story with its Composite pilasters. This crowning attic story contains the bracketing elements that originally supported masts from which a great awning was stretched like a sail to provide shade. The amphitheater was a central component of the imperial policy of “bread and circuses,” as the poet Juvenal described it, which aimed to control the citizens of Rome. But the building has long outlasted the empire that built it and the reasons for its construction. Having served as a castle in the Middle Ages for the Frangipani family, the travertine monument functioned almost as the city quarry, and many Renaissance buildings were constructed using its materials. (Fabrizio Nevola)

  • The Pantheon

    Conceived as a temple to all the gods by Agrippa, the Pantheon suffered damage by fire in 80 CE and was restored by the emperors Domitian and Trajan. In 118–25 Hadrian turned it into a classical study of space, order, composition, and light. It is no coincidence that the height of the dome and the diameter of the rotunda fit within a perfect sphere.

    The Pantheon’s circular composition, designed to reflect the heavens and the sun, deviates from earlier Greek and Roman architecture where rectangular enclosures served as temples. Raising a circular vault over a square base was made possible by inserting hidden wall niches and brick arches as supports. Ever-smaller coffers and walls become progressively thinner and reduce the downward thrust of the dome’s weight while redirecting the mechanical stress placed on the foundations. This remnant of Roman glory has survived with its concrete dome intact, making it the best-preserved building of its kind. It inspired Michelangelo’s design for the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica, and over the centuries it has proved multifunctional, serving as an imperial reception area, a court of law, and a mausoleum for Italy’s royals and artists. It has been used as a church since 609.

    The building’s only source of light is the oculus, or “great eye,” in the domed ceiling, and around noon sunlight enters and sets aglow this extraordinary space with its polished marble interior and coffered geometry. The interior has a sloping floor to drain away rainwater entering through the opening. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Castel Sant’Angelo

    The Hadrianeum—the circular construction designed and commissioned by the emperor Hadrian in 130 as his personal mausoleum—was completed by Antoninus Pius a year after Hadrian’s death. The adjoining bridge, Pons Aelius, another of the emperor’s projects, was begun in 136. In 270–75, Aurelian incorporated the tomb within the inner city by means of the fortified walls bearing his name. In the 6th century, Castel Sant’Angelo ceased to function as a tomb at all and became a papal fortress. During the 13th century, Pope Nicholas III linked the current structure to Vatican City by means of a passetto, or corridor, along the top of the encircling wall. This “secret” emergency escape route saved the lives of several besieged pontiffs.

    Overlooking the encircling panorama from the building’s roof terrace is a massive 18th-century statue of the Archangel Michael. It replaced an earlier statue that commemorated Pope Gregory the Great’s vision of a hovering angel unsheathing his sword over the ramparts to mark the end of the plague epidemic in the 6th century. A spiral ramp leads to the imperial mortuary chamber at the heart of the monument, while a broad staircase opens out into the large, open-air courtyard and apartments on the upper floors. Nothing can prepare visitors for the stark contrast between the dark, dank cells of the lower levels and the well-ventilated and refined upper rooms and galleries. The Hall of Justice, Hall of Apollo, loggia of Julius II, Treasury, Clement VII’s apartments, and the Sala Paolina with its trompe l’oeil frescoes are particularly notable. Castel Sant’Angelo has been pivotal to the growth and development of Rome as a focal point for Western civilization, dutifully guarding both its living and dead in times of war and peace. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Arch of Constantine

    Rome’s Arch of Constantine commemorates the triumph of Constantine I, the last pagan emperor of Rome, after his victory over Maxentius in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312. It is located between the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, along the Via Triumphalis taken by victorious armies of the time. Triumphal arches were erected as permanent commemorative monuments and seen as physical manifestations of political power, a practice followed by others through the ages, such as France’s Emperor Napoléon I with Paris’s Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.

    The arch is particularly notable for its attention to geometric proportion. The lower part is built of marble blocks, and the top is brickwork riveted with marble. The 65-foot-high (20 m) arch is 82 feet (25 m) wide and 23 feet (7 m) deep. It houses three archways; the central archway is 39 feet (12 m) high, and the two side archways are 23 feet (7 m) high. Each facade had four columns of yellow Numidean marble in Corinthian order; one has been replaced since the Roman era. Spandrels above the main archway depict figures of victory, and those above the smaller arches show river gods. Above each side of the archway lie two medallions measuring 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter and depicting hunting scenes, and on the top level are oblong bas-reliefs and statues.

    Many of the sculptures were taken from earlier monuments. For example, the bas-reliefs on the north and south faces of the arch at one time showed episodes in the life of Emperor Marcus Aurelius but were remodeled so that Aurelius’s features were made to resemble those of Constantine I. (Carol King)

  • Church of Santa Costanza

    Santa Costanza was built as the mausoleum, or martyria, of the daughter of the emperor Constantine, Constantia (Costanza), who died in 354. As was commonly the case for Roman mausolea, although on a grander scale than is usual, this was a centrally planned circular building that originally had at its center, beneath the dome, the porphyry tombs of Constantia and her sister, Helena (later removed to the Vatican museums).

    The building adjoins the nave of the Basilica of Sant’Agnese, to whom Constantia had a particular devotion. The circular design of the building is especially striking on the interior, where two concentric rings of 24 paired, freestanding, granite columns with an architrave on composite capitals separate the central space from a barrel-vaulted ambulatory. Rising above the central volume is a large ribbed dome 74 feet (22.5 m) in diameter, built using a technique similar to that of the Pantheon. It is likely that the design inspired the martyria of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, commissioned by Constantine and his mother, Helena.

    Santa Costanza is richly decorated with mosaics, some of the earliest from the Christian era to survive, although many of these have been lost over the centuries, and only a few of the New Testament scenes survive. However, it is the exquisite decorative panels and frames in the ambulatory, showing interwoven crosses, foliage, and geometrical patterns, as well as vines with putti that are most striking. The mausoleum was consecrated as a church in 1254 by Pope Alexander IV and is still in use today. (Fabrizio Nevola)

  • Tempietto di San Pietro in Montorio

    This martyrium, or sanctuary dedicated to a martyr, lies hidden within the cloister of San Pietro in Montorio, on the supposed site of St. Peter’s martyrdom on the cross on the Gianicolo—one of the seven hills of Rome. King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain owned the land and ordered the construction of the complex in 1480 as fulfillment of a vow taken after the birth of their firstborn child. It was completed in 1504.

    Modeled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, the proportions of the double-cylinder, two-story memorial are designed to Doric-order specifications with an encircling 16-pillar colonnade, an entablature modeled on the Theater of Marcellus, a balustrade, and a hemispherical dome with niches carved into its walls.

    Donato Bramante’s first construction in Rome is one of sculptural grandeur. His emphasis on volumes and his command of form, proportions, lighting, spatial arrangements, and composition are evident in the sanctuary’s design. His original plans for a centralized chapel inside a circular colonnaded cloister were never realized, but he understood the principles of ancient architecture and chose to reshape its Classical forms. He conceived space not merely as a vacuum but as a positive, almost tangible presence. Bramante is credited with introducing the High Renaissance to Rome, a style of architecture that fused the ideals of Classical antiquity with those of Christian inspiration. His approach proved instrumental in ushering in Mannerism. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Villa Farnesina

    This two-story villa on the banks of the Tiber was built for Agostino Chigi, papal banker, arts patron, and richest man in Europe. The mansion, completed in 1511, underwent a period of decline before being snapped up by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese—hence its name—in 1577, who connected it to the Palazzo Farnese opposite by means of a bridge.

    Typical of early 16th-century Classical architecture, the villa’s balanced and harmonious U-shaped plan consists of a garden facade with two lateral wings projecting from a central recessed block with loggia arcades. The frescoes on the front have long since vanished, but there are terra cotta friezes crowning the second story and slender pilasters interrupting the flat surfaces of the external facades.

    The entrance hall on the ground floor leads visitors to the richly frescoed Galleria di Psiche (Loggia of Psyche), which looks out onto formal gardens. The Sala delle Prospettive (Hall of Perspectives) on the upper floor uses trompe l’oeil techniques that create the illusion of looking out onto views of sixteenth-century Rome through a marble colonnade. In keeping with Renaissance ideals, all of these astonishing frescoes provide a commentary on Chigi’s hedonistic lifestyle, his interests in the pagan and Classical worlds, and his desire to be associated with the patricians of ancient Rome. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Villa Madama

    The Villa Madama was built for Cardinal Giulio de Medici, the nephew of Pope Leo X, and himself later Pope Clement VII. The villa, completed in 1525, stands outside the northern walls of Rome, on the slopes of the Monte Mario, and has marvelous views over the city and Vatican precinct. Its position made it an ideal summer retreat from the heat of the city, and it was sufficiently close to Rome for it to be used as luxurious lodgings for guests.

    Raphael was chosen to design the villa; at this time he was the leading figure of the artistic life of Rome and a connoisseur of Roman ruins. He built a villa replete with Classical references. Stretched out along the hillside, the villa has an amphitheater carved out from the hillside, and a water garden, or nymphaeum, fed by water from springs channeled from the hillside. Only partially completed, the circular courtyard formed the centerpiece of the design, and a hippodrome and a theater were planned on either extremity of the building. These grandiose forms imitated the examples described in the writings of Pliny and seen at then-newly excavated sites such as the villa of Hadrian at Tivoli.

    The external ornament was articulated by accurately reproduced rustic columns in the Doric and Ionic orders and was innovative for its balance between literary and archaeological references. The interior introduced techniques learned from the ruins of the Golden House of Nero. Its pristine white stucco low relief, vivid decorative fresco grottesque coffering, and mythological designs combined to recreate the Roman palace villa as a setting suited to the ecclesiastical elite of the day. (Fabrizio Nevola)

  • Palazzo dei Conservatori del Campidoglio

    Embarrassed by the state of the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio) following a visit to Rome by Emperor Charles V in 1536, Pope Paul III ordered Michelangelo to draw up plans for a dramatic makeover. The scheme involved a trapezoid-shaped piazza and remodeling of the existing buildings—Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Senatorio. Michelangelo’s space-saving design included a paving pattern with an interlaced 12-pointed star to mark the epicenter of Roman might, and a new building—the Palazzo Nuovo—that would thematically link the other two structures. Work began on this building in 1563, one year before Michelangelo’s death. It was completed in 1568.

    The flatness of the facade is broken up by giant Corinthian pilasters that link the upper and lower stories and by smaller Ionic pillars framing the sides of the loggias and second-story windows. A balustrade with statues adorns the straight entablature and flat roof to accentuate the upward pull of the columns. Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazzo Nuovo constitute the Capitoline Museums, the oldest existing public collection in the world, begun by Pope Sixtus IV in 1471. Michelangelo effectively shifted the orientation of Rome’s civic center to the west—away from the Roman Forum toward the Vatican. The square’s layout with its flanking palazzi is the first urban instance of “the cult of the axis”—Caput mundi—that so influenced later Italian and French garden design. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Church of Il Gesù

    Dedicated to the sanctity of Jesus’s name, this church was conceived by Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, in 1551. The Society of Jesus had acquired Santa Maria della Strada, Rome’s first Jesuit church, to house a 15th-century Madonna image, but it then decided to build a larger mother church, which was completed in 1585.

    The sober scrolled marble facade, a reworking of Classical elements, is the earliest example of Counter Reformation architecture, while the church’s features provided a model for subsequent Jesuit churches the world over, especially in the Americas. The floorplan is a Latin cross with the intersecting transepts barely discernible. The extended nave celebrates the glory of the high altar, visible from all directions. Lining the sides are 12 chapels, six on each side. Walking through these now interconnecting shrines becomes a spiritual experience that culminates in the glory of the tomb of St. Ignatius, a Baroque explosion of lapis lazuli, alabaster, semiprecious stones, colored marbles, gilded bronze, and silver plate.

    The Church of Il Gesù represents the architectural and artistic pinnacle of the Jesuits’ hopes for the Counter Reformation. The painted apse, cupola, and ceiling by Il Baciccia glorify God, the sacraments, and the Jesuit order itself. In favoring liturgical needs over artistic vanity, the Church of Il Gesù was a building specifically devised for preaching the word of God. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

    The design for the corner church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, also known as San Carlino, was architect Francesco Borromini’s first solo commission. His challenge was to fit a gem of gigantic proportions into a narrow building site.

    Located at the Quattro Fontane intersection with a fountain on each corner, the church has a reclining Neptune (a personification of the Arno river) incorporated into its side wall. Approaching the church, the concave and convex rhythms of the bays on its facade, its sinuous entablature, and tall Corinthian columns add movement. The upper story, with its sectioned entablature and oval medallion held up by asymmetrically placed angels, looks heavier, and was done by the architect’s nephew.

    Borromini’s pinched longitudinal oval design defied Baroque norms by using intersecting and interlocking ovals and circles to accommodate a high dome. Gradually decreasing in size, the geometric coffers of the dome trick the eye into seeing the illusion of additional height, and hidden windows make it appear as if suspended in mid-air.

    The flowing design of the church, which was completed in 1641, blurs the boundaries between architecture and art as the walls weave in and out in a heady combination of shapes, also reflected in the dome’s complex coffered pattern of crosses, ovals, and hexagons. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Church of San Ivo alla Sapienza

    Formerly the chapel of the Palazzo della Sapienza (House of Knowledge), this compact gem is not visible from the street. Entry is through the courtyard of the former seat of the University of Rome. Shaped like a Star of David and surmounted by a whimsical steeple, nothing about the church of San Ivo alla Sapienza can be appreciated merely at face value.

    Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini’s chief rival architect, recommended his colleague for the job in 1632. It was completed in 1660. Because of a lack of room and an aversion to using flat surfaces, Borromini ingeniously incorporated the convex facade of the church within the palazzo’s concave courtyard in a bid to challenge perspective by visually expanding and contracting space where necessary. The building’s circular dome terminates in an architectural novelty for the time: a dramatic corkscrew lantern spire modeled on the Tower of Babel.

    The church’s walls are a complex rhythm of dazzling rationalistic geometry combined with Baroque excesses in a profusion of illusionistic shapes. The nave’s centralized plan alternates concave and convex surfaces for a dizzying effect.

    Borromini’s architectural revolution was ahead of its time and resisted the anthropomorphic obsessions of the 16th century, favoring designs based on geometric configurations. Nowhere is his vision more evident than in the ground design, where a circle superimposed on two intersecting triangles forms a six-pointed Star of David, creating a hexagonal array of chapels and the altar. San Ivo alla Sapienza represents a dramatic deviation from the rational compositions of the ancient world and those of the Renaissance. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Church of Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale

    Pope Alexander VII left an indelible mark on the planning and architecture of Rome, severely impoverishing the papal coffers in the process. He was fortunate in having a remarkable team of architects, sculptors, and painters available, the most outstanding of whom was Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini was first and foremost a sculptor, and Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale was his first complete church.

    Perhaps surprisingly for an architect so associated with the Baroque style, Bernini’s facades are remarkably orthodox. Despite their occasional curves, they rarely break the rules laid down by the Classical architect Vitruvius. Outside, the church is no exception to this rule, but inside, in part because of the wide but shallow site, the church is highly original. The plan is oval, with the short axis leading to the altar. The domed, central space is flanked by eight chapels: four oval-shaped and four square. The chapels are in shadow while the high altar is lit from concealed windows, and its preeminence is accentuated by the plaster, painting, and sculptural decorations.

    The masterpiece of the church, which was completed in 1661, is the oval dome that covers the nave. Tapering ribs and diminishing hexagonal coffering in white and gold lead the eye upward, while over the large windows reclining youths in Carrara marble talk to each other in lively attitudes. Over the smaller windows, putti (figures of male infants) swing from heavy garlands of fruit that hang from the windows around the dome, an effect that is charming, profane, and highly theatrical. (Charles Hind)

  • Colonnade of St. Peter

    Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s design for the piazza facing the newly built Basilica of St. Peter in Rome was unrivaled in scale, and it was an expression of the Roman Catholic Church triumphant in the Baroque age. Commissioned by Pope Alexander VII, the piazza established order on the medieval fabric of the Vatican precinct, completing a ceremonial access to the vast church begun by Pope Julius II in 1506.

    Bernini’s project, finished in 1667, set out to create a Classical enclosure, axially aligned to the basilica. The architect’s drawings suggest that the oval colonnade stands for the outstretched arms of the church, gathering the faithful together. Bernini had to incorporate an ancient Egyptian obelisk, dating back to 1200 BCE, that had been brought to Rome in 37 by the emperor Caligula. It was moved to its position in front of St. Peter’s in 1586. Bernini made the obelisk the center of a massive oval. From the obelisk, radiating lines are inscribed on the pavement, marking the axial plan of the piazza.

    The colonnade is three columns deep, but at the geometric source all columns align to allow a view out of the piazza, which is otherwise enclosed by a curtain of columns. A third “arm” was originally planned to screen the front of the piazza, in order to create a more dramatic impact on arrival at the piazza from the city. The enormous scale and breadth of the design accentuates the size of the basilica that is framed as the focus of the design. Above the giant travertine columns stand statues of saints reinforcing the sense of pomp and display at the center of Christendom. (Fabrizio Nevola)

  • Ufficio Postale

    The architectural styling of a mail office may not immediately seem obvious as an antiauthoritarian gesture. But Rome’s Ufficio Postale on the Via Marmorata was designed by Italian architect Adalberto Libera, who was one of the leading Italian Rationalist architects of the 1930s and ’40s. Libera played a vanguard role in the development of Italian Modernist architecture, and he helped spearhead the Italian Rationalist movement that emerged from the shadow of Benito Mussolini. Italian Rationalism was part of a movement in architecture—and furniture and graphic design—away from antidemocratic dictatorship. It sought to shift architecture away from the predominant Facist predilection for Neoclassical and Neo-Baroque revivalism. Italy at that time was increasingly isolated from the Modernism taking hold elsewhere, and the Rationalists sought to innovate in the International Style, by employing simple geometric forms, refined lines, and new industrial materials such as linoleum and steel.

    Libera won a competition to design the building, which he constructed according to strict geometrical proportions and using simple, cuboid shapes. It was completed in 1934. When viewed from the front, the symmetrical, white, concrete, U-shaped building is divided into three sections, and access is via a low-stepped, fan–shaped stairway. Two rows of small, square windows can be seen in the central body of the building, lining its internal corridors. The structure houses three floors of offices, and a mail hall for the public is on the ground floor. The hall is made of differently colored marbles and is supported by aluminum pillars. Rectangular windows on the lateral sides of the buildings light the offices within. At the end of each side section, the walls consist of a diagonal weft of windows contained in large concrete panels. (Carol King)

  • Palazzetto dello Sport

    Although Annibale Vitellozzi, a mid-ranking Italian Modernist, was officially the architect for this superb stadium, there is so little architecture and so much engineering in its construction that it can only really be seen as the work of its engineer and contractor, Pier Luigi Nervi. Nervi’s genius for the design of large vaults had been allowed to develop unfettered, because he ran his own construction company: he would be the one to lose if his experiments failed, and as a result his courage and imagination were his only limits. By the 1950s he was one of the best engineers in the world, and one of the cheapest, quickest, and most elegant for spanning a large space.

    This stadium, the smaller of two built by Nervi for the 1960 Rome Olympics, seats 5,000. Nervi’s belief that beauty does not come from decorative effects but from structural coherence is demonstrated perfectly in this building. The vault is 194 feet (59 m) in diameter, and it was constructed through concrete being poured over a thin wire mesh of reinforcement. The underside is covered in diagonal intersecting ribs, which not only make a beautiful pattern when seen from within but also give rigidity to the thin roof. So light is the dome that the Y-shaped, leaning columns that support it appear to hold it down like guylines tethering a tarpaulin. Above each Y, the vault slopes up slightly, like the edge of a pie crust, allowing more natural light into the stadium, and creating a strong, repeating pattern around the perimeter.

    Now that clever engineers can cobble together a structure for almost any shape an architect chooses, a visit to one of Nervi’s great projects is more of a pleasure than ever. There could not be a better engineering solution, nor a more attractive stadium. (Barnabas Calder)

  • Parco della Musica Auditorium

    This project was part of an urban regeneration development for the area lying between the lower parts of the Parioli Hill and Rome’s former Olympic Village, which needed to be reincorporated into the neighboring districts and rendered functional for public use. Renzo Piano designed an auditorium complex with all of his trademarks: a sensitivity for materials, site, and context coupled with a mastery of form, shape, and space. The complex consists of three state-of-the-art music halls—Sala Santa Cecilia (2,800 seats), Sala Sinopoli (1,200 seats), and Sala Petrassi (750 seats)—built around an open-air amphitheater, plus a foyer, a wooded park, and an archaeological museum. The glass-covered arcade at the front contains a restaurant and shops.

    Each concert hall has a different dimension and function, but the lead-covered roofs and cherry-wood panelled interiors guarantee superb acoustics all around, especially in the Sala Santa Cecilia, where symphonic concerts with choirs and large orchestras are held as well as rock concerts. The stage and seating area of Sala Sinopoli can be adjusted to suit the requirements of a given type of performance, while the floor and ceiling of Sala Petrassi can be shifted to create a proscenium with drop curtains for operas or an open-scene stage for theatrical pieces, modern genres, and screen projections. A blue-and-red neon-light installation adds a dreamy touch to the continuous foyer that wraps around the base of the complex, which was completed in 2002. (Anna Amari-Parker)

  • Church of the Jubilee

    To celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ, the Vicariate of Rome opened a competition to six invited architects to design a new Catholic church for a housing estate in the Tor Tre Teste district of Rome. Richard Meier won the commission with his inspiring design incorporating a church and community center. Glistening white and constructed around strong circular and angular forms, the church (completed 2003) sits as an icon of Postmodernist architecture on a triangular site, surrounded by 1970s apartment blocks. Three curved structures of the same radius but different heights are the most arresting aspect of the building. Symbolically they allude to the Holy Trinity, while functionally they divide the interior space, with the outer two curved walls enveloping the side chapel and baptistery and the largest one defining the main area of worship. The glazed skylights between the walls allow light to pour into the interior. The circular form of the three shell-like walls is in striking contrast to the tall and narrow wall against which they butt and to the angular lines of the community center. The three curved walls were a feat of engineering. The precast, white, post-tensioned concrete panels that make up the walls were positioned using a custom-built machine moving on rails. The smooth white concrete is photocatalytic—that is, it is self-cleaning, ensuring the longevity of its pristine appeal. (Tamsin Pickeral)