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Castel Sant'Angelo | © Flickr/muppety
Castel Sant'Angelo | © Flickr/muppety
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The 11 Most Impressive Buildings in Rome

Picture of Livia Hengel
Updated: 25 July 2017
Roman architecture and engineering is among the most lauded in the world and has had a major impact on art, building practices and urban planning across the centuries. With so many architectural marvels to take in while you’re in the Eternal City it’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve compiled a list of the most impressive buildings in the capital to help guide you through the city’s most noteworthy sights.

Colosseum

The Colosseum is one of the most recognisable structures in the whole world. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, because it was built during the Flavian Dynasty between 70-80AD, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built and was modelled after the ancient Teatro Marcello. The Colosseum held around 65,000 spectators and was used for gladiator contests, public spectacles such as re-enactments of famous battles, theatrical productions, animal hunts and executions.

Teatro Marcello

The Theatre of Marcellus was an ancient open-air theater that served as inspiration for the Colosseum. However, Teatro Marcello is a semi-circular theatre while the Colosseum is a circular amphitheatre. It was originally commissioned by Julius Caesar, who was murdered before its construction began, and finished by Emperor Augustus in 11BC. It was named for his nephew, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who died five years before it was finished at the age of 19. Situated near the Tiber River, it could hold up to 20,000 spectators and was a revolutionary structure at its time. With arches, tunnels, columns and ramps, it showcased the finest ancient Roman skill and artistry.

Teatro Marcello
Teatro Marcello | © Flickr/sjaakkempe

Ara Pacis

The contemporary Ara Pacis Museum is a fascinating sight because it fuses new and old in a truly innovative way. The Museum was designed by American architect Richard Meier in 2006 to contain the ancient Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, that dates back to 13 BC. The intricately decorated Altar of Peace is covered in friezes depicting figures, battles and processions, while the contemporary outer steel and glass structure encloses the altar within it. The Museum was the first architectural space to be built in the historical centre of Rome since the end of the Fascist era.

Ara Pacis
Ara Pacis | © Flickr/andyhay

Corte Supreme di Cassazione

Rome’s Palace of Justice, the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation (the highest court of appeals in Italy) is an enormous structure that dominates the banks of the Tiber River in the Prati district. It is often referred to as “Il Palazzaccio”, a pejorative name which roughly translates to “Bad Palace”. Its large size, ostentatious decorations and lengthy construction period seemed to point to corruption when it was opened in 1911. Inspired by Renaissance and Baroque architecture, it remains one of the most impressive buildings in the city.

Corte di Cassazione
Corte di Cassazione | © Flickr/costantinoberetta

Il Vittoriano

Another building that Romans love to hate is Il Vittoriano in Piazza Venezia. Dubbed “The Wedding Cake” for its gleaning white marble and tiered levels, this large altar was built between 1885 – 1925 to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. Replete with stairs, columns, fountains and sculptures, it was controversial because it destroyed the area of the Capitoline Hill and dominates the skyline. Nevertheless, it lies at the heart of Rome and is a focal point of the city.

Il Vittoriano
Il Vittoriano | © Flickr/pdenker

St. Peter’s Basilica

Travellers come from near and far to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the holiest Catholic shrines in the world. Built above the burial site of Peter the Apostle, it is an important pilgrimage site and a wonder to behold in person. The Basilica was designed by numerous artists, including Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and completed in 1626. Michelangelo’s famous dome was inspired by the Pantheon and the Duomo of Florence.

St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica | © Flickr/archer10

Pantheon

The Pantheon is one of Rome’s best preserved ancient monuments and a testament to architectural skill and engineering. Emperor Hadrian built the Roman temple in 126 AD on the site of an earlier temple built during the reign of Augusts (27 BC – 14 AD). It remained in continuous use through history and began to be used as a church in the 7th century. With its large circular domed ceiling, the temple was most likely intended to symbolise the heavenly sphere; and the word Pantheon in Greek means “all the gods”.

Castel Sant’Angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo, also named Hadrian’s Mausoleum, is a cylindrical fortress that lies on the banks of the Tiber River near Vatican City. Emperor Hadrian commissioned the mausoleum as a resting place for himself and his family; and the structure was later used as a fortress and castle by the popes, due to its proximity to Vatican City. At the time of its construction between 123 – 139 AD, it was the tallest building in Rome.

Castel Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo | © Flickr/muppety

Maxxi

Zaha Hadid left her mark on Rome with her innovative MAXXI, the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts. Located in Rome’s northern Flaminio neighbourhood, its sharp angles and dynamic curves offer a contrast to Rome’s plethora of ancient structures. It was conceived as an experimental space to showcase avant-garde art and innovative architecture through a permanent collection, rotating exhibits, and an invigorating calendar of events.

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana

Often referred to as the “Square Colosseum”, Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is an excellent example of the rationalist architecture that dominated the city during Fascism. Built in the neoclassical style, it is located in the city’s southern EUR neighbourhood which was designed to host the 1942 World Fair. The event never took place but the buildings pay tribute to this period in the city’s history. Today the building is being leased by the Fendi fashion house.

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana | © Flickr/burlap

Pyramid of Cestius

Few people realise that in addition to its ancient Roman antiquities, Rome also has its very own ancient pyramid. Located between the Testaccio and Ostiense neighbourhoods, the Pyramid was built between 18–12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius, a magistrate in ancient Rome. With its sharp point, it closely resembles the Nubian pyramids along the Nile delta in Egypt and includes an interior burial chamber which originally had frescoes. The pyramid was incorporated in the Aurelian Walls which has helped preserve the structure to this present day.

Pyramid of Cestius
Pyramid of Cestius | © Flickr/marsbaffoni