During a 3000-year existence Rome has been extremely lucky to preserve its architectural objects from many different epochs. No wonder, Rome's architecture has become the cachet of the city. One of the miracles of today is the survival of constructions that date back to antiquity. They stand proudly to remind us about the bygone times. Mixed with medieval, renaissance, baroque, classical and contemporary styles they create this irresistible landscape of Rome today.
As the city encompasses a wide range of architectural styles from antiquity to modernity, let me introduce you briefly to the main stages of the architecture in Rome and make your walks in the Eternal City more conscious and exciting.
Historically the architecture of the Ancient Romans was the last stage of Antiquity. Romans inherited their signature from Etruscans and Ancient Greeks. With the innovative materials of the Roman Empire, such as concrete, for example, Romans could create more endurable structures than their predecessors. As an Empire Ancient Rome influenced the rest of the world and thus consequently became a model-city for the most European cities known today.
The examples of classical era in Rome's architecture can be found everywhere around the city. Not only just some ruins, but monuments that survived through centuries. The Colosseum and the Pantheon are roughly 2000 years old (80AD and 25AD accordingly), the Caracalla Baths – 1800 (from 215AD), the history of Roman Forum spans more than 2300 years. As if it’s not enough, other ancient sites are here in abundance: the Arch of Constantine, the Trajan’s Market, Castel Sant’Angelo (before its reconstructions), Forum Boarium, Area Sacra di Largo Argentina and so on and so forth.
During ancient times there was also a fashion for all that was Egyptian, that’s how we can witness today different Egyptian obelisks in the middle of famous piazzas. Interestingly, Rome can even boast with a pyramid - the Pyramid of Cestius.
To make the image of Rome complete, we can't forget that Ancient Roman architecture didn't exist without different types of roads, such as aqueducts and viaducts, as well as Triumphal Arches.
The examples of Gothic style, which was widespread for Europe, are however quite rare for Rome. In the Medieval Ages the Papal Court moved to Avignon in France, which provoked a long crisis in the city. People abandoned Rome. Only after Pope Martin V restored the Papal throne, the city began to revive and became the political and economic center again, before that it was a pile of ruins. During those time Rome's architecture was in decline and new buildings were not built at all. Instead of this Christians consecrated the survived antique buildings and turned them into churches. This was in fact the very reason that helped to preserve many antique buildings till today. One of the constructions that can be related to the Medieval Ages is Castel Sant’Angelo, although it is not the most classical example of this period in the world, It is medieval for Rome as it possesses a lot of signs from the Medieval period: thick stone walls, geometrical forms and fortifications.
Santa-Sabina Basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore and Santo Stefano Rotondo are the other constructions from the Medieval period in Rome's architecture that are allegedly considered to be gothic.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in the Pignia area is the church that is most commonly mentioned as the only gothic example of medieval architecture in Rome. Built in 1370 on the place of an antique temple allegedly dedicated to Minerva, it changed its façade with the Renaissance times. However, the interior behind the reconstructed front part has stayed gothic. This church is also known for being the place where Galileo renounced his “misconceptions”. It is located not far from the Pantheon at Piazza della Minerva, 42.
The real feast of the artistic spirit happened in Italy during the Renaissance times. At the end of the Medieval Ages, Rome gained its second wind and became a powerful city again. After having endless wars with different parts of Italy and realizing that a new Renaissance trend began, Popes desired to renew their shattered image and joined the philosophy of the new art, too. They started to collect masterpieces and patronized great artists, architects, sculptors and jewelers. The city’s plan as we know it today and the many of the Roman buildings belong to that groundbreaking time when reconsidering antiquity and reviving classical Roman measures became the central theme for Roman people. At the peak of this period Bramante was building his worldwide known St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums and Michelangelo created his timeless Sistine Chapel. Many ancient ruins were saved from disappearing and temples became churches. For example, the Pantheon was rescued with help of consecration and turning into a church.
Though Renaissance didn’t appear first in the city of seven hills, but rather in Florence, you can find many best examples of this style in Rome. Other worldwide known architectural sports of this period include Palazzo del Quirinale, Palazzo Venezia and Palazzo Farnese (1517) .The Tempietto by Bramante (1502) is considered to be the first classical example of the High Renaissance and if you like Renaissance you can visit it in Via S. Pietro di Montorio, 00153.
Baroque style was the first style after antiquity truly originating in Rome. The impetus to it was the terrible war of 1527 between Papal Rome and Sacred Rome Empire ruled by Carl V, which signed the end of inspirational and classic Renaissance. This war left Rome in ashes, but unlike medieval times, Rome started its reconstruction almost immediately resulting in a new style – Baroque. In 1566 Pius V announced his intention to make Rome deserving to be the capital of the Christian world. Rome had a mission to become outstanding and had all the financial basis for that transformation. Not only extraordinarily rich popes attracted the best people of the artistic world, the upper society of Rome wanted to compete in elegance and luxury and needed sculptors and artists to amaze them.
Three most outstanding names during the Baroque time were Pietro da Cortona, Francesco Borromini and Gianlorenzo Bernini. The latter one was very sociable and made friends almost with everybody on his way, providing himself a name and endless ways for expression. Among the three, he was the only one who was also a sculptor. As a result, wherever you go in Rome today you see amazing sculptors and monuments made by this genius. Therefore, not surprising is the fact that the epoch of Baroque style died together with this master.
The examples of all times that signify this period most colorfully are the Church of the Gesu, the Piazza Navona, the Church of Saint Susanna Church, the Trevi Fountain, the Fountain of the Four Rivers etc. There is no end to the number of his works, which so lavishly decorate the city of Rome.
This style in Rome started with the period that is known in whole Italy as risorgimento. During this period all of the small fractured parts of then-yet-non-existed country were united into one with its capital in Rome. Very soon a newly born country needed its expression in art and especially in architecture. A new wave of interest toward classical values and qualities started to raise. A great example of those times is the Vittoriano monument that stands today on the Piazza Venezia in the name of the first king of the united Italy. This construction of impressive sizes is adjacent to the Roman Forum, but covers it from the front and represents the revival of national spirit in the country.
Rome wouldn’t be
Rome if it couldn’t adjust so well to every new epoch and the contemporary art of
the 21st century in architecture is not an exception. Modern
architects of Rome are open for new concepts and together with being madly in
love with the grand past Romans embrace the tendencies of the current times
with all its experimental vibes.