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Cinemas of Rome

By Peter Bowen | August 24, 2010
Slide 1: Cinemas of Rome

In 61 BC, Romans built the Theater of Pompey, a massive structure to accommodate the city’s appetite for entertainment. While modern cinemas can’t match the Theater of Pompey for size, the many cinemas of Rome boast an interesting history all of their own. From the first films projected on the walls of building at night to modern cinemas, Rome is the city of cinema eternal, as the following slideshow illustrates.

Slide 2: Cinema Barberini

Cinema Barberini has been at the forefront of Roman film culture since in opened in 1930. Designed by Angelo Giuseppe Rossellini (who was also the father of the Italian neorealist filmmaker Roberto Rossellini), Cinema Barberini has hosted the premieres of many Italian classics. The cinema is at one end of the Piazza Barberini, a historic square built in the 16th century by the Barberini family. The Palazzo Barberini, which takes up another side of the square, doubled as the embassy in which Audrey Hepburn’s character stayed in the 1953 film Roman Holiday.

Slide 3: Cinema dei Piccoli

Built in 1934, Cinema dei Piccoli was originally named Cinema Topolino––“Topolino” being the name of Mickey Mouse in Italian. Designed by Alfredo Annibali, the cinema was set in the middle of Rome’s Villa Borghese park and was so small that it used a bed sheet for a screen and a Pathe-Baby 9.5mm projector. Indeed it is in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the Smallest Purpose-Built Cinema in Operation.”

Slide 4: Cinema Fiamma

Designed by Marcello Piacentini, one of the premiere architects during the Fascist period, Cinema Fiamma didn’t actually open till in 1949, several years after the war ended. While it is now been cut up to a multi-screen cinema, it served in its heyday to premiere films like Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.

Slide 5: Cinema Metropolitan

At one time owned by Roberto Rossellini’s father, the architect Angelo Giuseppe Rossellini, the Cinema Metropolitan was for years a premier Roman movie palace. Indeed the young director Rossellini got a pass and spent much of his childhood watching movies for free there.

Slide 6: Cinema Moulin Rouge

This originally opened in 1959 as a regular cinema, but it has morphed over time into a sex cinema catering mostly to gay men.

Slide 7: Cinema Nuovo Olimpia

Originally designated as a music hall, the cinema Nuovo Olimpia screened the first film in Rome in 1898 when 'Reale Cinematografo Lumiere' was included as part of the evening’s programme of entertainment. Later turned into a cinema, the small theater off the beaten track was back in the spotlight in the 1930s when part of the ancient Ara Pacis Augustae ("Altar of Augustan Peace") was found to be under it. Mussolini ordered that it should excavated from beneath the theater. It was renovated in 1997 to hold two theaters and became one of the main hosts for the Rome Independent Film Festival.

Slide 8: Cinema Teatro Maestoso

Opened in 1957, Cinema Maestoso became a stunning example of the post-war Art Moderne style. Designed by Riccardo Morandi, who helped create Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport, the theater was for many years considered very avant-garde in that it was oriented more vertically than horizontally. The building for the theater is seven stories high.

Slide 9: Salone Margherita

Opened in 1898 as a music hall, the Salone Margherita was named as tribute to Margherita di Savoia, Italy's first queen, the wife of the then-current monarch, Umberto I. Designed as a showcase of “belle epoque” extravagance, the theater has been primarily used for stage shows and theater spectacles. In addition, it is occasionally doubles as a cinema.

Slide 10: Spazio Etoile

Like many cinemas in Rome, the Spazio Etoile has been through many incarnations, not to mention names. Although its location was blessed with having a cinematic origin. The theater’s original location, the Lux et Umbra, housed the original screening of the Lumiere brothers’ films in 1900. The original theater, known as Cinema Teatro Corso, was built in 1919 and designed by the Marcello Piacentini, the celebrated Italian architect who spearheaded a simplified neoclassicism. Over time the theater’s name changed to Etoile Cine before it eventually closed in 1999. In 2007, the locale was reopened and renamed Spazio Etoile, which became a facility for special events rather than movie going, It did, however, host amfAR's Inaugural Cinema Against AIDS Rome in 2007.

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