The story of Cinecittà, the ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’

Cinecittà is less than 10 km away from the Capital’s historical center.


One can get there by taking the A line on the Metro, or by car by taking the exit on the “Grande Raccordo Anulare” (the big annular junction) towards Tuscolana.


An endless area covered in studios of all kinds, where cinema, television, and advertising productions are made, together with anything else, which may serve the purpose of the image society. Today, it is more European than Roman. Nonetheless, it has not lost that Capitoline soul that has accompanied this area from its origins and its great development, which happened especially with the cinema of the Neorealism or of the Italian comedies.

Since 1937, generic actors and extras populate the streets amongst the various sets.

Luchino Visconti had made a protagonist of Cinecittà, in 1951, showing the expectations of a society that, between the need and the desire of glory, was chasing the cinematic illusion, with ‘Bellissima’. This is the story of a young girl who is dragged by her mother in the chaos of a film audition.


In 1963, the studios hosted many scenes of the colossal, ‘Cleopatra’, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and where the hot protagonists, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, seemed to be adding a chapter of dolce vita (sweet life). Around them, a world of generic Romans was pulsing.


Amongst these were movie extras, workers, electricians and many others. Watching those films helps understanding the celluloid world, which has had the heart of thousands of spectators throb. One could think of Carlo Verdone’s film ‘Troppo Forte’ (known as Great, He’s Too Much and Too Much), of 1986. Here, during the brief break allowed to the film extras, a bully, who thinks he can rule a group of young people of the working class suburbs, tells his stories as a supposed actor. Various types of characters surround him. There are some absurd space characters, an austere Roman senator wearing a tunic, a sort of a centurion, as if different historical eras met there at once. Nonetheless, one thing joined them all: they all have an unmistakable Roman accent and more so, that ironic and sceptic spirit that is typical of the big city, from the taxi driver to the coach driver, from the waiter to the office worker, and more generally of anyone who was born, or has been living for many years, in Rome.

Thousands of film extras have helped in the making of many important films, in that territory of Cinecittà, born in 1937. Through those fake sets passes the history of the great cinema, from the colossal before the World War, to the so-called white phones, the comedies with a middle-class or aristocratic setting, to the post-war productions. On 16th March 1959, they started shooting here a film that was destined to celebrate the Rome of the night and of the lost hours.


It was Federico Fellini’s film ‘La Dolce Vita’.

Dozens of studios were prepared to reproduce those places in Rome. Nonetheless, they were not enough, and many other external sets were required. Cinecittà was the heart of a setting that was supposed to leave a mark. Here starred actors that had begun their craft in these places, such as the protagonist, Marcello Mastroianni, as well as many other foreigners. Thanks to the magnificent representation of the Capitoline studios, all of them alike had their souls invaded by the spirit of Rome.

Many other films were made here, some even representing other worlds, such as Martin Scorsese ‘Gangs of New York’, with Daniel Day Lewis The American director decided to shoot his film here, as it was a world equipped for cinematography, but also because he wanted to follow the steps of his colleagues such as Rossellini, Visconti and Fellini, whom he considered great masters.


Another generation of directors chose Cinecittà, such as Giuseppe Tornatore, who used about twenty sets, in addition to the ones in ‘Odessa’, for his The Legend of 1900, or another American, Anthony Minghella, who shot many scenes of The English Patient, in Italy in 1996. Scenes from the monastery, the spying action center, war and love, were built here.
They have named Cinecittà “Hollywood on the Tiber” and it has seen made over 3000 films, some of which received the Oscar’s statuette. A while back, HBO and BBC have created something that reminds a historical colossal, a television series entitled Rome, which was created by Bruno Heller, author of other successful productions. A photo that circulated on the internet showed some film extras resting under the sun, amongst fake sets and fake columns, with a cigarette in their mouth and a plastic water bottle at their feet. This image expresses well the magic of the invention that has been living in Cinecittà for 80 years and that will always need the Romans in order to appear true.


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