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Cinecittá – A Cinema Journey

What do Ben Hur, La Dolce Vita, Gangs of New York and Nine have in common? At first glance, we might think… nothing, but, if we pay attention to the credits, we will see they were all shot at Cinecittá. For many of us, these film studios, located on the outskirts of Rome, are inevitably associated with the name of the great Federico Fellini, but they have also been a privileged host to some of the best moments in cinema history, and the spot where a large number of movie stars converged.

This “Cinema City” was built in 1937 after the previous studios were destroyed in a fire, the cause of which has never been accounted for. The construction project was commissioned to the engineer, Carlo Roncoroni, and the architect, Gino Peressutti. The aim was to build a veritable city of the seventh art, capable of competing with Hollywood itself, which would turn Italian cinema into a worldwide beacon. It should be noted that Mussolini’s Fascist regime was in power at the time and, like Germany, the Italian regime regarded cinema as a powerful propaganda tool.

Fortunately for us, not everything produced there was regime propaganda as it eventually became the place that witnessed the passage of great names in the history of Italian cinema – Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti.

Production came to a halt when the Second World War broke out, and the premises were even put to a different use. Two years before the war came to an end, Cinecittá was occupied by the Nazis and converted into a concentration camp for civilians. It was subsequently bombarded by Allied forces and then turned into a shelter for internally displaced people. All this upheaval led to the loss of most of the technical equipment and machinery once housed in the studios.

After weathering those dark years, Cinecittà gradually evolved into its period of greatest splendour. First, it became the site of grand American productions, featuring such unforgettable movies as Ben Hur,Quo Vadis? and Cleopatra. Second, this was where the careers of the great figures of Italian cinema unfolded. And, the presence of the Americans brought a fresh lease of life and modernity to the Eternal City, as so accurately portrayed in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.

But all golden ages have their expiry date and the number of large-scale productions began to wane in the seventies, losing out to television. The fact is that the trend of block-buster productions started falling behind, while Italian cinema gradually ceased to be a major player on the world scene. Despite this, the studios can still boast of having been involved in such movies as The Godfather III, by Francis Ford Coppola (1988), The English Patient, by Anthony Minghella (1996), Gangs of New York, by Martin Scorsese (2002), The Passion of the Christ, by Mel Gibson (2004) and the popular television series,HBO Rome (2005-2007).

On a curious note and perhaps as a symbol of our times, Cinecittá is currently the premises of the house and set of Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother, a contest which has become one of the great television hits.

Cinecittá is now a place of pilgrimage for any film-lovers worth their salt, although what remains to experience is merely an exercise in nostalgic reunion with a period in which cinema was different. It is also a good excuse for taking the whole family along to teach the new generations some cinema history and show them one of its landmark venues. In addition to its sets and some of the most popular set designs, visitors can also see the exhibitions hosted in the Fellini Building.

Nowadays, it might feel weird to stroll through those almost ghostly spaces, tinged with the decadence of time, and try to relive the period in which the great American film stars walked those corridors. What is guaranteed though is the flush of excitement one feels when catching sight of its stunning, iconic entrance.

Ready for a trip to the cinema? Check out your Vueling to Rome here.


Text by ISABELYLUIS Comunicación

Images by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Carlo Mirante


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