A 20th century addition to the magic of Rome is the film studio of Cinecittà. The Cinecittà studios have been making films for 70 years, including many of the classic epics like Ben Hur and Cleopatra. They're also starting to play host to television series: suitably enough, the BBC/HBO production Rome was filmed here.
The founding of Cinecittà
Cinecittà was opened by Mussolini in April 1937, with the intention of promoting Italy and the current fascist ideals through cinema. The complex, in south-east Rome, was designed as a complete centre of production, with facilities covering everything from training, through the production of films, to post-production. Within six years, almost 300 films had been made at the new studios, assisted by the Alfieri Law, introduced in 1939, which was designed to assist home-grown film production.
Cinecittà during World War Two
In 1943, Italy surrendered and the Germans took over the country. They looted Cinecittà, and the film production facilities were moved to temporary accommodation in Venice. Over the next two years, Cinecittà was subjected to Allied bombing. Following the war, between 1945 and 1947, the studios of Cinecittà found a new use as a displaced persons' camp. The period from 1943 onwards contributed towards the forming of the cinematic genre known as Italian neorealism; the Roman filmmakers, denied both funding and access to the facilities of Cinecittà, took to the streets and used amateur actors. The resulting films, like Rome, Open City, carried a strong sense of the difficulties with poverty and identity being faced in Italy at the time.
Cinecittà after the war
By the 1950s, American production companies in search of cheap facilities began to turn their attention to Cinecittà. Films like Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain took advantage of both the facilities at Cinecittà and the possibilities for location shooting in Rome itself. (It has sometimes been more convenient to rebuild the nearby city on the Cinecittà lot, though: for example, the famous scene featuring the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita was actually shot on set at the studios. The studios also hosted many epic productions, an early example being Quo Vadis? in 1951. Ben Hur was filmed here in 1959, and the production of Cleopatra was moved from London to Cinecittà following problems with budgeting, bad weather and Elizabeth Taylor's health.
Cinecittà Studios was privatised in the mid 1990s, and it now hosts many television productions as well as films. The studio is closed to the public, although it occasionally opens for tours. There are plans to open a full studio tour, along with a theme park called Cinecittà World, at some point in the near future.
The official website of Cinecittà can be found at Cinecitta Studios.