Italy’s capital, like the rest of the country, is steeped in history waiting to be uncovered, but it isn’t just the Etruscans, the ancient Romans, and centuries of great artists that have left their mark on the Eternal City. Sure, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and the Sistine Chapel are all worth visiting, but Rome’s secret history lies within its urban explorations.
It might be better known for its elegance, refinement, and tourist allure, but Rome is a gritty and dynamic city at heart, and its modern history is just as interesting as its centuries-old stories. There are plenty of abandoned places in Rome to check out, that’s whether you’re an avid Urbex fan, digging a little deeper into the city’s past, or simply seeking the perfect photoshoot location.
From disused stadiums to haunted factories and even entirely abandoned towns, our guide looks at just some of the abandoned places in Rome that you can explore. Let’s get into it.
Tucked away on the outskirts of Palestina, which was built above the ancient Latin city of Praeneste, this humble baroque hunting lodge has a curious architectural plan.
The three-story equilateral triangle structure with its hexagonal covered roof terrace was built in the 17th century by the Barberini family on their sprawling estate. Likely first built centrally on the plot, you can find it in the orchard behind the family home today, less than 40 kilometers from the center of Rome.
The lodge was commissioned by Maffeo Barberini as a tribute to his wife whom he married in 1653. The family coat of arms of Olimpia Giustiniani, Barberini’s bride, included a triangular tower, hence the unusual design of the monument. Triangolo Barberini is based entirely on the use of recurrent geometric shapes—such a design that you’d more readily find constructed out of steel and glass housing a modern art museum and not a 350-year-old building.
The interior space of the hunting lodge is also divided according to the sides of the triangle. One room contains the staircase with connects the storeys and the hexagon, the ground of which is tiled in hexagonal white, orange, and black mosaic. Although the 1st floor has deteriorated, the covered roof terrace is frescoed with a terrace where armored statues guard every corner.
The surrounding area was also once designed to reflect the geometry of the building with cypress-tree-lined avenues, but the pattern is no longer visible due to the bombing of Palestrina during World War II. Triangolo Barberini also houses a small family chapel dedicated to San Filippo Neri.
The Barberini family were lords of Palestrina in the 17th century and their hunting lodge is a testament to the long-eccentric architectural experiments of the Italians. Although now in a permanent state of decay, this doesn’t make the building any less fascinating. The statues are headless and the upper floors crumbling, but you can easily access Triangolo Barberini from the original gate on Via Degli Olm between Palestrina and Labico. Just tread carefully inside, especially when accessing the upper floors.
The Flaminio Stadium
Ironically located in one of Rome’s most upscale neighborhoods, the neglect and decay of the Flaminio Stadium are strategically concealed behind high fences and verdant foliage. Flaminio used to hold spirited crowds of up to 30,000 people when it was built in the late 1950s. The stadium was designed for the Olympic Games by Pier Luigi Nervi, a master of concrete architecture, and his son Antonio. Flaminio has since hosted the World Cup, the Rugby Six Nations, and music performances by David Bowie and U2, but today, it lies in a state of disrepair.
In addition to the inoperable technology, grubby and defective stands, and overgrown pitch, the stadium also has a drained swimming pool and five (now stripped) gyms once used for boxing, gymnastics, and athletics, located under the raw concrete stands. Uncommon for Rome’s abandoned landmarks, the Flaminio Stadium is right in the city center in the homonym district and just a few minutes on foot from Piazza del Popolo.
There are architectural restrictions on structural renovations, thanks to the special value imbued by Nervi’s name. However, in 2021 there were talks to reinvent the stadium as a 40,000-seat arena for S. S. Lazio, the prestigious Serie A Roman football club and two-time Italian champions. Lazio currently shares the Stadio Olimpico with intercity rivals, Roma, but has to wait for approval from the Biancocolesti about the state of the stadium and the potential for refurbishment before a decision can be made.
As it stands, the unofficial entrance is through a hole in the fence on a dead-end lane at the back of the stadium. However, if you want to explore the ghost stadium in a state of abandonment, you might have to move fast.
Industrie Chimiche Farmaceutiche LEO
This closed-down pharmaceutical factory has a long and interesting history. In fact, it was the biggest and most-advanced penicillin factory in Europe in its heyday and was even approved by Sir Alexander Fleming – the inventor of the antibiotic drug – when he visited for the opening ceremony.
Industrie Chimiche Farmaceutiche, otherwise known as Leo Penicillina, was built in 1947 and officially opened in the 1950s after Danish technicians and scientists came to the plant with their know-how and patents. Giovanni Armenise owned the Leo company, as well as the influential Italian newspaper, Giornale d’Italia. While other firms had to import and package penicillin in Italy, Leo effectively monopolized the production of the drug since they were able to produce it on the premises.
There were 500 employees at the factory when it opened, but following Armenise’s death in 1953, Leo started to go into slow decline. The factory had already started to lose its markets in the 60s after the post-war boom slowed down, and by 1964, more than half of the workers had been let off. The factory downsized again in the 90s but still had its door open 50 years after opening. Finally, it was completely abandoned in 2007.
Although the factory is now mostly just a raw concrete skeleton, the grounds are extensive, and local street artists use its walls to practice their art. The derelict open halls and crumbling window panes make the perfect setting for a photo shoot or some Urbex adventures. You’ll find it at the intersection between Via Tiburtina and Via del Casale di San Basilio.
This half-built sports complex is one of the most modern and impressive feats of engineering on this list but abandoned nonetheless. Santiago Calatrava is a renowned contemporary architect, structural engineer, sculptor, and painter, and his buildings can be found at all corners of the globe from Milwaukee to Buenos Aires. But he hasn’t managed to complete all of his projects, with funding snares and delays leading to the outright abandonment of structures in Chicago, the Netherlands, and Rome.
Calatrava’s Roman stadium, located just outside the city, was set to be called the Citta Dello Sport, or the City of Sport, but construction was never completed. It was one of the only parts of a Calatrava-headed masterplan for the University Rome to come to partial fruition, and it was set to anchor sweeping green fields, across from which would be a 300-foot high-rise for the university’s rector to be located.
The project imagined two white sails of steel, characteristics of Calatrava’s futuristic work, but only one was ever erected. Calatrava’s stadium was going to house an Olympic pool in one of its domes, and a multi-purpose sports arena with basketball and volleyball courts in the other. However, the project was envisioned with poor timing. After construction began in 2005, the global economic crisis saw costs for the complex rise from 65 million euros to over 600 million euros.
La Repubblica newspaper has called it “a cathedral of the desert” and an “emblem of defeat”. When creative director and artist, Oliver Astrologo, visited the City of Sport in 2016, he described the eerie space as somewhere where time stands still, since it was surprisingly sterile with no signs of vandalism even after a decade of neglect. Although some argue for its demolition, others recognize it as a symbol of southeastern Rome, with the steel skeleton peeking above the natural landscape from the highway. There is also a return argument for it to be used in future bids for the Olympic Games.
Located just over 20 kilometers northwest of the capital, Galleria Antica is the oldest abandoned site on our list and a fascinating landmark of suburban Rome. These ruins of an ancient Etruscan town are tucked hidden inside the woods and now play host to a unique ecosystem of fauna and flora. Hedgehogs and foxes find shelter under ancient arches while leafy vines climb up crumbling church walls, but it is every bit as history-rich as Rome’s central attractions.
This ghost town was first inhabited in the fifth century BC by the Etruscans but reached its heyday during the peak of the Roman Empire. Galeria Antica was first abandoned during Germanic invasions in the 3rd century AD but was repopulated in the Middle Ages when it became a fortified hamlet that thrived off agriculture.
It was invaded again in the 9th century and destroyed by Saracens, but the influential Orsini family, whose members include five popes, rebuilt the town in the 1400s. The town’s inhabitants curiously started to die in the mid-1700s, and the only explanation for these deaths today is a possible plague of malaria. At the time, illness gripped the small city and resulted in uncontrollable chaos and disorder.
Abandonment didn’t occur gradually but in the way of abrupt escape at the beginning of the 19th century. Personal belongings and unburied bodies of the dead were left scattered around the town to be discovered by travelers and historians years later. By 1809, Galleria Antica was completely deserted and became known as the “Pompeii of Rome”. Galleria Antica has a turbulent past full of war and upheaval, but its varied history can be felt at every turn, even if it has been largely reclaimed by nature.
There is no security or tourist infrastructure so entrance is completely free. Despite most structures being built more than 1,000 years ago and faced with countless catastrophes, most are well-preserved including the clock tower, the multi-story main gate, and the church. There is also the remains of a complex network of aqueducts.
Galleria Antica is located in a natural park on a cliff in the forest, off the road leading to Bracciano Lake. The site is a 35-40 minute walk from the small town of Osteria Nuova but can be reached in 40 minutes by car from Rome city center.
Metropoliz – Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere
Abandoned no more, Metropoliz is a heritage-rich building with an even better, newfangled purpose. Located on the outskirts of the city, this disused salami factory found new life when it first became a squat and refuge for displaced families, and later an innovative art museum.
The factory was closed down and abandoned at the turn of the century, but by 2009, more than 100 Italians and foreign migrants had moved in, in search of shelter and refuge. Most of the occupiers were homeless and unknown to each other, but the 60 families cleaned the space and reinvented the auxiliary facilities not only into a home but a community space.
In 2011, artist Giorgio De Finis came across the factory and saw potential in its cosmopolitan and ethnically-diverse spirit. The squatters had already started decorating the walls with murals and color, but De Finis developed art projects and hosted events and performances, and, slowly but surely, the salami factory became a one-of-a-kind museum.
It was renamed “Museu dell’ Altro e dell’ Altrtove di Metropoliz”, meaning “Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere of Metropolis”. The space now plays host to murals, paintings, and installations from more than 300 global artists, including the likes of the renowned visual creator, Michelangelo Pistoletto, to young local street artists who grew up in the factory themselves.
All of the external pieces of art are donated as the museum has no budget. Though technically illegally inhabited and run, the museum has not only breathed life into a poor eastern suburb of Rome, but it has served as a lifeline for the hundreds of migrants who’ve found solace within its walls. Metropoliz has also provided employment for the occupiers who help out at the cafeteria and with exhibitions.
This is still a place for Urbex fans but something a bit different when it comes to the dilapidated buildings of Rome.
What does Urbex mean?
Urbex is the abbreviation of “urban exploration”, which refers to the act of exploring derelict urban structures, abandoned sewers, underground railways, or areas that are otherwise disused and closed off to the public, like rooftops.
Is it illegal to explore abandoned buildings?
Criminal damage, breaking and entering, vandalism, and theft are all illegal activities, but you can explore abandoned locations without committing any of these crimes. If a building is obviously closed off to the public and there are signs warning against trespassing, then you should refrain from entering. However, many abandoned buildings don’t enforce such rules, but you should always be careful as abandoned buildings can be very unsafe.
Can I buy an abandoned house in Italy?
Italy recently made headlines for auctioning off its derelict rural properties, for as little as €1 if the buyer pledged to invest a few thousand euros into renovation in the course of five years. This initiative was a bid from the Italian government to breathe new life into its crumbling ghost towns, and you can still get involved. Many properties are still available, and there are also hundreds of houses on the conventional Italian market going for less than €10,000 due to their run-down state. Still, you should think carefully before you take on such a project. Neglected houses mean a lot of work and they were probably abandoned for a reason.