Keywords Change this

Mosque, Cultural Center

Project timeline

1975 – 1995



Location Change this

Viale della Moschea 79
00197 Rome

Architect Change this


Project Team: Paolo Portoghesi, Vittorio Gigliotti, Sami Mousawi (until 1980) // Collaborators: M. Alemanni, M. Bernabò, P. Brega, A. Durbé, M. Sidawi, G. Palma, A. Pancho, D. Saccares, S. Tuzi


Article last edited by Bostjan on
April 10th, 2020

Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center Change this

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Description Change this

This work, which enjoys wide acceptance today, has had a difficult genesis given by the understandable difficulty of large categories of representatives of the political, religious and public opinion world to break the taboo represented by the official access of the Islamic religion in the capital of Christianity. It might be a masterpiece of Portoghesi, as it represents a peculiar synthesis of different artistic traditions.

The project, supported by the technical expertise of Vittorio Gigliotti, has as its foundation "listening to the place", or the understanding of the cornerstones of Islamic architecture and their possibility of being inserted in the historical and environmental context of Rome. Moreover, one of the main characteristics of Islamic culture has always been the extraordinary ability to adapt and shape itself on existing realities, generating, as far as architecture is concerned, multiple local languages ​​linked to pre-existing materials and models. Portoghesi has made these premises his own, the relationship with the territory and the ideological theme, creating a complex of buildings in which there is a strong mediation between internal and external spaces, as in Persian architecture, but also in the Etruscan one, trying to create a real meeting point between Islam and Christianity.

The Structure

From the outside, the complex appears as a sequence of asymmetrical volumes that are connected around a central space of prayer, placed in axis between the volumes, in which stands a niche (the Mihrab) which, marked on the facade by longitudinal grooves, puts in relationship all bodies to each other. The architect wanted a large dome as a distinctive element, evoking the famous Turkish mosques but also the Roman domes, from the Pantheon to San Pietro; in fact, the planimetric layout, like the classical mosque, sees the association of two forms: the square of the plant and the circle of the dome. The prayer room is the result of the juxtaposition of a series of cells that act as a space module; these are covered by multiple minor domes, which converge in the large central vault by means of a system of simple spans, which solves the apparent dichotomy between multiplicity and unity, periphery and centrality.

Portuguese attempts to reconcile the Eastern tradition with the Western one are continuing; in fact, the symbolic and aesthetic significance of the fountains and water features of Moorish architecture and classical Roman tradition is underlined. In this sense, also the choice of materials: the mosque is covered in travertine, of various shades for the different floors, the Roman material par excellence, whose elegance and ductility perfectly match the peperino of the frames and the brick of the curtains. Also in the choices of the interior coverings, the cultural synthesis underlying the entire project is legible: the coverage of the prayer room is made with a particular application of encaustic stucco, a technique used in the Greco-Roman world, while the walls are enriched by wonderful polychrome weaves of the majolica tiles produced by specialized Maghrebi workers.

Symbolism of Light

The profound reflection on the theme of Islamic religiosity culminates in the attention paid to the symbolism of light. The textual reference is to Sura 24 of the Koran, called precisely the Sura of Light, in which the importance of light is also revealed in the prayer room. In this sense, the internal spatiality is articulated in a sequence of 32 polystyle pillars, which connect to the vaulted domes with intertwined and innervated elements, which, by dematerializing the light, create chiaroscuro games, giving a sense of indeterminacy and spirituality. The pillars also continue outside in an arcade, becoming the main element of Portoghesi's compositional language. In fact, being made of press-reinforced reinforced concrete, they appear with more dynamic and articulated forms so that they can be completely permeated by light and create suggestive environments for the faithful. Detaching themselves from the classic "stem-capital" model, they mate in a square section in order to evoke the gesture of the hands in prayer.

In addition, Portoghesi places stained-glass windows at human height on the main wall of the mosque, that of the so-called qibla, or the wall perpendicular to the direction of Mecca, on which the Mihrab opens, the niche directed towards the holy city . He then installed artificial lights out of the sight of the faithful, positioning them at the top and side. It gives lightness to the architecture, giving the impression that the roofs are suspended in the air, cutting the perimeter walls of the central room with a large ribbon window, immediately behind the long band of Koranic inscriptions that bear the verse: "God it is light ”. The particular cut of these windows hides the origin of the light source and makes the light reflect over the inscriptions.


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