The Essence of Rome in a Hotel

Rhinoceros Roma, Alda Fendi’s dream project, remixes the city’s ancient, art-filled past.



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ALL ROADS LEAD to Rome, as they say. I’ve spent more than 25 years in the Eternal City and am constantly bombarded with requests for advice on what to see and where to stay. But prior to moving here in the late 1990s, I had never visited as a tourist. In fact, the first night I ever spent in a Roman hotel was my recent stay at Alda Fendi’s Rhinoceros Roma. And this is not your typical hotel: It offers 25 unique apartments carved out of the remnants of a seventeenth-century palazzo in the Forum Boarium, Rome’s ancient cattle market, the oldest part of the city. It’s just a stone’s throw away from where, according to legend, Romulus and Remus were found in a basket and nursed by a she-wolf. Romulus later founded Rome, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The hotel also shares space with the renowned Rhinoceros gallery, which has featured works by Michelangelo, El Greco, and Picasso. I had visited the Rhinoceros gallery twice before, but the chance to sleep in the building was irresistible, especially since the gallery remains open to hotel guests after closing to the public. I got to wander around the exhibits on my way back to my room after a midnight stroll to the illuminated fourth-century Arch of Janus.

The palazzo was most recently used as an apartment complex, so the guest rooms are not cookie-cutter like most hotels. Instead, they are independent apartments that overlook either the arch or the Palatine Hill. The double suite captures both views, as does the newly revamped rooftop restaurant and wildly popular sunset bar. This amazing terrace has long been my favorite place to bring visitors, and a new layout with cozy seating areas improved upon already spectacular sunset viewing.



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The brilliant combination of art, history, and hotel was the dream of Alda Fendi, one of five daughters of the luxury fashion house’s founders. Fendi worked for the label for more than four decades. Now, her namesake foundation, which is also housed in the building, curates multisensory exhibits, restores various ruins around the city, and sponsors historically important events.

The Rhinoceros palazzo earned its name after Fendi bought the crumbling building from the city of Rome. She tasked French architect Jean Nouvel with the building’s renovation, which was complicated by the city’s strict rules governing historic properties. But to Nouvel, the palazzo’s past was the appeal. “On the facades, we have kept everything that could testify to the passage of time,” he said of the project. “All the wrinkles are loved and preserved.”


The walls of each apartment reveal the structure’s past through their exposed layers of brick and paint, which are interspersed with panels that showcase photographs of the building through time. The palazzo’s inner workings, including pipes and metal joists, are displayed like paintings encased in glass, as if they are an exhibit of their own.

I first met Alda Fendi — whose smiling face is projected on the palazzo at night — at the opening of restored ruins inside the Roman Forum when I was there covering a story about looted art around the time Fendi was ready to open Rhinoceros.

She explained that the foundation was a gift for her family. “I feel like an art missionary, and I would like to give my children and grandchildren the opportunity to live immersed in culture,” she said. “Women my age resort to beauty treatments. I do not. Being close to artists, I always say, gives me the strength of a 20-year-old.”

A life-sized statue of a rhinoceros used to be perched under the Arch of Janus below the palazzo, but now sits inside the gallery. To her, the rhinoceros is symbolic. “An endangered white rhinoceros will be the watchful witness of an aesthetic labor ready to drop the anchors of knowledge,” reads a handwritten note she penned at the start of the project. The gallery guide explained to me that the rhinoceros was an evocative reminder of strength, beauty, and the endurance of time — much like this space and, indeed, Rome itself.

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Our Contributors

Barbie Latza Nadeau Writer

Barbie Latza Nadeau is an American journalist and author based in Rome since 1996. Her books include “The Godmother” about women in the mafia and “Angel Face” about the trials of Amanda Knox. Her work regularly appears in The Daily Beast, CNN, and Scientific American.

Laura La Monaca Photographer

Laura La Monaca is a travel, lifestyle, and food photographer based between Hawaii and Italy.


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