MACRO museum Rome ex-slaughterhouse Roma ex mattatoio

Contemporary Art, Culture, and Organic Food: Rome’s Ex-Slaughterhouse Revived

MACRO museum Rome ex-slaughterhouse Roma ex mattatoio

A winged man grapples with a bull on top of the MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art Rome in Testaccio, the only indication from outside that the building was once a slaughterhouse (apparently angels eat meat too). Now known as the Ex Mattatoio (ex-slaughterhouse) the building was constructed between 1888 and 1891 by Gioacchino Ersoch and became a part of the MACRO museum in 2002.

MACRO museum Rome ex-slaughterhouse Roma ex mattatoioMACRO has two separate locations: one in an ex-Peroni factory near Villa Borghese, and the other in the historical working class neighborhood of Testaccio, where it is nestled beneath the Monte Testaccio (also known as the Monte dei Cocci), an artificial hill composed of discarded pottery from the reign of ancient Rome.

The Testaccio location has been developed as a space for experimental art which defies the stereotype of an uptight gallery space. Instead, it juxtaposes “high” (and low) culture with a location that has a blood-drenched working class past. MACRO Testaccio is also a space for experimentation, and to a degree (though I hope to see them do more in the future), an engagement with youth culture.  The site is a great example of urban reclamation, and rather than existing solely as a static space for the viewing of exposed art, it is a social and cultural space conceived for interaction both during the day and night. While the permanent exhibition and some temporary expos are paid, the site itself is open for exploration for free.

Plastic chairs fill the holding pens where cattle were once held for slaughter. Bars stocked with beer and wine sit where troughs once held the animals’ last sips of water. Art is exposed beneath the rusting iron railways where carcasses dangled from meathooks, transported through their journey towards a dinner plate.

MACRO museum Rome ex-slaughterhouse Roma ex mattatoio
The Big Bambu installation towers over some holding pens.

Today, the skyline of MACRO Testaccio is dominated by the Big Bambu installation by Doug and Mike Starn. The brothers created similar pieces in New York City, Venice, Rome, Japan, and Israel. In another city the sculpture wouldn’t be able to dominate the skyline, dwarfed as it would be by skyscrapers and other towering edifices. But in Rome it reaches above the rooftops like a Tim-Burton-meets-Doctor-Seuss re-imagining of a Christmas tree. It can be climbed for free, requiring only that visitors sign a waiver before entering.

MACRO museum Rome ex-slaughterhouse Roma ex mattatoio big bambu gasometro panorama
View of Rome’s gasometro from inside Big Bambu.

MACRO also has a permanent exhibition with an entry fee, as well as a variety of rotating expos. We took advantage of the free entry into the Urban Legends exhibition, which experiments with the aesthetics of bringing street art into a gallery space. We bypassed the exhibition on the Roma soccer/football team, mainly due to the steep 10€ entry fee and our (my) total lack of interest in soccer/football.

MACRO museum Rome ex-slaughterhouse Roma ex mattatoio
Urban Legends exhibition.

Besides the exhibitions, there is the Città dell’Altra Economia and BioMercato. The BioMercato is a ‘bio’ (the Italian equivalent of organic) grocery store with reasonable prices, which sells local produce, pasta, cheese and meat, as well as laundry detergent and diapers. There is also a cafe, bar, ping pong tables, and a space for children to play as well as a farmers’ market on Saturday and Sunday.

Until the 21 September, the space is also hosting an outdoor event called Eutropia Festival, which will host concerts, cinema, and dance. Perhaps the most exciting event is the showing of Dario Argento’s horror masterpiece Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) with a live soundtrack performed by GOBLIN.

MACRO Opening hours: 

16.00 – 22.00 Tuesday to Sunday


€ 6,50 for the permanent exhibition


Piazza O. Giustiniani 4

00186 Roma

More photos

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