A fire ripped through part of Italy's Cinecitta film studios late Thursday, destroying sets at the famed production complex where directors from Martin Scorsese to Federico Fellini haveshot films.

Firefighters battled overnight to bring the fire under control and prevent the flames from spreading to other areas of the sprawling, historic film studios or to the urban neighbourhood surrounding it.

Cinecitta, which celebrated its 70th anniversary in April, is just a few kilometres from the historic centre of Rome.

On Friday morning, officials said the fire may have been caused by a simple short circuit inside a warehouse storing film sets. The investigation is ongoing.

The fire started in the hangar full of old film, other materials and sets, before spreading to neighbouring buildings in the complex. Among the sets damaged or destroyed were those for the recent HBO-BBC miniseries Rome.

Because of all the wood and synthetic materials used in the creation of the sets, firefighters battled flames of up to 30 or 40 metres high, Rome firefighter Chief Guido Parisi told the ANSA news agency.

Parisi said no one was injured in the fire and the rest of the complex was unaffected.

Cinecitta was the scene of Fellini films such as La Dolce Vita, Amarcord and Satyricon. Scorsese recreated the Big Apple of the 19th century at the studio for his film Gangs of New York.

Cinecitta was also host to the filming of Ben Hur and parts of more recent films such as The Passion of the Christ, Mission: Impossible III and Ocean's Twelve.