Street Art has been a prominent aspect of Rome’s urban fabric for decades, with murals, tags and stickers prominently displayed on shopfronts, metro-lines and apartment buildings. But while it emerged largely spontaneously in the past, the city has started embracing large-scale works and commissioning artists to adorn, and revitalize neighborhoods, with vibrant new works.
“Rome has always been seen as an outdoor museum and that’s true now, more than ever,” says Annie Ojile, the founder of Scooteroma, a company that has been providing Vespa tours in the city since 2007. “Because now you don’t only have the Roman Forum and the Pantheon on display, but huge works of contemporary art in the city’s industrial neighborhoods, too.” Scooteroma has long supported Italy’s urban art and sought to connect visitors to this lesser-known facet of the city’s cultural heritage through the company’s best-selling street art Vespa tours.
Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, though few realize that the capital extends past the romantic cobblestone streets of the centro storico and out towards further-flung quartieri, each with their own unique history and feel. “Street art has always been a catalyst to show our clients a different side of the city and get them under the skin of Rome. It’s an exciting and unique way to discover new areas they never knew existed,” says Ojile, “All while cruising over the Roman cobblestones on a modern-day chariot… a Vespa!”
Scooteroma’s street art tours cover neighborhoods in Rome that aren’t visited on a traditional tourist itinerary, including Pigneto and San Lorenzo to the east, and Ostiense and Quadraro to the south. Some of Rome’s most iconic works of urban art are located in these areas, from Alice Pasquini’s whimsical works and Lucamaleonte’s floral scenes to JB Rock’s Wall of Fame and Mr Klevar’s Byzantine-style portraits. And their temporality adds to the appeal.
“Street art lives on the city’s walls, so like Rome’s ancient ruins and Renaissance masterpieces, it’s exposed to the elements. We don’t know how long we’ll be able to enjoy large-scale murals which heightens their allure and overall sense of discovery,” explains Ojile. The team constantly seeks out new works to show their clients and forges relationships with artists to keep at the fore of the movement and share personal anecdotes with visitors.
In the past decade, a few neighborhoods have become the new poles of Rome’s street art revival, offering a glimpse of the restorative effects of creative expression to uplift historically working-class areas (many of which are quickly becoming gentrified). Launched in 2010, the M.U.Ro project, ideated by artist David “Diavù” Vecchiato, is located in the Quadraro neighborhood and features 22 large-scale pieces by Italian and international artists. The acronym stands for Museo di Urban Art di Roma (Museum of Urban Art of Rome) and is a play on the word “muro” – meaning wall – in Italian. Here, visitors can follow a map or join a guided tour for more insight into the history of the neighborhood and its works. In 2015, the Tor Marancia neighborhood near Via Appia inaugurated Big City Life to coincide with the Architecture Biennale in Venice. The project invited 20 street artists to adorn apartment buildings with figurative works and portraits imbued with symbolism.
And to the south, the Trullo neighborhood is a more recent success story that combines diverse mediums to create community. A collaboration between i Pittori Anonimi (anonymous painters), i Poeti der Trullo (the poets of Trullo) and street artist Flavio Solo, it’s a testament to the power of art to bring people together. Here, the Poeti der Trullo paint stirring rhymes in Romanaccio (Roman dialect) on the neighborhood’s walls that recount stories of endurance, love and hope to inspire new generations. They define their art as being “metroromanticismo, a poetic movement that starts from the street and the people of the neighborhood, transmitting the simplicity, and complexity, of their daily lives.”
The neighborhood also pays homage to strong women through large murals by Manuela Merlo Uman. A few noteworthy works include a large portrait of Frida Kahlo against a pink backdrop; a painting of Samantha Cristoforetti, one of Italy’s most esteemed Italian astronauts; and Greta Thunberg holding a globe with the words, “You’re never too young to save the world.”
On a warm day this spring, children play outside amongst rainbow-colored walls and the neighborhood feels far removed from its rough past. “Street art is something that can intervene during an emergency and help save a population,” says Michele Bartolini, a street art expert and one of Scooteroma’s tour leaders. “It’s a perfect example of Dostoevsky’s idea that art will save the world: these bright colors not only change the mood of a neighborhood, but they can help a community rewrite their history.”
“I’m grateful that street art gives me the opportunity, as a born-and-bred Roman, to help transmit the memory of the city and the local histories of each quartiere,” says Michele. “It’s incredible to think that today you can paint your own Sistine Chapel on these ancient walls, in a city that has lived such a long history. We grew up surrounded by culture and beauty so this appreciation for art is in our DNA. We can find art in the most unlikely places.”
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