Urban Gallery

by Danilo Brunetti

Rome’s art isn’t just found in museums. The city’s walls themselves are often used as canvases. Street art (our definition covers graffiti, stencils, and murals) came to Italy in the ‘90s, primarily catching on in three major cities: Bologna, Milan, and Rome. In recent years, Italian and international artists have beautified the capital city’s walls with works both big and small, black- and-white and in color, transforming what were once semiabandoned industrial areas or sterile suburbs into open-air museums. A medium freed from the refined and stuffy atmosphere of galleries and museums, meant to be lived and to tell the stories of its surroundings, Roman street art found its roots in working-class neighborhoods, beginning in Quadraro, southeast of the city. Today, Rome boasts over 300 works on 150 of the city’s streets. Read on to find the nest examples.


Historically a blue-collar suburb, Quadraro is experiencing a renaissance thanks to M.U.Ro. (Museo Urbano Roma), a project led by the street artist David Daivù Vecchiato. The district’s street art trail begins at the Quadraro-Porta Furba metro stop and includes several roads such as Via dei Corneli and Largo dei Quintili. Along the latter lives one of the area’s most distinctive works, Wasp Nest by Lucamaleonte, memorializing the 1944 Nazi annexation of Quadraro. During WWII, the district was in fact known as the “wasp nest” for its strong antifascist sentiment. An old Roman saying went: “If you want to flee the Germans, either go to the Vatican or to Quadraro.” On Via Luscino, one side of an apartment block is decorated by three girls in free fall, the latest work by Alice Pasquini, a Roman street artist who has brought her distinctive style of dreamlike portraits to every corner of the globe.


Hunting Pollution by Iena Cruz

The post-industrial Ostiense district has provided fertile terrain for the imaginations of various world-famous artists; it hosts the highest concentration of street art in Rome. You can admire the murals along a stretch of Via Ostiense between Piramide and the Basilica of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, as well as on some side streets. On Via del Porto Fluviale, the Italian artist Blu, famous for his anticapitalist emphasis, has created a work of massive dimensions on an old military ware- house (now a home), depicting a rainbow of faces—perhaps a display of welcome toward the numerous immigrants living in the neighborhood. Iena Cruz’s brand-new Hunting Pollution, the largest example of street art in Europe, uses the environmental technology Airlite to, in effect, “eat” smog and pollution.


Not far from Ostiense, the famous slaughter- house-turned-museum, Il Mattatoio (Piazza O. Giustiniani, 4) hosts a fascinating collection of street art, both inside the compound and along nearby streets. The quality on display is evident in a piece by ROA, covering a palazzo wall on Via Galvani. The mural, titled Jumping Wolf, imagi- natively depicts the Capitoline She-wolf in the Belgian art- ist’s typical style of black-and-white animals representative of their settings. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk through Testaccio, looking out for the next vibrantly colored façade.

Jumping Wolf by 999 Contemporary Art


This neighborhood has been a hub of street art for decades, with a bohemian atmosphere thanks to the nearby university. Alice Pasquini’s piece on Via dei Sabelli is one of the most beautiful in Rome, portraying scenes of children playing and Roman daily life. Peopled by workers and their families in the late 20th century, San Lorenzo was heavily bombed during WWII but has since become a lively district dense with bars and restaurants.


Murales at Spagna Metro stop

At the beating heart of the historic center, the Spagna metro stop is taking part in a joint project between Rome’s public transport agency (ATAC) and 999 Contemporary, a nonprofit promoting contemporary urban art. Famous French artists like C215 and Seth have worked together to leave a futuristic mark in this highly trafficked area a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps.

Museo Condominiale by Seth


Trastevere is street artist Cenk Knec’s territory, distinctive for the bright colors he uses to give life to his pieces. His recent work includes plants and animals within scenes of nature. A beautiful example is found by the gate to the Fleur Garden nursery, depicting a parrot, a bird with special importance to Rome. Legend has it that a pope once received 12 parrots as a gift when he was elected, but that he immediately released them—a possible explanation for why you still see many fitting amongst the city’s treetops today.


This Roman suburb, symbol of the aesthetic rebirth of working-class neighborhoods, recently hosted a street poetry festival, making the genre’s name a buzzword across the city. Many street artists were also at the event, penning vibrant murals that still draw crowds to the area.


Just outside a seemingly ordinary apartment block, right behind Via Cristoforo Colombo, visitors are greeted by a mural titled Welcome to Shanghai, playing o the original nickname given to the area. The goal of the Big City Life project is to creatively reinvent the neighborhood without forgetting its roots. An entire block has been transformed into a gallery en plein air with every one of the 11 buildings assigned to a noted street artist.


San Basilio’s bad reputation made the district a natural choice for creative redevelopment. SANBA is in charge here, a project backed by the cultural association WALLS, which collaborates with world-famous artists to launch a powerful message against neglect and decay, especially in forgotten corners of the city.


Pigneto, together with the bordering neighborhood of Torpignattara, has been recently involved in a modernization effort called “Light Up Torpigna”. The epicenter is at Bar Necci (Via Fanfulla da Lodi, 68), the setting of director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s legendary lm Accattone. Here you can admire a large portrait of the Italian intellectual, visible high up the walls.