In this article, we’ll discover the places and the creators of street art in Rome, Italy.
Rather than offering an exhaustive list, I want to share with you the story behind the artworks and insider information on the context where you find them. Some artists have become so popular that they have made it to the news and have a huge online following. One of them, and you might have heard about him if you’re passionate about street art, is one of the most popular mural artists in the world.
I’m quite resistant to looking at street art merely from a social perspective or to see it as a way of making more bearable the terrible architecture of public housing or as the expression of those living on the edges, in the suburbs. I think there’s more to it, and that one shouldn’t categorize a work of art too quickly. Let’s start hunting for street art in Rome, one of the most enjoyable activities to do in the city for free!
My experience of Rome’s street art
I really enjoyed going street art hunting in my hometown, Rome, for the sake of this article. However, what I like the most about this whole street art thing is a casual encounter with art in the streets. I have passed by the same block again and again for years, and suddenly the graffiti, the “murale,” as we call it in Rome, is there! There’s suddenly something new about that building or street corner I had become oblivious to. I’d started ignoring the streets because every day they reminded me that my projects weren’t progressing as much as I would like them to. I’m here and not there where I want to be. I was afraid that the suburbs wouldn’t let me go, and that I was going to be stuck here, repeating the same old patterns. Seeing the street art flourishing in Rome’s outskirts uplifts me. It reassures me that things are continually changing, that there’s progress somehow, that time is moving forward in the direction of my dreams.
Street art in Rome outskirts: some considerations
During your time in Rome, you’ll see that there are different historical layers with most of Rome’s monuments: Pre-Roman, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and so on. And yet, to see the most recent level, you have to go out of the center to those places where just a few decades ago there were lawns and countryside and now you see thousands of apartment buildings. Too many of those buildings are the result of unauthorized construction, deprived of any aesthetic sense, appalling cement structures. It’s on the walls of these contemporary monuments in the off-the-beaten-path Rome that you’ll find street art. Street art makes them more visible. It pushes you to direct your glance at them and remember that those districts ARE Rome. Those ugly, overpopulated houses are a big part of the metropolis that Rome is. And if you want to know Rome better, you just can’t go past them anymore.
1. Street art inside the ex-mental house
I put this place at the top of the list because I grew up a couple of hundred meters from there. The “Ex-Manicomio” that once was a public mental institution dating back to the 16th century and where the mentally infirm were treated in the most shameful ways was shut down in 1978. The structure has always been a “city inside the city”: a 130-hectare park with roads, a church, houses, and a canteen. Hospital workers and the mentally ill patients used to live there. When the place was abandoned, political conflict arose with regard to giving it a new life. In the last 20 years, associations of volunteers have worked to maintain the decor of the park. Some of the apartments have been occupied by young people. The Ex-Laundry, an incredible intercultural center that offers courses and manages a small café, was born. The past of the Ex-Manicomio is remembered inside the “Museum of the Mind.” Local street artists have passed by and spontaneously decorated many of the obsolete buildings with beautiful paintings. Sometimes, their artistic rendition deals with mental illness. The place, rather than being macabre, now has its charm. Take a walk inside the icon of this neighborhood on the north-western outskirts of Rome. Murals emerge from concrete like elves. Pine trees create a pleasant shade. The art is vibrant here and will surprise you.
Address: Piazzale Santa Maria della Pietà
Directions: from the subway station Valle Aurelia, take a train going to Bracciano, La Storta, or Viterbo, and get off at Stazione Monte Mario.
2. Street art in the Museo di Tor Marancia
This is the most impressive street art project in Rome so far. The curator is a non-profit cultural foundation that invested €90,000 to finance the creation of an open-air museum on 22 of the walls of the public housing on Tor Marancia St.
The origin of this suburb dates back to the ’20s when the opening of the monumental Via Della Conciliazione street that connects St. Peter’s Square and St. Angel’s Castle forced the relocation of the inhabitants to simple stilt-houses that the locals started to call “Shanghai.” A few decades later, apartment blocks replaced the wretched houses. “Big City Life,” the official name of the Residential Museum of Tor Marancia, appeared in 2015 and represented a huge difference for the “residents,” the true owners of the museum, which everyone can visit freely, accessing the block from the road.
Artists that took part in the project are renowned internationally: Vhils, Jaz, Seth, Gaia, Moneyless, Pantonio, Satone, Lek&Sowat, Clemens Bher, Reka, Best Ever, Brad Downey, Guido Val Helten, Matteo Basilé, Diamond, Philippe Baudelocque, Albernero, Danilo Bucchi, Mr Klevra, Domenico Romeo, Caratoes, and Jerico. Their artwork is stunning.
The project participated in the Venice Biennale.
How to reach the Big City Life open-air museum in Tor Marancia:
from the Stazione Termini, take the subway line B towards Laurentina. Get off at Garbatella. Take a 20 minutes walk to Viale di Tor Marancia, 63.
More places where you’ll find street art in Rome
These are other neighborhoods where you can find amazing street art in Rome
Street art of the San Basilio district
The art here inhabits the public housing of one of the biggest suburbs of Rome.
Parco Giulietto Minna
Street art in the Ostiense district
This neighborhood hosts several departments of the University Roma Tre, therefore it is alive with young people and restaurants. Besides having a street art tour, you could spend some time in two of the best cafes in Rome (Caffè Letterario and Romeow Cat Bistrot), or eat in one of the restaurants that abound near the crossing of Porto Fluviale St. and Ostiense St. Nearby, you can see the Cestia Pyramid and the museum Centrale Montemartini, which displays classical sculptures in an industrial environment, and the massive Basilica di San Paolo. You will also be a few minutes away from the picturesque Garbatella neighborhood. To see street art, walk along:
Via del Porto Fluviale St. between the Ponte dell’Industria and the intersection with Via delle Conce.
Via dei Magazzini Generali St
Via del Commercio
Street art in the Pigneto and Torpignattara neighborhood
The district of Torpignattara extends along the Via Casilina and Via Bullicante St. This is one of the parts of Rome that was bombed during WWII. Torpignattara is one of the multicultural neighborhoods in Rome. If you go sightseeing street art in this neighborhood, don’t forget to pay a visit to the lesser-known catacombs of Santi Marcellino and Pietro in the park Villa de Sanctis. The catacombs have nearly intact frescoes and the villa is the right place to have a picnic or even to jog. If you feel more like a glass of wine or a coffee, head to the hipster neighborhood Pigneto. You will find some baffling street art in the following places:
- Via Capua
- Via Bartolomeo Perestrello
- Via Antonio Tempesta
- Via Lodovico Pavoni
- Viale Acquedotto Alessandrino
To discover all the graffiti in this neighborhood, which isn’t small at all, use this map.
To get to this area: subway line C Malatesta Station.
Street art at the Forte Prenestino center
The fort “Prenestina,” built in the second half of the 19th century, together with 14 others on Rome’s edges, in order to defend the newborn Kingdom of Italy, had become an illegal urban dump at the beginning of the ‘80s of the last century. That’s when a group of citizens broke down the gate and claimed occupation. Thanks to the continuous commitment of the locals, today we can enjoy a substantial number of cultural and recreational initiatives, to name a few: the international comics festival “Crack!”, the wine and sensuality festival “Enotica,” the Jazz Festival, and the Non-labour Day. It’s inside the numerous tunnels and rooms of the fort that you’ll find the graffiti. If you can’t visit during one of the festivals, visit one of their workshops, the tea room “InTherferenze,” or the winery “Enoteca Terra Terra.”
Address: Via Federico Delpino. Opening hours: Tues. thru Sun. 11 AM – 12 AM
Street art at the Ex-Snia occupied cultural center
Like the Forte Prenestino, the Ex-snia is an occupied space. It has risen on the ashes of an old factory established in the 1920s, one of the first big factories in Italy. The factory was engaged in the production of uniforms during WWII and was consequently bombed by the allied troops. An invasive construction policy in the surrounding area, which includes the suburbs Prenestino, Tiburtino, and Acqua Bullicante, led to an unexpected flood in 1992, and to the formation of a lake. The avid constructors didn’t do their research properly and forgot that under the ground lay an aquifer, of very pure water… Recently, the people managing the occupied ex-factory have joined the locals to defend the lake Lago Ex-Snia and the surrounding area that has become a public park. The cultural center is very active, with very affordable cultural initiatives, including almost-free education, live music, and movie and pizza nights. The structure is covered in beautiful graffiti that you should check out.
Address: Via Prenestina, 173
How to get there:
From the subway Line A at Vittorio Emanuele Station, take tram no. 5 to Gerani and get off at the eighth stop at Prenestino/Giovenale.
Get to know some of the biggest street artists in Rome
There are a few artists in Rome that stand out for their work in the public space and their contribution to the development of street art. Thanks to their sane stubbornness and the strenuous dialogue they’ve undertaken with the government and the citizens to obtain permission and funds to produce art for the city, the foundation of the street art movement was laid in Rome and Italy. We owe them as a society. New street artists now have someone to look up to.
As one of these artists, Diavù pointed out during the exceptional lesson he led at the Faculty of Arts, Music, and Drama at the University Roma Tre, clause 4 of the Italian Constitution has motivated and will continue to motivate the street art in one of the hubs of street art in Europe:
“Every citizen has the duty to carry out, according to his possibilities and his own choices, an activity or function contributing to the material or spiritual progress of society.”
David Vecchiato, aka Diavù, has been on the artistic scene since 1992. He began producing art on the streets of Rome and in printed publications (comics and illustrations). His artistic bio is too dense to include here in this presentation of the street art in Rome, but you’ll find it here. I’ll focus on a few of his recent projects dedicated to contemporary art, artists, and people in the eternal city.
M.U.Ro. project | Street art in the Quadraro district and beyond
The Museum of Urban Art of Rome is an open-air museum founded by Diavù in 2010. The museum is free and belongs to the citizens. It hasn’t been controlled by external agencies or investors. The artworks are discussed between the local neighborhood committees and the artists during public assemblies. To join this monumental project, artists need to relate to the places, the locals, and their stories. The project started in the Quadraro and Torpignattara neighborhoods and has spread all over the city. Look at the location of the works on the map.
This street art is realized at the junctions of the Great Ring Road (GRA) highway surrounding Rome. The highway has become a symbol of the city, since millions of people use it every day to go to work. Did you know that Rome has an issue with heavy traffic? Too many people own a car. Maybe you’ve heard about the documentary movie set on the GRA highway, which won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 2013.
Street art at the Roma Tre University
On the walls of the DAMS, Department for the Study of Art, Music, and Entertainment, the artist Diavù has realized ten graffiti for the project “10 murales for Roma Tre”. The subjects are taken from the scenes of 10 avant-garde movies. Would you like to go there and see if you can identify the movies?
Since 2015, women of the cinema, history, and culture have been masterfully portrayed on long marble staircases all over the city by Diavù, among them, the actresses Anna Magnani, Elena Sofia Ricci, Ingrid Bergman and Michèle Mercier. The artists have created the art on sites that linked in some way with the chosen figure (for instance, the places where the movies starring the actresses were filmed). If you want to have a look at the “popstairs,” start with the stairs at the Mercato Trionfale in Prati, one of the best neighborhoods to stay in Rome.
Blu is a prolific street muralist in and out of Italy. The artist prefers to stay anonymous. He’s not represented by any agency or gallery.
His huge, elaborate murals in Rome’s suburbs invite you to reflect upon the human condition in the contemporary age. However, most of the themes this artist deals with are timeless. I love the interactive sketchbook on his website, which will give you an idea about his contribution to the street art scene in Rome.
I had been repeatedly spotting Solo’s graffiti for years all around Rome before I realized they were all work by the same hand! In 2017, I pulled over under an overpass on the Via Flaminia to better admire the most baffling graffiti I had ever seen. It’s Solo’s work “The Mummy of the Red Cave.” This street art was inspired by the recent finding of an ancient sarcophagus with a young girl buried underground in the urban area of “Grottarossa.” As I learn from his artist’s profile, Flavio Solo was born in Rome in 1982 and pursued artistic studies. He grew up during the blossoming of Italian street art in the ‘90s and has been painting on canvas and walls ever since. He draws inspiration from the works of the Factory of Andy Warhol and from comics. His street art made him famous internationally: superheroes living ordinary lives that aren’t always winners. They inspire common people with their courage throughout hardships.
Street art by Diamond
Also known as Crazy Diamond, Stefano Biagiotti was born in Rome in 1977 and has been producing street art since 1993. He has taken part in international street art festivals and exhibitions, but you will be able to find a conspicuous number of his walls in Rome. He describes his distinctive works as a complex representation of the complex life of the characters, caught in a network of intense feelings that sometimes are unseemly and not easy to express. Some of his wall-portraits of intensely beautiful and emotive women show the influence of art nouveau and the pin-up culture. Quite a few of his works are a collaboration with Solo. You will find one of his productions in the open-air museum of Tor Marancia.
The MAAM: a unique place for street art in Rome
Museum of the Other and of the Elsewhere is a public museum, a non-leader’s land that expresses the suburban, mixed-race reality which is a distinctive trait of Rome. If you really want to dive into the street art of Rome, you can’t skip taking a walk here. It’s hard to describe in words: “an outer space, the public space as defined by international treaties, where arms and private properties are banned” (MAAM).
Let me know in the comments if you’ve found this virtual tour of the street art in Rome and street artists in Rome useful!