testaccio, ostiense, street art, contemporary art, murals

The Dazzling Street Art of the Ostiense District

The Ostiense district of Rome is home to some of Europe’s most impressive street art, the result of initiatives to attract attention to a neglected area.

Unlike Rome’s more distinguishable sites, such as the Coliseum, the Vatican, the Forum, or the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, the Ostiense District is not the first destination to spring to the tourist’s mind when devising an itinerary for a Roman getaway. And yet, the quarter, situated to the south of Rome’s historic centre, holds some of the most dazzling street art in all of Europe. Rome’s street art is so famous, there is even an app–appropriately named “Street Art Roma”–to help you navigate all the labyrinthine paths through the open-air galleries of the city, of which there are plenty. 

Art is necessarily self-expression, whether through the conscious process of the artist inserting him/herself into the work or through interference of the subconscious. But conventionally, street art, contrary to the commissioned, paid or otherwise requested work in curated galleries, is just as its name suggests: of the street. It is marginalised, often spontaneous, subversive, an act of rebellion against the dictates of the larger municipality. Its tradition is deeply rooted in political expression and dissatisfaction, and it is executed in defiance of the law, often seen as defacement of public property or vandalism. But what if it were authorised, given the benefit of legality, encouraged? What significance could that have for the broader landscape of Rome? Art adorns every corner of this ancient city, from the friezes of its grand monuments to the small icons and portraits of the Madonna and Child that grace the quoins of its buildings. So why stop centuries back in time? It seems only a natural progression for modern art to continue the legacy and claim its place among the ancient ruins.

All this was coursing through my mind as I walked down the busy Via Ostiense, from which the surrounding area, between Piramide and San Paolo, takes its name. The industrial neighbourhood was home to the working classes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You can still see relics from that era, like the large gasometer west of Via Ostiense, and the numerous warehouses and old factories. The peripheral area fell into neglect later on as more central zones of Rome were prioritised, but it has since undergone quite the transformation, attracting both tourists and local youth for its vibrant nightlife. 

Perhaps one of the most significant and noteworthy investments to promote the area and direct public interest to it was indeed the street art initiative conceived by contemporary art gallery 999Contemporary. Under the auspices of the Department of Culture of the capital, legitimising and commissioning this form of popular artistic expression, the project saw contemporary artists give life to the walls and buildings of Ostiense with over thirty, vibrant, eye-catching murals. The artists include, to name a few, Brazilian street artist Herbert Baglione; Italian artists Sten&Lex, whose work also features in other major cities, such as London, Paris, and New York; graffiti artist Alejandro Hugo Dorda Mevs, known as Axel Void; Agostino Iacurci, Italian artist of international fame; and JB Rock, one of the most famous artists in Rome’s street art scene.

On the walls of underpass on Via Ostiense are murals of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Romantic poet whose life was inextricably bound to Italy, and Antonio Gramsci, Italian Marxist philosopher and communist politician. Both are buried in Rome’s Cimitero Acattolico, or Non-Catholic Cemetery, also called the Protestant Cemetery. The cemetery is a stone’s throw from Ostiense, in Testaccio. It is one of Europe’s oldest in continual use, and it contains the graves of a number of internationally celebrated figures.

Intersecting Via Ostiense from the west side is Via del Porto Fluviale, another spot to admire the urban art scene. The murals of artist Iena Cruz are especially captivating for the added reason that they are executed with the sustainable and ecologically-friendly ‘Airlite’ paint, which neutralises the effect of pollution on the buildings.

East of Ostiense is the suburb of Tor Marancia. The neighbourhood was originally a sort of ghetto in which those families uprooted from their homes in Rome’s centre to accommodate Mussolini’s project to create Via della Conciliazione, near the Vatican, were relocated. It too has experienced a lively transformation with another public art initiative undertaken by Big City Life, a project of 999, in collaboration with residents of the neighbourhood’s housing project. International artists used the sides of eleven buildings in Tor Marancia as their canvases, painting impressive murals in bold colours, the striking imagery infusing the monotone space with new life.

The combined efforts of the city, the artists, and the activists who worked to bring Rome’s neglected quarters to the world’s attention have succeeded in doing just that. Once you are there, in the Ostiense District, on Via del Gazometro, on Via del Porto Fluviale, in Tor Marancia, it is virtually impossible to miss the massive, monumental works of art gracing the industrial architecture. And the best part of it all is that, in true equalising and philanthropic fashion, this art is accessible to all those who pass through the quartieri.

The Ostiense District has become a trendy part of town, for other reasons in addition to its dynamic art scene. The area is home to part of the University of Rome III (Roma Tre) campus. The Centrale Montemarini, on Via Ostiense, hosts a grand collection of ancient sculptures. Once a public electricity plant, the building now contains a permanent exhibition of classical art. This too is part of the initiative to transform the district into a hub for culture and the arts. The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is likewise located in the vicinity, south of the Roma Tre campus. It is one of Rome’s four major basilicas, along with Santa Maria Maggiore, San Pietro, and San Giovanni in Laterano. The Ostiense railways station is a landmark of twentieth-century history, one to see in and of itself. Opened in 1940, it was designed in classic fascist modernist architectural style, with a relief on the façade depicting mythical figures and mosaics on the pavement representing diverse themes linked to the history of ancient Rome.

Ostiense also boasts the world’s biggest Italian supermarket, Eataly. The gastronomic giant has stores in international locations as well, including in the United States, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. This particular store has four floors, eighteen different restaurants, and a plethora of gourmet food products. From the freshly baked focacceand pastries to the artisanal gelato and the colourful fruits and vegetables of the vast produce section, Eataly is a delightful culinary experience, a taste of authentic Italian fare, on a grand scale.

You can get to Ostiense by taking Line B of the Metro from Termini, in the direction of Laurentina. The ride has four stops to Piramide, at which point you can reach Ostiense on foot in less than ten minutes. You can also take the Pisa Central regional train from Termini, which will take you to the Ostiense station. The ride is about ten minutes. 

You can book walking tours to explore the street art of the district. If you are an art lover interested in Italian art’s more classic masterpieces, you can book a VIP tourthat will take you on an intimate exploration of Caravaggio’s work, with stops at the restoration lab and the churches that host the Baroque master’s most famous pieces. You can also experience the art gallery that is the majestic city of Rome itself, with tours of the Vatican and other famous landmarks, by clicking here. There is no shortage of sights to see in the Eternal City.

Roma Experience Spring-Clean Pacentro on Ecological Day

Italy seems as if it’s full of charming mediaeval hilltop villages – and it is – but perhaps none are as wholly charming as Pacentro. Gorgeous mediaeval Pacentro sits atop a hillside only a couple of hours outside of Rome, looking down upon the forested valleys of the magnificent Majella National Park.

Pacentro, although not a top tourist destination, holds a special place in the Roma Experience team’s heart. Despite being named one of Italy’s most beautiful villages, Pacentro is perhaps best known as the town Madonna’s family is from. However, Roma Experience knows it as the home of our business development partner, Robert Pardi. Rob’s Bisnonno grew up in Pacentro, before he crossed the wide sea to the States.

Which is why Rob was so eager to participate in Pacentro Ecological Day. Once a year, on April 15th, towns across Abruzzo participate in big clean-up operations; a generous act of Spring cleaning, if you will. Pacentro is no different, and last weekend Rob took to the streets, along with his friends from the Borgo, to give the village of Pacentro a good Spring-clean.

Pacentro: A Most Beautiful Village

Abruzzo, the region Pacentro is within, is renowned for its spectacular natural beauty – and Pacentro is in a prime location. The mediaeval Borgo sits inside Majella National Park, an area with some of the most diverse flora and fauna in Italy. Take a hike through Majella and expect to see rare species of deer and birds; the park is positively brimming with life. Some of Italy’s last native wolves and bears call Majella home. These animals all live within an astonishing natural landscape, dominated by craggy mountains, rich green pines, and an amazing diversity of flowers.

Perhaps such close proximity to these natural wonders is what motivates the people of Pacentro to keep the town beautiful. Of course, that was a big motivating factor for Rob – but he had a more personal reason for participating in Pacentro Ecological Day. Before Rob’s Bisnonno emigrated to America, he was born and raised in Pacentro. As an adult, Rob was determined to reconnect with his Italian roots. After visiting Pacentro, he found himself falling in love with this little village atop a hill, before eventually buying a home there. Rob wanted to give something back.

“My Great-Grandfather left to give me opportunities,” Rob told me, “but he was raised here. His experience in this town shaped my upbringing. Now, I live here. Taking part in Pacentro Ecological Day is great. The whole village unites to re-beautify Pacentro.”  Rob spent his day sweeping the city’s streets, picking up trash and planting flowers. “Only red flowers though. The people of Pacentro are very insistent on their color scheme!”

Reconnect With Your Italian Roots

Rob’s experience with Pacentro inspired our Ancestor’s Tour of Italy. We now offer the descendants of Italian emigres the chance to reconnect with their heritage, on a full-tour of the town their ancestors come from. For Rob, reconnecting with his ancestral home altered his life forever. Now, he counts the inhabitants of Pacentro as firm friends. Not many tours can promise to forever change your life – but if any can, it’s our Ancestor’s Tour.

As a team, Roma Experience care about preserving the remarkable heritage and unique beauty of Italy, which is why we’re proud Rob represented us at Pacentro Ecological Day. Keeping Italy looking gorgeous is a great way to give back to a country that’s produced so much beauty, that the whole world enjoys. We look forward to the next Ecological Day!

by Annie Beverley

Have The Best Easter: Rome Easter Week Events

No matter when you visit Rome, the city is always beautiful.

In Autumn, Rome is all orange and gold. In Winter, a glimmer of frost on the marble monuments gives them a haunting beauty. Summer’s heat fills the city’s sprawling café-restaurants with music and laughter, as soon as the sun goes down.

At Easter Rome is full of the vibrancy of renewal: the city’s cherry trees are in bloom, flowers have exploded on the city’s balconies, and pilgrims gather, to hear the story of Jesus’ triumph over death.

If you want to experience the best of the Eternal City’s charming idiosyncrasies, at Easter Rome comes into its own. See how vibrant the religious life of the city is and enjoy some unique cultural events.

Read on to discover everything to look forward to this Rome Easter Week 2019.

Palm Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Rome’s Easter celebrations really begin on Palm Sunday. In Christian tradition, Palm Sunday was the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, and was greeted by crowds of supporters, waving palms.

The day is commemorated in Rome with a special mass by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. First, at 9:30am in the morning, Pope Francis will bless the pilgrims. Then, there is a procession with the palms and a mass.

All tickets for Papal masses are free – if you want a ticket, click here.

Easter in Rome: Chocolate Bonanza, April 16, 2019

One of the best things to do in Rome during Easter week? Eat!

This Chocolate Bonanza is one of the best ways to celebrate one of the best things about Easter: the proliferation of sweet treats. Roma Experience are offering an exclusive, one-off Chocolate Bonanza Tour Event, and for those with a sweet-tooth, it can’t be missed.

Relish the opportunity to visit some of the city’s best chocolatiers, go to a slow-food chocolate market and finally, visit a real-life chocolate factory, to see how artisan chocolate is made! My stomach is rumbling just thinking about it…

Maundy Thursday, April 18th, 2019

The first mass held on Maundy Thursday is the Chism Mass, held in St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30 am. Pope Francis will bless the 3 oils that are used in the life of the Church. The Chism Mass was only revived in the 1960s, when a text by early-Christian theologian Hippolytus was discovered, which described the mass’ wide-spread practice in the 3rd century AD.

Churches all across Rome will hold their traditional Maundy Thursday service that evening. Priests all over the city will recreate the most striking moment of Jesus’ final evening: when he washed his disciples’ feet. After the congregation, the Priests of Rome will wash the feet of their congregation. If you’re a believer, this is an event not to miss.

Good Friday April 19th, 2019

Arguably, the most spectacular event of Rome’s Easter Week is held on Good Friday. At 9pm in the evening the celebration of the Via Crucis is held at the Colosseum. The Pope, with a procession of the faithful, carry a reproduction of the cross from the Colosseum to Rome’s Palatine Hill.

Many in the crowd hold candles – to represent that Jesus is the light of the world. The procession of the Stations of the Cross is a truly spectacular event to behold, whether you are Christian or not. Set against the beautiful backdrop of some of the most iconic sights of the Eternal City, this is an event you cannot miss.

Easter Saturday, April 20th, 2019

The vigil on Easter Saturday marks the congregation waiting for the resurrection of Christ. A mass is held in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is first proceed by the faithful gathering around a holy fire lit in the Square, to symbolise Jesus as the light of the world.

Easter Sunday, April 21st, 2019

On Easter Sunday, the Pope holds his blessing to Rome and the world from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. The congregation gather in the square to receive the Pope’s blessing. People from all over the world come to attend the mass on Easter Sunday, so competition for tickets is fierce. If you’re looking to attend, consider getting tickets sooner rather than later.

This Easter Sunday in Rome falls on another special day: the anniversary of the mythological founding of Rome, which was, apparently, 2,771 years ago. Enjoy a special parade of Gladiators and other Ancient Roman types at the Roman Forum at 10am. Choose whether you’re more of a pagan or Christian disposition first – the mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and the celebration of Rome’s birthday clash.  

Across Easter Week

From April 17th to mid-November, a special multimedia show will be held in the Forum of Caesar and the Forum of Augustus. Recreations of the buildings of the Roman Forum, at the peak of the Roman Empire, will be projected on the existing Roman Forum. Audio guides are available to hear the history of the Forums narrated. Look here to find the availability for this event during Easter Week.

Why Visit Rome During Easter Week?

At Easter Rome shows some of its most beloved characteristics. Many of the events held throughout the city reveal the current of communal spirit that still runs through this capital of capitals. The city is radiant with color; spring flowers have sprung up all across the Eternal City – and, its jacket weather! You can eat outside at evening, enjoy the rare and strange festivals of Rome at this time, and if you’re Catholic, participate in the vibrant religious festivals. Seasonal vegetables are popping up across markets, and its not too hot to indulge in a Chocolate Bonanza. Visiting Rome at Easter might be the perfect time.

by Annie Beverley