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Pigneto and San Lorenzo: where it’s all at!

Street art in the Pigneto neighborhood
Pigneto neighborhood
Facade in the San Lorenzo neighborhood
Graffiti in the San Lorenzo neighborhood
Restaurant in the Pigneto neighborhood

Two of the quarters traditionally not included in tourist circuits have been picked up by the radar of both locals and visitors as examples of real Roman life.
Is there any untapped area of interest for tourism in Rome? It seems that the Romans are going to have to create the next big thing themselves. And that’s not a task they’re used to, given that they’re lazily encompassed by all the city’s history. But in recent years, something has happened in the Eternal City, and two urban areas have woken up and clamoured for attention, not because of new archaeological discoveries, but because of the new trends spotted in them: Pigneto and San Lorenzo.

The first of these quarters, to the southeast of the city, stretches from Piazzale Labicano to the avenues of Via Prenestina, Via Casilina and Via del Acqua Bullicante. The name Pigneto comes from a long row of pine trees standing next to the wall that goes around Villa Serventi. This working class district in the outskirts, which Pasolini greatly appreciated and which was the open-air setting for his first film Accattone, has transformed in recent years to become one of the liveliest quarters from a cultural and artistic point of view.

The pedestrian area at the start of Via del Pigneto has been a trendy place for young people in Rome to meet and hang out in for some years. Every fourth Sunday in the month, this pedestrian area hosts a rather unusual market, where anybody can set up their stall and sell their stuff.

The second rare example of renewed vitality, also not part of the tourist circuits, is the quarter of San Lorenzo, which has rather a bohemian vibe. The lights of its bars, open until the early hours of the morning, make it one of the liveliest areas in the city. It is always had the feel of a small town where people walk along the streets and through the squares both day and night. Originally, this was a residential area for workers. Buildings with interior balconies designed for the poorest citizens are typical in this quarter. Cheap pizzerias and kebab restaurants vie for attention alongside traditional workshops and street-style craft shops. It’s the closest you’ll get to Greenwich village outside New York.

Few districts define Rome as well as San Lorenzo does; few display its values, virtues and defects. It is both a young district, since it is close to the university, and a historic district, affected by the Allied bombing in 1943. A reminder of the latter is the decoration on the church in Piazza dell’Immacolata representing some of the victims.

Open-air contemporary museum

The functional grey architecture of bridge walls and building facades in Pigneto has transformed into visual poetry, echoes of film or social criticism. Artists from around the world, such as Carlos Atoche, 2501, Sam3 and Etam Cru, have signed their works on walls dozens of metres high or long. It’s impossible to be indifferent to this open-air museum, which conveys the urgency of graffiti.

An eternal summer

The main cemetery in Rome, Cimitero Monumentale del Verano, is also found in this area. From when it was built in the mid-19th century to 1980, it was the final destination of almost all of Rome’s citizens, except for popes, cardinals and the royal family. Buried here, among others, are famous directors and actors Vittorio De Sica and Alberto Sordi, and the writer Alberto Moravia. The statues and pantheons make for an interesting walk through the funerary art of the last century.

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