Street art in the capital of Campania

By Trinna Leong

Vespas parked in front of a mural on the wall of a shuttered shop. | Photo by Trinna Leong.

A stark contrast to Rome, Napoli — as the Italians call it — is littered with garbage and graffiti. Though trash and pickpockets are everywhere, the city’s complicated history has created a unique façade for travelers to visit. Once a Greek colony, Naples later became a part of the Roman Republic and has over the years became a melting pot of different cultures and people. In modern times, however, local gangs control the city and this background gives the city a rough polish that one does not find in Rome. Graffiti on new and ancient walls, on monuments and on streets are not uncommon and have left an indelible mark on the city’s identity.

Websites like even has a page dedicated to all the graffiti found in Naples. One cannot miss the graffiti on the walls along streets and alleyways. Whether one chooses to view these as vandalism or art, is another question entirely…  Most of us had never been to Naples and did not know what to expect of the city. Having been to Rome earlier in the week, the sight of words and pictures sprayed coherently or incoherently everywhere in public spaces looks oddly jarring when placed against Baroque and Medieval buildings. Churches tucked in tight narrow streets have piles of garbage in one corner and slogans like “Mastiffs” or “Papa Vero” scribbled in ink on adjacent walls. In some cultures, this could be seen as offensive and disrespectful to a place of worship. But in Naples, no one seems to be bothered at all. “Mastiffs” is a local soccer team in Naples, and in Italy, soccer is king.

My initial reaction to the preposterous amount of graffiti everywhere was one of shock and bewilderment at the lack of appreciation Neapolitans show toward historic monuments. Buildings and statues that should have been treasured and taken care of have less than pretty words sprayed across them. It took a few hours before I calmed down and noticed that the words add a touch of character to the city and complement its tough image. I had to remind myself that this is not Rome. Naples is all about street cred and tourists who come to Naples should not expect to be greeted by a quaint city.

It soon became a game of “spot cool graffiti” as we tried to capture works of art with our cameras. From sentences that vented out people’s frustrations with the mafia (particularly the Camorra), religious devotion to saints and political activism, Naples’ spray-painted streets are unconventionally iconic. Eating the city’s famed pizza by a pile of trash next to a wall of graffiti even gave us a sense that we are already Neapolitan. Graffiti art in Europe is different from New York. It’s not just words on the walls of an urban city, it’s about the blend of both old and new cultures, and that’s what makes Naples what it is today.


See a collection of various photographs of Neapolitan graffiti, culled from the Religio staff.

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