Pasolini: the crude portrait of Rome, the city of God

Table where Pasolini dined for the last time (Photo: Javier Brandoli) The Bolognese filmmaker and writer gutted and prophesied 60 years ago an immense, poor and passionate city, still in force today, in which millions of people live. It surrounds Rome and is called Rome.

GENERAL By Javier Brandoli

“These are not human dwellings that are lined up on the mud, but pens for animals, kennels Made with rotten planks, chipped walls, plates, waxed fabrics. As a door they often only have an old dirty curtain. Through the little windows, no bigger than a foot, you can see the interiors: two cots that sleep five or six people, a chair, some jars. The mud also enters the house. (…) The little door opens, a prostitute throws the water from a basin into the street, between the feet of the children, who are playing there in front, and right behind it the client comes out. Some old women scream like dogs. Then, suddenly, they burst out laughing as they see a cripple crawling on the ground emerging from a burrow, which is a den dug inside the thick wall of the aqueduct.”

I finish the paragraph again, underlining, and look up. It must be around here that scene from 1958. The aqueduct disappears into infinity. In an arcade there is an altar behind a locked gate. There are photos of two deceased, flowers, plants, a prayer that looks like an abracadabra to open the sky and a mirror. It is a box of the dead where not so long ago the living lived. Behind the hollow bricks, some shiny new buildings rise from the rubble. Rotten asphalt, the grass grows in curls. Rome.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a prophet and a butcher. He understood and gutted a city that only foreigners like him, from Bolognese, can decipher. Rome is an enigma for the Romans. They turned their houses and their neighborhoods into trenches, sheepfolds, in which to settle in order to survive the surname of living in the eternal city. That city, the one recognizable in flattery and postcards, is there, far away, pointed at by the thousands of inhabitants of an annular periphery that contemplate a distant decoration. Their poverty is a vice and vices hide. There are no more barracas, they tiled misery, but they follow, like Alicia, the paved path of the old Roman roads that leads them back to their lives on the outskirts. In a circle, digging a well.

“That is not Rome. We Romans don't go there, that's for tourists. The Rome of the neighborhoods is something else. The Romans come and go from work, after two hours by car, to return to their lives, go down to the tavern”, explains Dino, a friend of a militant Romanity, when he hears someone complain about the price of a glass of wine and pasta dish in a restaurant in the historic center.

“Pasolini was prophetic in the 1960s. He understood the sidereal distance between two cities that do not speak to each other. We are a city of a thousand islands. The Romans, I am fourth generation, we are lazy and walking to another neighborhood seems like a trip to us, ”Irene Ranaldi, urban sociologist and president of the Ottavo Colle Association (eighth hill), explains to El Confidencial. The name refers to this eighth hill that is the unknown periphery and that Irene and her association teach locals and foreigners. “With the pandemic we have made many visits to Romans who, unable to go elsewhere, have come to see their city. They are surprised to meet her. I often use Pasolini's writings as a reference”, he adds.

“What is Rome? Which one is Rome? Where does Rome end and where does it begin? Rome is without a doubt the most beautiful city in Italy, if not in the world. But it is also the ugliest, the most welcoming, the most dramatic, the richest, the most miserable (…) The wealth and the misery, the happiness and the horror of Rome are parts of a magma, a chaos. For the foreigner and the visitor, Rome is the city contained within its old Renaissance walls: the rest is a vague and anonymous periphery that is not worth seeing. (…) The Rome unknown to tourists, ignored by the bi-thinking, non-existent on maps, is an immense city”, collects a 1958 report by Pier Paolo Pasolini entitled 'Journey through Rome and its surroundings' included in his compilation book 'The City of God'. It is from 1958 and could be signed today.

The collection of stories and articles collected in this manuscript, all from between 1950 and 1973, are a spell in time. Pasolini's Rome, despite the changing skin of the city, despite the filmmaker's final weariness and disenchantment with a bourgeoisie that threatened the rogue and free soul of the city he loved to the point of tearing his life apart, is still there, in force, surviving the conviction of not being able to raise your voice for the privilege of being buried among marble.

a poem in jail


Pasolini, since he moved with his mother from Friuli to Rome one morning on January 28, 1950, fleeing from an alcoholic father who was left sleeping in bed, he lived in a city that he was always exploring. “Poorer than a cat in the Colosseum”, Pasolini wrote about his arrival in a capital that fascinated him from the first moment. That look at poverty would never leave her. He immersed himself in it, in that deep Rome, in its cocky dialect, in the borgates (neighborhoods) born from that idea of ​​fascism to recover the splendor of the capital of the Roman Empire. “Those neighborhoods are built on fascism. Mussolini wanted a boutique historic center to show off. The old houses are thrown away, the historic city, the empire's, is emptied to show it off. Its inhabitants are sent to the outskirts”, explains Ranaldi. Then the infection of the miserable Romans is extirpated from the great Rome. The city splits.

One of these new neighborhoods is Rebibbia, peripheral, on the side of a prison, a poor town embedded on the edge of the city. Pasolini wrote a poem in 1966, 'Poeta delle Ceneri', from which comes this fragment that recalls those years:

“We live in a house without a roof and without plaster,

a poor house, in the last suburb, near a prison.

In summer there was a blanket of dust, and a swamp in winter.

But it was Italy, a naked and rowdy Italy,

with its children, its women,

its smells of jasmine and poor soups,

the sunsets over the fields of the Aniene, the piles of rubbish:

and, as for me, my complete dreams of poetry ”.

Today there remains from that passage, in the Piazzeta, a plaque that recalls that house in which he lived, together with his father, who came to find them again, and his mother, Susana, a mourning figure, always on guard, who buried her husband and two unborn children with the cursed luck. On the terrace of what seems to have been his home there are clothes hanging and the music of some foreigners is playing. There is a humble bar nearby and a flea market two blocks away. And prison, today without the screams and desperate voices of the mothers who went there when the pandemic began to mourn the fate of their children locked up with an unknown virus from which they could not escape. What would Pasolini have narrated of those voices and those torn faces of these times?

The prisons in Rome were always on the outside. In Trastevere, then a popular neighborhood that the filmmaker loved, there is a prison, Regina Coeli, in which mothers and wives climbed the nearby and beautiful Gianicolo hill and shouted to communicate with their children and husbands. Roman soundtrack to tear the voice. Legend has it that if you haven't gone down the steps at the entrance to that prison you're not a true Roman. “With one foot in hell and the other in a brothel, leaving the stench of the poor as an inheritance to her son,” Pasolini writes about that genetic condemnation. "Where does Trastevere end and where does the boy begin?" he wonders in his story 'Boy and Trastevere'.


Pier Paolo was always interested in that, the reverse, the hidden, life in song. A Caravaggio of the 20th century. Both, the Milanese painter and the Bolognese filmmaker, discovered a city that was not theirs and portrayed it to the horror of their neighbors. That is why they were rejected in their time, because the Romans suffer Rome in silence, and both decided to portray their miseries, their ugly faces, the cruel instinct of this city full of so much beauty. “When Pasolini portrayed that Rome, it was the years of economic splendor, of the arrival in the houses of televisions and washing machines. People did not want to look at that reality. Yes, there is a similarity with Caravaggio”, explains Ranaldi.

the river of death

At number 178 Via Ostiense there is a river and a table with a tablecloth, two glasses and a kind of reliquary. “That night he didn't have dinner, Pelosi had dinner. He ordered some spaghetti with garlic and chili and a chicken with potatoes. Pasolini drank a beer,” explains Roberto Panzironi, 64, the owner of the Al Biondo Tevere restaurant where Pasolini last dined on November 1, 1975 before he was assassinated. He did it with Giuseppe Pelosi, his murderer?, at least the culprit in the sentence, who first said that he did it and then that he did not, leaving the doubt as to whether the Bolognese genius was murdered for sexual reasons, for a robbery, for homophobia, for defense or for being very uncomfortable that an Italian intellectual, close to communism, denounced the miseries of that corrupt and Christian Democrat Italy.

“He was an affable, polite man. He came with a lot of guys and with the staff of his movies. He spoke and people listened to him”, remembers a Roberto who once served him and who played the role of his father, serving him at the last supper, in the movie 'Pasolini', in which Willem Dafoe plays the filmmaker and writer. When he came with boys, did he openly show his homosexuality? "No, in those days that was impossible," he replies, watching the gray asphalt of the Tévere water go by. At the end of that flow, Pasolini died, beaten to death, on the beach of Ostia.

Pasolini always loved the river, the Tévere, in the days when that water was a beach, a barn and a road. “Until the early 1980s, there was life here, you saw boats and people bathed and fished under our terrace,” explains Roberto. The river was part of his films, his stories and his poems: “It stinks of sheets hung out on the balconies of the alley, of human excrement on the stairs that lead to the Tiber shore, of asphalt warmed by spring, but that heart it seems and disappears glued to the bumpers of trams, so far away that poverty and beauty are one thing”, writes the Bolognese.

The river is today a drainage that divides the city. There are no boats, nor young people who bathe in its nooks and crannies. There are some homeless encampments, runaway vegetation, mud, disused party barges, a chipped cycle track and, out, far from the open-air museum that is Rome at its center, where Hadrian's Mausoleum casts its shadow, the Tiber Island or the Ghetto, rubbish dumped in dunghills.

There is a lot of beauty, cubic and bizarre, in neighborhoods like Centocelle, Testaccio, Garbatella, Pigneto, Rebibbia…, but above all there is a lot of Rome, of a Rome that sees only a memory in the Colosseum or Piazza Navona. Pasolini became disenchanted because he thought that this was fading away, and perhaps that was his only mistake, believing that the soul of this city could be destroyed: “Before, the men and women of the suburbs did not feel any inferiority complex (…) They felt the injustice of poverty, but they were not envious of the rich. On the contrary, they considered them almost inferior, unable to adhere to their philosophy. Rome.