Travelogue Part 5: On a Shopkeeper and a Statue

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Along with its plethora of piazzas and fountains, Rome also has an abundance of statues. These statues can be found in streets, piazzas, churches, and monuments. Most of them are beautiful Baroque or Renaissance pieces that represent the wonderful contributions Italy has made to art over the centuries. Some, however, time and the elements have been less kind to, leaving them weather beaten and unsightly. These statues add character and depth to the city; while there are numerous examples of its grandeur, the old and decrepit statues remind one of Rome’s age and all of the trials it has undergone. Romans typically mock the ugly statues, but one of these bedraggled works ended up being one of my favorite statues. Its name is Pasquino and it resides just outside of Piazza Navona near Via del Governo Vecchio.

Rome has not always been known for its freedom of speech. Back in the day, people could not always say what they pleased without suffering the consequences. (As many know this was probably difficult for Italians given their vivacious personalities and proclivity for chattiness). Such a restriction angered the Italians, but a feisty shopkeeper named Pasquino eventually found a loophole. He discovered that by writing out his criticisms and attaching them to the statue near his shop, he could voice his opinions anonymously and not be subject to the government’s wrath. Soon others followed suit and put their own criticisms on the statue and others throughout the city. These lively “conversations” criticized the things about Italy that voices dared not utter. Although government officials knew who was responsible for the small uprising they did not have enough proof to properly punish Pasquino. Thus the statue that spoke was named after the man who gave it its voice. Tourists can visit Pasquino today and see writings posted next to him courtesy of sentimental Italians who continue the tradition.

When I read this bit of history, I fell in love with the story immediately. To me it shows the Italian spirit. They are a people of great voice, and they did not let their government tell them what they could and could not say. As an American I often take the gift of free speech for granted. Italians were not as fortunate but they did not let that stop them from speaking out. That is one of the amazing things about humanity. No matter how people try to oppress us, our voices will find a way to be heard.

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