The very word Graffiti comes from the Italian word for ‘scratchings’, and there have been examples of graffito in Rome since the city’s earliest days.
Which makes the discovery of Space Invaders graffiti on the Viale Vaticano somehow both heart-warming and hilarious.
‘Tags’ are everywhere in modern Rome – in fact, the Metro trains are adorned with more graffiti than even the celebrated subways of New York.
As you roll in from the airport to the Termini, the first things you see of Rome are not ancient ruins but housing estates adorned with tribal tattoos and spray-can sonnets.
But as I say, there’s nothing new in that .. in fact, the world’s oldest example of written Latin was carved into the lapis niger in the Forum in 575 BC.
And then there are the scurrilous scratchings on walls outlining the prostitution, corruption and political skulduggery of some of the city’s leading lights.
Or at Palatine Hill, the famous graffiti showing a man (“Alexamenos”) worshipping a horse-headed god on a cross – a parody of Christian worship in the early days of Christianity.
Of course, there are some even more famous graffiti artists – Michelangelo and Raphael scratched their names into the ruins of Nero’s Domus Aurea as well as creating less ephemeral works of art.
Which brings us to modern times, and a French artist who calls himself “Invader”.
In his 20s, this Paris-born artist began placing mosaics in public spaces in his native France – then, by the late 1990s, he’d spread his works (always based on the eight-bit pixellated characters from 70s and 80s video games) to cities around the world.
2010 it was Rome’s turn – and within a year, nearly 70 Space Invader mosaics had been installed across the city.
There are none in or on the Vatican itself – but this one, on the Viale Vaticano, is close .. it is actually across the street from the Vatican Museum.
I drew attention to it on Facebook when I took this photo in 2015, and some of my more aggressively atheist friends drew connections between “aliens from outer space” and what one called “sky pixies”.
I thought that was a tad unfair – I reckon everyone is entitled to worship whoever and however they choose (even if I don’t share their faith).
But the juxtaposition did, I have to admit, raise a wry smile.
I’m not sure how many of the 66 Invaders remain – but I’d like to think that at least some are still casting their eyes / antenna / whatever over the city ..
Dah duh-dun-dun Dah duh dun-dun …