~ Curious And Unusual ~
- 4 -

'No Dumping' Plaques

notice dated September 26th, 1727
(move the mouse cursor over the picture for a translation of the text)
A thorny problem for the city, as much serious as the floods described in the previous page, was the disposal of garbage.
Infact, up to the mid 1800s, for common people as well as for the servants of the rich, it was a general custom to get rid of the household's daily litter by taking it into the streets, or to a nearby square, and simply leaving it there.
Only when the pile of garbage reached a certain size, a cart would come and take it away, but weeks could pass before this happened!
On top of this, the city streets had their thick layer of mud and horse-dirt swept off only once every eight days; this job was carried out by jail prisoners who, at regular intervals, for this purpose were taken around Rome's streets in chains.
The large heaps of trash would attract many stray dogs and cats, and the so-called ammazzacani ("dog-killers", the archaic equivalent of dog-catchers) used to get rid of them by leaving there poisoned food: so these piles grew even larger, containing dead animals in decay.

a famous plaque in via Mario de' Fiori (not far from
the Spanish Steps), dated 1733; besides the ban,
it also indicates the nearby legal dumps

a ban dated June 17, 1764,
in vicolo della Torretta, Campo Marzio district
Among the many consequences of such terrible condition, the most direct problem was no doubt the nasty smell, which spread from the heaps a long way all around the surrounding streets, especially during the hot season.
Although the 18th century is not renowned for its hygienic standard, this habit must have caused indeed a very disturbing situation for those who dwelt in buildings next to these dumps.

In the late 1600s, a few notices that forbade to gather trash, carrying a threat of fines and corporal punishments for the offenders, had already appeared on the walls of some important churches, such as Sant'Agostino, San Carlo in via del Corso, San Teodoro, and others.
This deterrent likely proved effective, because during the mid 1700s, similar bans were issued concerning also the city streets, in particular the corners of rich buildings, where important families lived; the population was given notice of such bans by means of plaques. The text they carried forbade to gather litter in those places or, in more popular terms, to make a mondezzaro ("a dump"). Who issued these bans was the President of the Streets, a high officer (always a member of the clergy) in charge for the city's decorum; he entrusted the Master of the Streets with the duty of making sure that the ban was complied with.
a scanty text, roughly edited,
on this plaque hanging in via di Monserrato

plaque on the corner between
via Frattina and via del Gambero
Although the contents of these plaques were basically the same, the text was different, ranging in length from five or six scanty lines to almost twenty in the most prolix ones. Sometimes they were edited rather roughly (see the sample above), but in those years the people who could read were still very few.

Therefore, from 1717 to 1771, on the walls in the historical centre, a great number of plaques appeared, bearing the aforesaid admonishment not to leave garbage by the spot where they hung. Since in most cases these corners belonged to rich buildings where important families dwelt, we may reasonably think that the latter may put some pressure on the President of the Streets, so to make him issue a ban by their own houses. The same plaques also stated the penalties applied in the case of offence: these could consist in a money fine, in a personal arrest, and even in corporal punishment. The type of penalty and its severity were freely decided by the same President of the Streets.

The aim of these multiple sanctions was to punish both the instigator and the actual offender: the latter (often a servant) was usually subject to corporal punishment, whereas the former (the master) would have to pay the hefty fine, as more than one plaque reads: with regard to the fine, the father will be held responsible for his sons, and the master for his servants.
plaque in via dei Cappellari,
by the Arch of St.Margherita

plaque by the church of St.Theodore, bearing
a threat of excommunication for offenders
Furthermore, in order to convince the population to report the names of those who left their garbage in the streets, some bans included the rule by which one part of the fine payed by the culprit would be given to the accuser, whose name was to remain secret.

To keep the streets clean next to churches, instead, the bans relied on the sacredness of the place. One of the oldest plaques still in place, behind the Roman Forum, as a penalty for those who dared leave waste of any kind, or cause nasty smell in front of the church of St.Theodore and its precincts, even bore excommunication.

With regard to corporal punishment, instead, up to the early 1800s those who committed minor offenses, which included having made a dump, were subject to tugs of the rope, a cruel torture commonly adopted by the papal justice, which consisted in tying the culprit by his wrists to a pulley, and then tug him a number of times, sometimes causing the dislocation of his shoulder bones. Obviously, all this was performed publicly, in order to carry out the punishment and to admonish the rest of the population, at the same time. In several streets and squares stood tall poles, for this very purpose, no trace of which remains today, fortunately.

The bans remained active for an even longer time, i.e. until the Papal State fell (1870); the city administrators applied the relevant sanctions so pedantically that dialect poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli wrote one of his ironical sonnets about them, adding among the footnotes the following witty remark:

judicial pole, with a pulley at the top,
in the no longer existing Giudia Square,
by the Jewish Ghetto (etching by Giuseppe Vasi)

« Still today these bans made of stone, which have turned blacker than the writing they bear, may cause some servants to curse those who never taught them the alphabet. »


Pagà dieci scudacci de penale
Io pover'omo che nun ciò un quadrino!
Io che nemmanco posso beve vino
Antro che quanno vado a lo spedale!

Eppuro me toccò a buttà un lustrino
Pe ffamme stenne drent'ar momoriale
La raggione da disse ar Tribbunale
De le Strade, indov'è quell'assassino.

Je ce dicevo: « Monziggnore mio,
Quanno lei trova er reo, voi gastigatelo:
Ma er monnezzaro nun ce l'ho ffatt'io. »

E ssai che m'arispose quer Nerone?
« Questo nun me confìnfera: arifàtelo:
Ch'io nun vojo senti ttante raggione ».


To pay a bloody ten-crown fine!
A poor man like me, without a penny,
Who cannot even afford to drink wine,
Except when I go to hospital!

And I also had to waste a shilling
For having somebody write down on a paper
My reasons, to be upheld at the Streets Tribunal
Where that foe works.

In those papers I wrote: « My Lord,
When you find the culprit, punish him:
But it wasn't me who made the dump. »

And do you know what that tyrant replied to me?
« It's not my business: do that again yourself:
I dont want to hear excuses ».
Giuseppe Gioachino Belli - April 18, 1834

In very recent years, in Ponte and in other historical districts a few new plaques that mimic the old ones have started to appear again, as well as replicas of original bans.
Obviously, today they are but a humorous attempt by the local dwellers to prevent litter and dog dirt from being left by their houses, ...with little success, as the picture on the left clearly shows.

Some bad habits are really hard to get rid of!

(← left and above ↑) modern fake plaque
in vicolo del Leonetto... not very effective!


(NOTE: the original text is shown without a translation)

   'no dumping' notices for church precincts

Sant'Agostino - July 6th, 1646 - via dei Pianellari (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
Trinità dei Pellegrini - September 25th, 1688 · June 22nd, 1712 - p.zza Trinità dei Pellegrini (Rione Regola)
San Teodoro - July 17th, 1699 - via di San Teodoro (Rione Campitelli)
San Teodoro - August 7th, 1703 - via di San Teodoro (Rione Campitelli)
San Carlo al Corso - May 9, 1748 - via del Grottino (Rione Campo Marzio)
San Carlo al Corso - January 29, 1762 - via del Grottino (Rione Campo Marzio)

   'no dumping' notices for public streets

May 26, 1717 - via di Sant'Eustachio (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
September 26, 1727 - via Monte della Farina (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
January 20, 1730 (the ban is dated January 13, 1723) - via dei Chiavari (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
July 3, 1732 - piazza San Salvatore in Lauro (Rione Ponte)
September 9, 1732 - vicolo della Volpe (Rione Ponte)
May 11,1733 - via del Teatro Pace (Rione Parione)
July 7, 1733 - via dei Lucchesi (Rione Trevi)
July 14, 1733 - via Mario de' Fiori (Rione Campo Marzio)
August 14, 1733 - via dei Cappellari (Rione Parione)
August 14, 1733 - arco di Santa Margherita (Rione Parione)
April 9, 1735 - via dei Lorenesi (Rione Parione)
November 12, 1735 - vicolo del Bologna (Rione Trastevere)
November 12, 1735 - piazza Mignanelli, inside Mac Donald's (Rione Campo Marzio)
February 7, 1736 - via del Leone (Rione Campo Marzio)
May 11, 1740 - via del Collegio Capranica (Rione Colonna)
September 17, 1740 - via Zucchelli (Rione Colonna)
December 20, 1740 - via dell'Arancio (Rione Campo Marzio)
March 1, 1741 - via dei Pettinari (Rione Regola)
June 22, 1741 - via di San Salvatore in Campo (Rione Regola)
September 7, 1741 - via dei Leutari (Rione Parione)
October 26, 1741 - via delle Carceri (Rione Ponte)
May 16, 1742 - vicolo Sciarra (Rione Trevi)
June 28, 1742 - vicolo del Piombo (Rione Trevi)
July 4, 1742 - via dei Farnesi (Rione Regola)
August 1, 1742 - via del Collegio Romano (Rione Pigna)
February 9, 1743 - via di Sant'Ignazio (Rione Pigna)
July 16, 1744 - piazza della Gensola (Rione Trastevere)
July 23, 1744 - via Lata (Rione Pigna)
April 5th, 1746 - via Angelo Brunetti (Rione Campo Marzio)
June 20, 1746 - via in Publicolis (Rione Sant'Angelo)
July 8, 1748 - via Borgognona (Rione Campo Marzio)
July 23, 1748 - piazza Montevecchio (Rione Ponte)
August 6, 1748 - via Lata (Rione Pigna)
May 17, 1749 - via del Grifone (Rione Monti)
July 2, 1751 - via dei Pompieri (Rione Regola)
July 24, 1752 - via della Madonna dei Monti (Rione Monti)
February 26, 1753 - vicolo della Torretta (Rione Campo Marzio)
March 16, 1753 - vicolo de' Burrò (Rione Colonna)
May 25, 1753 - largo dei Lombardi (Rione Campo Marzio)
July 24, 1753 - via de' Fornari (Rione Trevi)
August 14, 1753 - arco di Santa Margherita (Rione Parione) some parts of text are covered
January 25, 1754 - piazza delle Coppelle (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
October 23, 1755 - vicolo della Cancelleria (Rione Parione)
August 9, 1757 - via di Santa Maria in Via (Rione Trevi)
March 31, 1758 - via della Dogana Vecchia (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
April 5, 1759 - piazza Massimi (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
September 8, 1759 - via di Monserrato (Rione Regola)
September 17, 1760 - via di Porta San Sebastiano (Rione San Saba)
May 22, 1761 - via di Montoro (Rione Regola)
June 5, 1761 - vicolo della Campanella (Rione Ponte)
October 19, 1761 - via di San Giacomo (Rione Campo Marzio)
September 24, 1762 - piazza Costaguti (Rione Sant'Angelo)
February 14th, 1963 - via della Lupa (Rione Campo Marzio)
June 22, 1763 - via della Vite - (Rione Colonna)
December 30, 1763 - vicolo della Luce (Rione Trastevere)
December 30, 1763 - piazza in Piscinula (Rione Trastevere)
April 15, 1764 - vicolo dell'Umiltà (Rione Trevi)
May 10, 1764 - arco della Chiesa Nuova (Rione Parione)
June 4, 1764 - via delle Coppelle (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
June 15, 1764 - vicolo del Cinque (Rione Trastevere)
June 17, 1764 - vicolo della Torretta (Rione Campo Marzio)
August 10, 1765 - via di Santa Aurea (Rione Regola)
August 30, 1765 - via di Monterone (Rione Sant'Eustachio)
May 24, 1766 - via Borgognona (Rione Campo Marzio)
May 24, 1766 - largo dei Librari (Rione Regola) text partly unreadable
July 18, 1766 - via Frattina (Rione Colonna)
August 14, 1770 - via dei Cappuccini (Rione Colonna)
October 21, 1771 - vicolo di San Francesco a Ripa (Rione Trastevere)
October 30, 1771 - via Canova (Rione Campo Marzio)

date not stated - vicolo de' Maroniti (Rione Trevi)

November 25, 17..7 date partly unreadable - piazzetta del Fico (Rione Ponte) some parts of text are missing
date unreadable - via del Teatro Marcello (Rione Campitelli) text partly unreadable

   modern plaques and replicas

December 30, 2003 - vicolo del Leonetto (Rione Ponte)
December 30, 2000 - via del Cancello - (Rione Ponte)
September 9, 174... modern replica, actual date unknown - via Margutta (Rione Campo Marzio)