When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Tor Sapienza, The Dumping Ground Of Rome Catches Fire

This neighborhood on the Italian capital's outskirts has erupted in clashes between longtime residents and undocumented migrants. It is part of a long and toxic history.

Police vehicles in Tor Sapienza on Nov. 15
Police vehicles in Tor Sapienza on Nov. 15
Giacomo Galeazzi

ROME — For decades now, Tor Sapienza has been the place in the Italian capital to hide what wasn't meant to be seen. After World War II, it was confiscated German munitions; today, it's undocumented immigrants, squatters in abandoned buildings and illegally dumped waste. It is a neglected and toxic neighborhood, in more ways than one.

This little-known enclave on the eastern outskirts of Rome made national headlines last week after violent demonstrations erupted. Stones and flares were thrown by longtime residents at the local migrant center, and garbage cans set on fire at a nearby Roma camp. It was quickly dubbed a "land of fire" at the gates of Rome, though few asked how it came to be.

"Tor Sapienza was a ticking time bomb, and a situation like this had been brewing for a long time," says sociologist Domenico De Masi. "The poorest part of the population converged away from the city center, among the migrant centers and Roma camps which all eventually spun out of control."

De Masi, a professor at Rome's La Sapienza University notes that people have always come to the neighborhood to "escape from poverty in search of work. First it was from southern Italy, but now it is from Africa."

Inside the residential blocks on Viale Giorgio Morandi, about a hundred refugees are among that latest wave of migration. Before them, a century ago, immigrants came from Abruzzo and Calabria and houses were built in the 1920s around the 13th century tower.

Both central and local governments have considered Tor Sapienza something of a "non-place," falling between the cracks of local administrations. It was "almost officially made a ghetto," says Daniele Rinaldi, a local politician.

The list of ailments goes way back, but when another reception center for immigrants was opened, this time the people took to the streets — and they're not giving up.

"It's not enough that immigrants walk around the residence on Viale Giorgio Morandi naked and throw things off balconies. Nobody can sleep because of the loud music," says Antonella Simoni. When the first center opened in 2011, Rome's city council deemed it just "temporary accommodation."

But bureaucratic backlogs have meant that the asylum seekers have stayed indefinitely. "The city councils have never blocked national decrees," says Rinaldi. In short, because of choices that came from the top, Tor Sapienza was left to become a "slum" repository for what wasn't wanted from the rest of the city.

Strangers at home

Alongside the slaughterhouse, abandoned warehouses, junkyards and bingo halls are the dark avenues where both male and female prostitution runs non-stop. Even the number 508 bus had to be diverted — it was just too dangerous. The hedges have not been pruned in years, the streets aren't lit, and roads are closed because of the restructuring of public transport routes.

In via Salviati, in one of the most troubled Roma encampments, plastic taken out of the city's dumpsters is regularly burned in the open air, and a recent fire destroyed the warehouse of Rome's waste management agency.

The dark heart of Tor Sapienza is a housing complex whose ground-floor shops, garages and commercial premises have been illegally occupied by ethnic groups hostile to each other and the Italian residents around them. The migrant center that was attacked with stones and flares is now constantly guarded by police.

"We feel like strangers in our own homes, surrounded by immigrants, nomads, transsexuals, pickpockets, and drunks," says Tullio, a local resident.

Speaking at a recent meeting with Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino, another resident, Manlio said promises have gone unfulfilled too many times. "This time we won't be fooled," he said. "The refugees and vagabonds need to go. We don't want to be the dumping ground for Rome's problems."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


How A Xi Jinping Dinner In San Francisco May Have Sealed Mastercard's Arrival In China

The credit giant becomes only the second player after American Express to be allowed to set up a bank card-clearing RMB operation in mainland China.

Photo of a hand holding a phone displaying an Union Pay logo, with a Mastercard VISA logo in the background of the photo.

Mastercard has just been granted a bank card clearing license in China.

Liu Qianshan


It appears that one of the biggest beneficiaries from Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to San Francisco was Mastercard.

The U.S. credit card giant has since secured eagerly anticipated approval to expand in China's massive financial sector, having finally obtained long sought approval from China's central bank and financial regulatory authorities to initiate a bank card business in China through its joint venture with its new Chinese partner.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

Through a joint venture in China between Mastercard and China's NetsUnion Clearing Corporation, dubbed Mastercard NUCC, it has officially entered mainland China as an RMB currency clearing organization. It's only the second foreign business of its kind to do so following American Express in 2020.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the development is linked to Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting on Nov. 15 with U.S. President Joe Biden in San Francisco, part of a two-day visit that also included dinner that Xi had with U.S. business executives.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest