How an Eternal City Became an Infernal City

by Tatiana Jourdan

Many of us have heard about the Mafia in Italy, but how many of us actually know the 5 W’s in regards to the Mafia? We have been travelling around Italy for the past month, between the Tuscany region down to Capri, and have been seeing much of the culture in doing so. One of the main things we saw in Rome, that I think we can all agree on, is the absolute dominance that the Mafia has on trash. But before I get into that, let’s dive into how the Mafia became what it is today. 

The Mafia that we all know is the Sicilian Mafia, otherwise known as Cosa Nostra of Sicily. This gang does not use the word Mafia to represent itself, but Cosa Nostra which stands for ‘our thing’ as it represents their ideals. This group among 2 other groups all started to develop between 1500 and 1800. There are 2 other groups that were created in the 20th century, and they are all still heavily active in Italy. It is important to note that the Mafia is much of the time divided, and they will kill each other if necessary if there are issues on territory for example. The Sicilian Mafia expanded overseas and joined other criminal groups to form new groups, such as the American Mafia. The other four groups also operate overseas and have formed less well-known groups in Canada, Australia, Brazil, etc. The Mafia gained such success as it was the only organized system at the time to whom people could refer to if they needed something. The issue behind the Mafia, is that they have power everywhere, and have unbeatable rates. An example is when many foreign and Italian firms used the mafia to throw away waste near Napoli. “The police dismantled a network that has been importing and burying toxic sludge in the Acura area for years”(Mafia Waste). This would cause serious problems to nearby residents that will be dying of cancer in a couple of years. Due to this and many other examples of the harm the Mafia has caused, people hope that one day it will be overcome. 

Let’s get an idea on how the Cosa Nostra started in Sicily. In 1860 Sicily became part of Italy, which people were happy about as it would create more investment which would lead to more job opportunities and more money. At that period of time, Italy had to prove itself to other countries as a nation, and didn’t have time to keep the population safe from bandits and vandals. To protect themselves, people resorted to gangs. Gangs had one advantage: they were able to keep people safe in multiple places at once without needing to be everywhere, so if people messed with their clients, they would be messed with by the gangs shortly after. This concept worked out, as the gangs protected the weak and powerless, but it also protected those that did not want that protection, and that is where the problems started. The gangs started doing other stuff around the island of Sicily to make more money, and ended up running about half of the island. This gang became known as the Mafia. It was originally there to protect the population and do what the government did not care to do. The word Mafia has changed meaning overtime and is now used to represent crime organizations. The Mafia is defined as an organized international body of criminals. This does not mean only one organization, but a bunch of loosely associated clans called families, where each member is kept in line by the honor of residing in that family, and Omertà, the code of silence. 

Living in Rome for a month has allowed us to see how the Mafia expresses its power and discontent against the government. For some context, Rome’s mafias are becoming like the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, the Camorra and ‘NDrangheta, as it starts getting into drug trafficking. One of them, the Casamonica clan, is one of the most powerful in Rome. They are a family-based mafia group, which means that they are different groups that are bonded together by blood ties and have a strict control over ‘their’ territory. Their main problem is corruption, but they still follow Omertà and non-collaboration between victims of crimes. The closest encounter we have had to them and to the Roman Mafia is with garbage. 

Walking around in the streets of Rome, every tourist will notice the piles of trash on the side of the street. Most tourists would think it is because Rome has a poor waste management system, but it is in fact due to the Mafia. The simple fact is that for years, organized crime syndicates have been running the Italian capital’s waste management system, known as AMA. The mayors of Rome are unable to control this due to the layers of corruption. Such corruption can be seen in their aim at controlling the allocation of public funds in the private sector through the use of bribery, extortion, violence, among other illicit practices (Mafia Capitale). The Mafia that used to run the cleaning companies used fake management companies that ran contracts for legitimate sanitation workers. When they got purged, the sanitation workers protested the new contracts as they have more rigorous working conditions and have to properly separate recycle and garbage in waste centers. Until this situation gets taken care of, by hiring extra workers for example, the garbage will keep piling up and the smell will continue to infest the city, making the Eternal city more of an Infernal city. 

We have not been able to experience how the other Mafia around Italy control their territory. The Camorra in Naples is more invested in the drug trafficking and money laundering abroad, but still has a presence that we have not been able to see. This could be because we stayed into the touristy part of town, but it may be more prevalent in the suburbs of Naples. Controlling the water is one of the  methods they use in the South, just like the garbage in Rome. Our next steps, as bridgers of cultures, is to experience other cities in Italy and see the influence the Mafia has had to the culture of each region and how the people in these regions identify themselves. 

About the Author

Tatiana Jourdan is a Junior at Colorado State University. She is majoring in Zoology and has three minors in Global Environmental and Sustainability, Business, and French. She wants to become a wildlife veterinarian, helping in the protection and the well being of wild animals. Going to Italy was her opportunity of exploring another culture. She has been to France many times and going on this study abroad was a chance for her to explore a culture similar to hers and see how the Italian population differs from that of the French. She is thankful to have had the opportunity to go to Italy, meet amazing people on the program, understand what makes Italy so unique and overall learn more about herself through that experience. 


“’Mafia Capitale’: Judicial and Symbolic Constructions of the New Italian Corruption.” Taylor & Francis,

“Mafia Waste Poisons the Countryside.” The Guardian Weekly.

Nadeau, Barbie Latza. “Mafia Holds Rome Hostage-With Garbage.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 2 Aug. 2016,

Picture of street trash:

Picture of Italian map:


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