Welcome to a series of illustrated articles in which I’ll show you the original filming locations of the classic Italian film Ladri di biciclette (known in the English-speaking world as The Bicycle Thief or Bicycle Thieves). Although this film was made nearly 70 years ago, almost all of its shooting locations in the city of Rome are still recognizable; indeed, most of them have barely changed. There’s a reason why they call Rome the ‘Eternal City’.
Ladri di biciclette is an Italian Neorealist film from 1948, directed by Vittorio de Sica. It follows the story of Antonio, an impoverished bill sticker, as he desperately searches the streets of Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will not be able to keep his job. Neorealism is a cinematic movement whose adherents attempt to represent the lives of ordinary people in as realistic a manner as possible. One of its principles is to film in real locations rather than in studios. In keeping with this principle, Ladri di biciclette was filmed almost entirely on the streets of Rome.
The guide is structured as follows:
1. Antonio’s neighbourhood and the visit to the fortune-teller
2. The journey to work
3. The theft of the bicycle
4. Searching the markets
5. Following the old man
6. The church and the river
7. The thief’s neighbourhood
8. The climax
I am not an expert on Rome, and most of the information I present here is inspired by the work of other writers and bloggers. The most useful survey of the locations that I know of is Robert S.C. Gordon’s book on Bicycle Thieves for the BFI Film Classics series. Christopher Wagstaff’s book Italian Neorealist Cinema: An Aesthetic Approach (2007) is also very useful. Both of these books have fascinating ideas about the significance of topography to the film, and I can recommend them to those who would like to go beyond the merely factual material that I present here. I should also mention the website Tesori di Roma, which identifies a couple of sites very precisely. Using these works, I was able to find the exact locations of most of the film’s scenes by using Google Streetview to hunt for for identifiable landmarks. I’m sure I’m not the first person to do this, but since I couldn’t find anything similar on the web, I decided to create this website as an act of knowledge dispersal. If you see anything incorrect in these articles or have extra information, don’t hesitate to post a comment.
Some important warnings: I have never visited any of these sites in person, and I have no insider knowledge of the neighbourhoods of Rome. If you plan to visit these sites I take no responsibility for your safety – do your own research before going there. Also, remember that some of these sites may be private residences so please be respectful and don’t annoy the owners.
The screenshots in the articles are from the superb Criterion Collection DVD of Bicycle Thieves; if you’re thinking of purchasing a copy of the film, this is an excellent choice. Other DVD and Blu-Ray options are described in this comparison article.
I hope you enjoy the site.
Associate Professor of Theatre and Film Studies
Fountain School of Performing Arts