The tradition of talking statues began in the Sixteenth century. Citizens fed up with corrupted officials and with the hypocrisy of the Church hung satirical poems from the neck of selected statues, denouncing the misdeeds of those too powerful to be accused by official means. The signs were usually placed during nighttime: while police rushed to remove them as soon as they were discovered, their content always managed to reach and amuse everyone.
When the talking statues – always led by the “Pasquino” one – began denouncing the Pope Benedict XIII himself, authorities had to act more harshly. The initial idea of removing the statues and dumping them into the Tiber river was quickly retired as soon as the people announced (via another pasquinata, of course) to be ready to start a civil war to defend them. Vatican guards were then stationed 24 hours a day to prevent anyone from posting more pasquinate – but Romans simply switched to other statues, until it was clear that no amount of surveillance would deter them.
Thus, Pasquino and its colleagues keep talking to this day. After a renovation in 2009, citizens are kindly requested not to touch the ancient statue itself but post their lamentations (often looking more like laser-printed rants than fine poems, unfortunately) on a new special board built for this purpose in the basement of the statue. And so, one of the smartest traditions of Rome keeps living on…