People walk in front of mirrors created by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto in the Garibaldi metro station.
People walk in front of mirrors created by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto in the Garibaldi metro station.
People are reflected on the ceiling of the Garibaldi metro station.
People are reflected on the ceiling of the Garibaldi metro station.

Naples - Commuting has never been so arty - taking the metro in Naples is an increasingly cultural experience with its ever-expanding network of “art stations” created by international designers.

For the price of a 1.3 euro (about R20) metro ticket, tourists and locals have access to 16 stations filled with 200 colourful works of art -- including sculptures, murals, mosaics and floor decorations.

Beneath the smog-filled streets and faded beauty of this bustling southern Italian city, officials boast of “an underground contemporary art museum” complementing the city's ultra-modern transport system.

“It is one of the most beautiful metro systems in the world,” said Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris.

At Toledo station, travellers descend into a tunnel clad in sparkling blue mosaic - like an underwater sea cavern - lit from above by a funnel of daylight pouring a rainbow of colours into a vast hall.

At the foot of the escalator is the installation Waves by Catalan artist Oscar Tusquets Blanca and Robert Wilson from the United States with a bas-relief of waves in a passageway lit with a line of LED lights.

Fuchsia-pink and lime-green tones dominate the University station, the only stop entirely designed by one artist - Anglo-Egyptian Karim Rashid - who used light boxes to create the illusion of floating figures.

Beyond the floor and walls bathed in light, two giant portraits are projected onto stairways: one features the sharp nose and piercing eyes of Italy's most famous poet Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy.

The other is of his beloved muse, Beatrice.

The architects, artists and designers behind the metro stations were hand-picked from around the globe by Achille Bonito Oliva, artistic coordinator for MetroNapoli, the company that runs the underground.

“The idea is for beauty and transportation to meet. We ask artists to create a work to become a part of the station,” he told AFP.

“We wanted to make what I call an 'obligatory' museum, where people are obliged to look at their surroundings. Here it's not about people going to museums; the museum travels along with the public,” he said.

In a city plagued by unemployment and poverty - ranked the worst place to live in Italy in a survey this week by the Il Sole 24 Ore business daily --”it is important to bring art into people's lives,” said Giannegidio Silva, head of MetroNapoli.

Officials inaugurated the latest installation of the project at the metro stop of the main Garibaldi railway station, a hub for the city's two metro lines which is expected to double passenger numbers from the estimated 200 000 who currently use the underground daily.

At the foot of the escalators, some 40 metres underground, Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto has created a wall of mirrors with photos of life-sized travellers going to and fro along the platform, standing in groups and conversing.

The 80-year-old artist, who was present at the inauguration, said he had long thought of creating something in a transport system.

“The travellers, the viewers, become a part of the work... it's a relationship between life and art, art and the station,” he said.

The project launched a decade ago with a budget of 1.5-billion euros, half of which came from the European Union.

Two more instalments are planned by 2015 - Duomo by Italy's Massimiliano Fuksas and Municipio by Portuguese winners of the prestigious Pritzker architecture prize Alvaro Sizo and Eduardo Souto de Moura. - AFP