Sicilia Secunda!

It’s a fine morning in Rome-crisp, but still bright. These past few days, it really has begun to feel like fall. Usually by this time at home I’ve been treated to a full New England autumn filled with lingering walks and yardwork wrapped up in layers with sweaters galore. I miss the leaves decorating the trees and the crunch of autumn beneath my feet. On our trip yesterday to Ostia, we enjoyed a morning hike in the closest thing to wildlife less than an hour from Rome (we saw a family of deer!). Sturdy -looking pine cones dotted along the paths and-feeling a rush of nostalgia for home-I immediately needed to crush one with my boot. However, when I tried, I found that it was solid and heavy. These pine cones were not meant for crushing, but rather for lobbing at the head of someone you wanted to take out. Yes, fall is here, but no, it is not like the falls I have come to expect. The leaves fall, but don’t change color for the most part.  And while it is cold, I do not find myself toting around steaming mugs of tea just to stay cozy. It is in part because of these reasons that it doesn’t seem like my birthday is a mere three days away. How could it possibly be my birthday when it’s sunshiny, flowers bloom in the garden, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen my family? Speaking of my birthday, I have already received some cards and, though I’ve yet to open them, they already make me feel so warm and fuzzy! I’m sure after my birthday especially I’ll miss you guys! In the meantime, I’m still very much not caught up on my posts and best get back to Sicily!



Where I left off, we were in Syracuse for the night at the enchantingly cultish hotel. The next day, Tuesday, we explored the sights of Syracuse itself. Syracuse is one of those cities that really shows Sicily’s varied history. For example, we began the day admiring one Baroque piazza with its Cathedral. The church began as a Greek temple to Athena built in the 5th century BCE, became a cathedral in the 7th century Late Imperial Roman days CE, was converted into a mosque during the two centuries of Muslim rule, and reconverted into a Christian cathedral in the early 11th c. CE. Inside this cathedral you can see the columns from the Greek temple alongside simply gorgeous Byzantine mosaics done by Arab masters all wrapped up in a Baroque façade.




We spent some more time in the lovely urban area and the amazing museum of Syracuse. The museum was actually closed, but somehow our program director, Franco, got us in for two hours while we were completely alone in the archaeological museum! Even though the layout was a bit wonky at times, this was one of my favorite museums yet. They had so much inside! A lot of Medusa imagery (the first attested image of the gorgon!!!!!) and many Cybeles: these are just two of my favorite things!


075066 (this little unguent bottle is the same basic shape as the one I’m researching for my internship!)

We also got to explore some of the great early Greek sites! The advanced Greek class (which I am sadly not a part of this semester-sigh) sang poetry for us in an amphitheater and it was so gorgeous. At another part of the site, in the so-called Ear of Dionysius (as dubbed by the one and only Caravaggio on the run from the authorities!) they sang again and it echoed just beautifully. The Ear is actually an artificial limestone cave-an old quarry/water cistern. Legend says that the tyrant Dionysius I used the cave as a prison for political dissenters so that he could eavesdrop on any plans they might make, or that he used the perfect acoustics to amplify the tortured screams of his enemies. It’s funny that our class sang within the Ear because at one point in the war, prisoners were kept here in just abominable conditions. Legend goes that the prisoners of war all sang out Euripides together and their guards were so moved that they wept and let them go free.



We spent Wednesday in lovely Morgantina which is a seriously awesome archaeological site. I don’t have all that much to say in retrospect, but it was very important and very pretty. Random fact: the third century BC bath complex has one of the earliest examples of barrel vault arches (which is very strange considering that this was a random smallish city).


We ended our day gazing at the lovely mosaics! There is a house nearby which is just COVERED with mosaics called Villa Romana del Casale-it has the largest and most complex collection of Roman mosaics anywhere. It was built in the early fourth century outside present day Piazza Armerina and hosts room upon room of mosaics in the North African style. It includes such famous works as the “bikini girls” and the Great Hunt. This thing was just ridiculous-it’s like two hundred feet long and contains millions of tesserae! So big it’s completely impossible to even take a picture of the thing! It shows the hunting and transport of the wild animals which would be used in venationes in the arena.

bikini mosaic


This night did not include a beach, but rather a ramble through the woods and some really lovely star gazing. In Rome, the city is lovely, but the lights never let any stars shine through the light pollution. The sky remains a strange mix of dark while still being lit. So we were very excited to find that out in the country the stars are just lovely. I missed them. It always strikes me as painfully poetic that you just can’t take a good picture of stars; they can only be truly wondered at in person.




They started our “real work” last week with basically a huge scavenger hunt.  Cause we live real hard lives at the Centro. They split us up into groups of three and assigned us each an obelisk to find in the city.  My group was on it really intently in the beginning. We came out of the classroom with maps open and feet on our way to the nearest bus stop.  We got to our obelisk in pretty good time if I do say so myself (at 9:25, not to brag;).  We took the bus to the colosseum and then walked to our piazza.  We turned the corner and wow! It was a lot larger than I had imagined.  It turns out that it is actually the tallest obelisk in existence (not just in Rome!), the oldest in Rome, and the latest to be brought into Rome.  We turned the corner just as the sun was perfectly rising behind it which made for a pretty majestic picture. Especially when considering that obelisks were considered to be symbolic embodiments of the rays of sun.


The statue has four main inscriptions running around the base detailing how the obelisk got to its current location. 

It started out in the temple of Karnak in Thebes in the temple of Amun-Ra.  Literary sources told us that Augustus considered appropriating the obelisk in another of his shows of subjugation over Egypt, but that he ultimately considered its placement in the Sun temple to be too sacred.  He didn’t want to mess with that, or perhaps he considered the ridiculous cost that would be involved in transporting the massive stone to Rome.

Constantine the Great had no such qualms about removing the obelisk. The inscription around the base implies that it was the emperor’s wish to take away the obelisk from the pagan Egyptians who were using it for impious deeds, but I’m not too sure about that considering that Constantine may have been a sympathizer at this point, but he was still officially a pagan himself.  In any case, he wanted it to trick out the “New Rome” (Constantinople) he had founded with some sweet digs.  He thus moved the obelisk from Thebes to Alexandria with the intent of moving it to Constantinople eventually.

Image (I like how in this one it looks like the obelisk is bursting forth from the bowels of the earth.)

However, too bad for him, he died and never got around to moving it from Alexandria.

His son, Constantius II [Funny story- there was Constatius I whose son was Constantine I (the Great) who had Constans I, Constantius II, and Constantine II.  Somebody’s got an ego.] moved the obelisk from Alexandria to Rome. To do so he had to build this super intense ship with three hundred oars.  It was such a big deal that they mention it in the inscription. They rowed across the sea and up the Tiber to the Circus Maximus in 357 C.E..

The Circus Maximus itself was a giant metaphor for the universe with the temples to the sun and moon on either side and the repetitive circuits of the charioteers around the track.  The obelisk stood in the middle of the spina and was, yet again, a metaphor for the sun.  There is remained through the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century.  It stayed in pieces under the muck until it was excavated and moved to the Piazza Giovanni Laterano in the sixteenth century.


The statue of Marcus Aurelius was moved from this location to make room for what it is now appropriate to call the Lateran Obelisk.  It has all this pope and Borghese family symbolism going on.


So we were all really into our obelisk, one of us had some history with hieroglyphs and was trying to make them out, and we were also just really impressed with the size.  No one else was really stopping and we were joking like why aren’t they into this??

Then we turned the corner and realized that it was the back of the Lateran church that we had been looking at in the piazza…


Damn, am I right?

Also nearby was this really cool gilded mosaic thing which I couldn’t find an explanation for online: use your imaginations.


Here are a few pictures of my group around Rome after we had found our obelisk and started our long odyssey homeward (seriously it took many buses, metros, trams, hours,  and unhelpful Italians).





Walking tour, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, and Basilica di San Clemente

After living in Rome for three days with no direction, the professors finally came together and oriented us!  The day ran as all similar orientation days go, except we were walking around Rome so we didn’t care much that it was basically the same spiel.  After the morning meeting we went on neighborhood walk around Trastevere with our main advisers.  It was around two hours and very pleasant, we got to walk through areas of the park that I hadn’t explored yet along with the practical tips like where is cheapest to buy fruit and when the markets close.

I found out that the park which we’ve been enjoying is actually the largest park in Rome!  Here’s an inscription put up from when Paul V repaired this aqueduct which was put in by Trajan.  In the first line, Paul tags on the superlative “Optimus” onto his title as Pontifex Maximus (basically stating that he’s the best ever pope) which we all thought was pretty entertaining.



That second picture is of the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola built between 1585-8.  The first time I saw it was on my second night in Rome when we went out, but we seem to have walked past it a million times already.  And every single time be it day or night the smooth waters tempt me and I just want to jump in! (Un)Fortunately, there always seems to be a military Jeep parked nearby like the guards just know. [Edit: Apparently people jumping in was such an issue that they issued a military edict in 1707 specifically to stop that!]

Anyway, this is another example of work commissioned under Paul V. The fountain was supposed to be in celebration of his repairs on the Aqueduct Traiana that I mentioned earlier.  It marks the end of the Acqua Paola.  Before it reached this far, the poor residents of the Janiculum Hill would have to get their drinking water from the Tiber (believe me, you don’t want to go there).  To raise money he imposed a tax on wine which made the people pretty angry.  Which, I mean wine is good, but I’m sure the Tiber was just that much grosser back in the day so I don’t think they had their priorities straight.  Here you can see the numerous renderings of the Borghese crest-eagles on top of dragons supported by angels!


 (I don’t know why the first image is all drowned out and the second is all blue and yay…strange)

This is the view from just beyond the fountain (even better at night):


That evening we went out on a group excursion.  We all went to the Basilica di San Clemente which was ridiculously amazing.  It has three distinct layers of buildings within the same site all open at once.

The lowest open layer was a utilitarian building which they assume was a mint for coins because textual sources say there was one in the area during that period (1st century CE) and because there’s an actual stream running under the building!  Next door was built a multilevel domus (house).  In the domus there is a speleum for the cult of Mithras which still includes the altar!!! (We couldn’t take pictures so these are all from wikipedia). (That tiny white figurine creeping over the altar is a statue of Saint Peter found in the speleum and unrelated to Mithras).



Sometime in the fourth century after the Act of Tolerance, the lower level was filled in and the second story converted into the church.  Inside this church is an interesting mix of pagan and Christian themes.

Image In the right hand of the picture, you can see a spinning slab.  On one side is an older Roman inscription and the other side was reused as a Christian burial stone. The first side was all neatly done and the second scrawled on there.

In the eleventh century, the current church was erected and it wasn’t until quite recently that these excavations were carried out.

The top level of the church is simply fantastic.





And of course we just casually waited for our bus right next to the Colosseum. No big deal. This is my life right now.




First Adventures

My first full day in Rome was full of amazing adventures. 

I awoke to the sun gently spilling through our shutters. I had no idea what time it was, but I could hear people shouting and automobiles speeding-so my only clue that it was daytime was the sunlight.  When I looked at my watch I realized that I had slept well over twelve hours. I was nervous that the group of people with whom I had agreed to wander had already left. Luckily, their sleep deficits were apparently just as bad as mine and they had just gotten up as well. So off we went!

Crossing the Tiber felt immense. It’s so strange to think that such a mighty civilization grew out of that tawny water.  There were market tents set up all along the riverbanks under the bridge.  It must look breathtaking at night.

We wanted to get to the Pantheon or the Forum, but we hadn’t exactly planned out how to get there.  Me being me, I hung back and let the others figure out the map situation and followed where they led.  Because we didn’t know where we were going we ended up stumbling upon so many beautiful things. Isn’t that just the best way?  We would round a corner and oh look, it’s the Horologium Augusti.


Round another corner and here’s the Column of Marcus Aurelius (not to be confused with Trajan’s column…like we did for a second…what are we majoring in again?).



Eventually we started actually looking for the Pantheon, which was basically following all these cliché alleyways and directing ourselves with a compass to find the right path.  And find it we did!


Ahhh! It’s just so beautiful and wonderful!

Walking around the interior of the Pantheon again was one of those experiences where you’ve been walking and sweating under the baking Italian sun for hours amid all the noise of the city and suddenly you find yourself in this really quiet moment.  I doubt that entering a church in Italy will ever lose its effect on me.

For lunch we treated ourselves to traditional Italian fare at one of the restaurants overlooking the Pantheon.  The waiter was kind enough to get a picture of us all.


After the Pantheon, we moseyed on over to the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.  I was mostly attracted to the Fountain because it gave me a chance to wash my hands after lunch.  My impression of its beauty only really came after my using it to clean my hands.  This is shamefully awkward because the fountain is by Bernini. I know, right?




That night after going back to the Centro we ate dinner in the park and went out on the town for the night.  Trastevere in the dark is so lovely! There were people bustling everywhere, gathered around the fountain in front of the Basilica de Santa Maria in Trastevere.

It was one of those moments where you actually can comprehend that you’re in Rome.