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.



Sicilia Prima

Ah, where to begin?! It’s been ever so long since I updated. It’s strange to think that in this past month I’ve spent a week in Sicily, a week in Venice and Florence, and a week in midterm mode! I had decided to try to stick to the highlights for brevity, but an inability to condense an entire week of pretty much nonstop insane experiences into one post might has caused me to expand my bounds. Here is the first installment of who knows how many on our week in Sicily.

We left Rome for our first day in Paestum (in Calabria) in a bit of a downpour. It poured harder than I’d ever seen it in Rome all through that day, which is funny because I had only gone back up and grabbed my real raincoat at the last minute. Usually if I’m prepared for the rain, as I’ve come to realize, it will inevitably clear up to become a roasty 80 degrees.


Paestum was really an amazing site, however, we were all soaked through and shivering and just desperate to go inside rather than gawk at the amazing temples all around us; I felt a bit guilty about that. Once were inside the museum it was really nice. I saw the Tomb of the Diver there!


I was impressed enough just at the museum itself and hey! Tomb of the diver, wow, but then our 60 year old professor in charge wove some heartbreakingly sad story about how maybe you can see evidence of some romance in the frescoes. Perhaps the young man died and is now going to rejoin his comrades and lover who have been waiting in death at the banquet for him to come to them. All the sobs.

He’s like, I’m here guys-I finally made it.


And then his dear comrade is seated alone waiting for him, looking up when he approaches…


It was so worth the rain.

That night, at our hotel, we experienced our first “Franco Surprise!” Franco is our program director and one of the most well-connected people I know. His surprises happened at least once a day over the trip and usually included swimming or wine of some sort. This first night, he showed us to this wondrous beach.

It was all the best of Italian beaches-warm, so salty, and with spectacular views. It extended so far out without dropping off. Franco had to keep telling us to come back in because it was so tempting to just keep going. The mermaid in me was pleased.

After a delicious dinner pairing the freshest local seafood, homemade pasta, and the worst house wine I’ve tasted in a while, a bunch of us played cards and ventured down to the water in the moonlight (a tradition I practiced almost every night of our trip). While we were by the water, fireworks began going off in the distance.

Day two was a bit of a snooze except for the part when we SAW THE RIACE FREAKING BRONZES!



For those who aren’t art history/classics geeks, these are two bronze statues that were dug out of the sea. They date from 460-450 BC (prime dates for Greek sculpture) and contain clay that places their creation in Argos. They were found off the coast of Calabria perhaps sailing from Greece to Rome. They show an artistic transitional period between the archaic and classical styles called severe. They have inlaid eyes of ivory and limestone, silver teeth, copper nipples and lips;). It’s just amazing that they’ve survived!


Image(I like the restorers in this one-they’re all thinking ‘how fancy is this moment?!’)

Day three began with a trip on the ferry from the mainland to Sicily. I love the ferry!


Monday was also the day in which we got to visit the prettiest place ever-Taormina!


019 021(what a DREADful hotel!)

I went for a few days in high school as part of the Italy trip and I was so happy to go back. Just. Ugh. How is any place this beautiful every day? I know I’ve already mentioned that for my Latin text, we’ve been reading the Thyestes. Well, in honor of the lovely theater in Taormina, we performed selections from the Latin and English translations.


We began on the stage itself until we were kicked off and finished in the orchestra pit. A surprising number of people also in the theater stuck around and sat just to watch us which was pretty cool. It’s good (and surprising) to know that love of the classics lives on enough for random strangers to sit and listen to something they don’t understand in the baking sun for over half an hour.

For lunch we were on our own in the town. I had been speaking to the professors as we started wandering and ended up eating with them. We had one of the best meals EVER. We started with octopus salad and raw swordfish sliced with olive oil and Sicilian lemons. I had the traditional pasta norma and out of all the pasta norma I was served in Sicily (I swear it comprised about 5 meals), this was hands down the absolute best. They had this special dried ricotta cheese to sprinkle on it…so good. For dessert we had the local version of this delicious desert that translates to “cheesecake.” We had the same thing at dinner that night 50 miles away and it was completely different. After we had finished, Franco told us that he knew we weren’t going to drink at lunch, but it’s Taormina after all so why not some grappa? Thus grappa we drank.


We finished our sites for the day in Syracuse mountain-goating at the above-pictured Castle of Euryalus! This site was never  actually a castle, but a really cool fort.

The hotel we stayed at this night was all new and big and pretty. The rooms were separate villa houses and it had a pool! There was also only three other people there so it looked like a weird cult. At first I was disappointed that we had a pool and not the beach, but late that night while sitting beside the quite excitingly lit up pool, we found out that the beach was only a ten minute walk away! Hooray for every night at the beach!


Thus ends Part One of the Sicily Saga.

Playing Catch-Up

At this point, I’m roughly in time with what has been going on with my life. Unfortunately, this also means that I have neglected quite a few amazing days and outings. So this post is a sloppy attempt to make up for my oversight.


It’s been quite impossible to keep on track of all the stories I want to tell simply because they keep us ever so busy here at the Centro. I also realize that I’ve never given an explanation of my class time.


My week usually begins with an early breakfast followed by a lecture and a half-day trip. These trips run from 8:30 or 9 to lunchtime:1. After lunch I’ll have a Latin class where we discuss the ridiculously, heart-stoppingly amazing Thyestes. Seriously, if you have not read Seneca’s Thyestes and you are interested in a good time for all involved, get on that. Tuesday is for full-day excursions. These are always really cool because we get to see so much, but also really intense because they shove so much material into one day and the day lasts from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m..

On our first week, we covered Etruscan sites. Below are pictures from my favorite moments through the day:


Cerveteri is the contemporary name for the ancient site of Caere. We got to go into the ancient necropolis where you can see many massive tumuli. Here I am totally respecting the sanctity of a funeral bier with a friend.


Yet another picture of Cerveteri (I was obsessed with this place), the Tomb of the Reliefs! This tomb was quite a bit later than the others and it stood out for its crazy detailed carvings of everyday items. It’s important to know that these tumuli were not built, but rather carved out of the bedrock in the ground! So all the architectural details are merely aesthetic.


Although Etruscan temples were composed of wattle and daub type materials and thus little is left, we saw the IMMENSE podium of the so-called ara della regina. In this picture, I’m standing in one tiny, little corner of the podium.


On our second Tuesday trip, we explored sites in the Alban hill region like Lavinium (which was a real place!)

We spent a lot of time with a 7th century tomb that later ancients knew as the tomb of Aeneas and a nearby site of thirteen altars. Our guide would not stop talking about tufo.


Another high point in the day was the museum at Nemi which used to house the two pleasure boats (I think we all know what that means) of Caligula that Mussolini drained the lake to recover. At the Centro we roll call using the emperors to make sure everyone is on site. Aw, I know, we’re so cute. My emperor is the gratifyingly demented Caligula. So I had a bit of a freak out in this museum. I’d like to think I was overcome by Caligula’s demeanor:


In these wonderfully flattering photos I am enthused both by the size of a nail and by a lead pipe which was stamped with Caligula’s name in the genitive (this is the possessive case-so the pipe says hey I’m Caligula’s!).

We ended this Tuesday with a bit of a ramble up to the sanctuary of Diana, a truly breathtaking site.


This whole region was just desperately beautiful actually.


Although the area would have been quite metropolitan in its hey-day, I love its current look, as if Diana, goddess of the wilds, took back her sanctuary with her own flair.

These are just a few of the remarkable things we’ve seen on these Tuesday trips. We spend the day running about and are, needless to say, tremendously ready for dinner on those nights. And I don’t know whether its actually that much better than the already marvelous food they serve us or whether we’re just that much more eager, but it always seems like Tuesdays are the best for food!

This brings us to Wednesdays. These are generally calm and easy days to give us time to recover. I have a lecture in the morning, my internship for three hours, and another lecture. Thursday is a duplicate of Monday.

Fridays are dedicated to art history site trips. We’ve gone on four thus far and I always enjoy them immensely. Unlike all my other outings for my Ancient City course, which comprise of all 35 people, only 14 people are in Art History so the crowds are much more manageable and you can easily get up close and personal with the art. 

But I think I’ll talk about all the marvelous things we’ve seen in another post because this is getting much too long! Ciao!

San Pietro in Montorio, the Tempietto, and the Villa Farnesina

These three main sights formed the game plan for our first set of sight visits. And if it seems like a lot to get done in 3 ½ hours then you’d certainly be right!  A lot of people were on the fence about which classes to take, but I simply can’t see after having seen these sights how any of them decided to drop the course!

We could easily have devoted the entire day to any of the three sites.  With this in mind, I was very impressed with our professor on the trip. He was able to give interesting information in a way that made it easy to listen to him, view the work, and take notes all at the same time.

Here’s the outer façade of the Basilica della San Pietro in Montorio. I won’t go into that much detail to bore everyone, but I thought it was pretty sweet. If I had just gone to look I would have thought: simple, bright, that’s nice and moved on. But with all the background information and the detailed looks we gave the structure, I actually became really impressed with the church (which is funny because I didn’t think I was that into Early Ren.).


Inside we focused on this nice by Sebastiano which showed ridiculously good proportions/ use of light.  If you opened the church door, the sun shining through would create the shadows that he had included in the work.  Shivers!  This guy also made up his own technique using oils on top of plaster that no one else could ever figure out. What a bad ass.

Image(Not my picture, it was impossible to take one in the church because the fresco is so glossy)

In the courtyard of the church is what is called the Tempietto (Little Temple), but our professor made a compelling case on why it should instead be called a Matyrium in honor of Saint Peter’s martyrdom.  The columns were actual ancient ones which were mad hard to find in matching sets when Bramante built it in the very early 16th century.  Apparently, Bramante may have been inspired to create a Roman version of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  He wouldn’t have seen the original, but the Dome of the Rock was often misidentified on ‘maps’  as the H.S.. So a mosque probably inspired the design of a Christian martyrium-I like that.


Thirdly, we walked to the Villa Farnesina.  The excessively wealthy banker (seriously, he basically bought his way into the pope adopting him into his family because he had the most money of anyone, anywhere) Chigi commissioned Peruzzi to create the country villa pretty much contemporary with the Tempietto’s inception (around 1505ish? It’s hard to date).  Although it’s now in the middle of the city, back in the day Trastevere used to be in the wilds outside of Rome.  Pope Julius II made a road way out there and asked his friends to buy up the surrounding property. Chigi was like sure, I could use some otium in my life.


Chigi, clever businessman that he was, hired competing artists in order to get them to really make the best products possible. Sebastiano and Raphael’s mutual hatred led to this stunning fresco which depicts Galatea rushing away from the Cyclops Polyphemus.  I won’t geek out about it, but I just have to mention her gaze.  Many people claim that she’s supposedly looked back at Polyphemus, but that does not make any sense when you actually look at her. Instead, she’s looking above at an Eros in the clouds.  Chigi had the scene painted when he believed himself about to be married.  The gaze between Galatea and the eros is supposed to speak of divine love-the joining of two souls-as opposed to the carnal love going on around him.  Awwww. This shows Raphael trying to show off as an artist, not just as artisan (as painters had been viewed throughout history pretty much til then).

Image(once again thank you wiki)

The ceiling of this room (the garden loggia) was covered with myths from the constellations in the night sky on the night at the time Chigi was born. I particularly liked the main piece:


This Friday our class is going to the Vatican! More then!


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).





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.