Saturday, January 21, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Arriving in the middle of St. Peter's Square was breathtaking. The colonnade that surrounds it shows 140 saints all facing the obelisk, or the vertical structure in the center. From a historical standpoint, we learned that there was once a circus held in this very square, not the kind that we are familiar with, but a horse race. Many architects, over time, came in to assist with the construction and design; one being the famous Michelangelo who created the dome structure. The shape and architecture of the square is very important to the welcoming aspect to pilgrims and visitors worldwide. The shape conveys open arms, almost beckoning brothers and sisters to come forth and symbolizes that they are indeed, home. The space's structure is more important than one may think in the way it gives off a friendly and welcoming presence. St. Peter's Basilica holds around 60,000 people and is one of the largest churches in the world. After congregating in the square to discuss the logistics of the day, we were set free to explore on our own and get a feel for this marvel.
Inside, there were various important relics of Christianity, such as the towel that Jesus wiped his sweaty brow on and the tombs of multiple popes. We also got to see Michelangelo's pieta, a famous statue of Mary holding Jesus after he is taken down from the cross. The ceiling was breathtaking and many of us touched the foot of the statue of Peter, a symbol of reaching the final destination or the end of your pilgrimage. Although it was crowded with people from different nations all around, you could somehow feel the presence of a uniting force under the sunshine and domed ceiling today in the basilica.
After a quick lunch break, we headed towards the Vatican necropolis. This is an ancient cemetery that lies underneath the vatican. It is only accessible by an exclusive tour that we were lucky enough to take part in. Necropolis literally translates to city of death, or cemetery. This sector underground was buried by Emperor Constantine I when he wished to construct a basilica. While underground, we were able to view multiple family tombs and ancient Roman roads. We ducked through carved out doorways and braved the artificial humidity they create to help preserve the site. One of the biggest controversies surrounding this part of the Vatican is the argument over the location of St. Peter's bones. Peter was, according to tradition, buried here originally, however his casket was destroyed and his bones were moved at a later time. According to our tour guide, he was reburied here, however there is no way of knowing the truth that lies behind this theory. As our professor Lynn taught us, faith is a great thing and powerful enough to put belief in something even when there is no evidential proof. It is what holds this theory so firmly and keeps the tradition (and tours) alive and convincing.
Today was an incredible day that not even an earthquake could interrupt. We are glad that we made it to and from these holy sites unscathed and are ready for our departure to Venezia, bright and early, tomorrow!
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Later, we went to Santa Maria. It was built during the 3rd century and is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The main rebuild in the 13th century was under Pope Innocent II because the anti-pope, who insulted Roger II of Sicily, was buried there and he wanted to erase all memories of him. The portico of the church has become a site of Early Christian sarcophagi that were taken from catacombs. The mosaic in the church depicts a betrothal scene in which Mary represents the church. Jesus is sitting next to Mary and holding a book that says to come and sit on his throne. In this way, the mosaic was like a love story between the church and Christ.
We had the amazing opportunity of walking through the most ancient Jewish community with our guide and former resident, Micaela. The pope, who created laws to control the Jews, gave them this land because it was prone to flooding. Early Christians believed that the only way for Jews to save themselves was to convert to Christianity, which is also why there are churches on every corner of the ghetto. Few people converted and there was distrust between the Jews and the Christians. The area was extremely crowded - 9000 people were squeezed into two blocks of land. Micaela walked us through the history of Jews in Rome, including personal stories from members of the community and her family. The Jewish quarter was so fascinating and we are so thankful Micaela shared her experiences and knowledge with us.
Monday, January 16, 2017
The first stop was the Colosseum, a Flavian amphitheater capable of holding up to 55,000 people, which was built between 72 - 80 CE by the Flavian Dynasty next to Nero's Palace as a testament to his greed. The reason why this amphitheater has remained in such good condition is because of its multitude of arches which signify triumph and help keep the building sturdy. The Colosseum had many functions including entertainment as a part of the patron-client system, political value, and creating a sense of community. Additionally, the games were a way for politicians to gain votes and get public recognition. The games were also a demonstration of Rome's ability to conquer others. Perhaps most importantly, the Colosseum served as a means by which social hierarchies were established. For example, royalties and Vestal Virgins had the privilege of sitting in the bottom seats while those lower down on the social class had seats near the top.
In regard to the games held in the Colosseum, the first half of the day was typically reserved for animals fighting other animals with the occasional gladiator on animal fight. The middle part of the day incorporated the audience by having drawings for door prizes, songs, shows, and executions. The afternoon was reserved for gladiator battles and was the part of the day that everyone looked forward to. Gladiators tended to be outcasts or slaves and were forced to fight for their freedom. Gladiator battles taught moral values by demonstrating the nobility of death and the gladiators lack of fear of death. Although everyone loved to watch the fights, the emperors sometimes limited the amount of gladiator paris to avoid being ostentatious and demonstrating a lack of virtue.
Next we walked through the Arch of Titus to enter the ancient Roman forum. The forum was originally swamp land, but it was drained by the Etruscans in the 7th century BC with the intent of using the space as a market place. This atypical forum boasts of two basilicas along with the House of Vestal Virgins, which is an ancient religious cult central to the identity of Rome as a republic and an empire. Girls were brought into the cult as early as the age of 12, upon which they were seen as women. Members of the cult could supposedly feel when Rome was threatened, which is why they were viewed as so important. These women remained priestesses for thirty years, during which they were required to retain their virginity upon threat of being buried alive. Next to the House of Vestal Virgins was a temple to the goddess Vesta, who symbolized the hearth and the home. The Romans viewed the home and family values as central to the foundation of the empire.
Next Lynn showed us one of her favorite spots, the cloaca maximum. (Fun fact, cloaca means bird poop hole.) This was not only used for a sewage, but also to divert the water of the marsh land into the Tiber River. Romans valued water systems because they saw them as a way to control nature, so they outlined the cloaca maximum with marble in order to show its importance.
We wrapped up our tour of the forum by observing the Temple of Concord and Temple of Saturn, which are the two oldest temples in the forum. We also took a look at the curia, which was built in 44 BCE and served as one of three center buildings in Rome along with the Senate building. Since then, the curia has undergone several renovations and has been kept as a church. Inside of the curia there is an image of Emperor Tiberius forgiving people who have to pay off their debts.
Our last stop of the day was the monument to King Victor Emanuel, also known as the Victorian and the "altar of the nation". Started in the 1890's and finished in the 1920's, this massive monument was designed to give Italians a sense of unity. Complete with a 50 ton statue of King Emanuel riding his horse to meet Garibaldi to get the key to the city, the monument also includes four statues of women on top of the building which are meant to depict the four different regions of the Italian state. There is a fountain located on each side of the monument which symbolizes the two seas that surround Italy, the Mediterranean and the Adriatic.
Overall, we had a great day, and we can't wait to see what else Rome has in store for us.
- Bailee & Zach
Sunday, January 15, 2017
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Friday, January 13, 2017
(Title quoted from the speech Giuseppe Garibaldi gave on September 7th on his first entry to Naples after capturing the capital city)
This morning we woke up to another sunrise over the Mediterranean. We packed, ate breakfast, and said goodbye to our oceanside hotel and Siracusa, which had given us so much during our stay. We ate lunch at the airport, our last opportunity for Sicilian delicacies like arancini. We also talked to a nice woman on the plane who told us that Turkey had some excellent sites for what we were studying. At this point ma'am, we're well aware. The flight to Naples was short, though very bumpy. But we've finally made it to mainland Italy!
Naples is a far bigger and busier city than any we saw in Sicily. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and spent many of its modern formative years under Spanish rule, later becoming the site where Garibaldi's volunteer army joined with the Piedmontese army from the north of Italy during the campaign for Unification in 1860. Once we got to the hotel, we had the rest of the evening off, for catching up on coursework, shopping, and what-have-you. Since today was mostly dedicated to travelling and recovering from the full-tilt we've been tackling this course at up until this point, there aren't a whole lot of events to talk about in this post. So it's probably time to reflect on our time in Sicily.
Sicily was very kind to us during our time there. We may not have had the sunny warm weather of previous years, but driving through mountains and arriving at gorgeous oceanside views was better than I think any of us were prepared for. The confluence of cultures from all of its previous rulers still shapes modern Sicily, and it certainly shaped how we saw it, whether through a religious, historic, or modern lens. As you explored the cities, you couldn't help but notice how many streets were named after previous rulers of those areas, and as you watched the highway signs go by while travelling, you noted that many of the town names are based off of Arabic words- many that start with the prefix 'calta' used to have arabic castles in them (from the arabic word aal-ah). Sicily served as an excellent starting place for our course, with its independence and calmer cities helping acclimate many of us to being in Italy. It will be very interesting to see how things change as we move closer to the center of power for both the ancient Roman Empire and the modern Italian state: Rome. For now, I'm excited to see what Naples and mainland Italy have in store for us.