Today we got an early start to our day at 7:40 (ouch) and began our hour and a half drive to the city of Aquileia. Aquileia was an ancient Roman colony and once served as a port city. Our first stop was the Basilica of Aquileia. The structure was built starting in the 4th century but wasn't completed until the 11th century. The basilica had a multitude of influences including Roman and Gothic architecture, which was not surprising given how long it was under construction. When we first arrived in the basilica, we were given free time to explore the space and formulate questions and eventually a hypothesis about how the space was used and what its purpose might have been.
The mosaics covering the floor were very similar to the Roman Villa we visited while in Sicily, which made it hard to tell if the space was Christian or simply Roman. After a group discussion, we realized the basilica was an assertion of identity with subtle Christian symbolism and a range of other influences. This was different than other basilicas we had visited because it was a hybrid of identities as opposed to a blatant Christian space. The basilica was built right around Constantine's Edict of Milan, in 313 AD, which was early enough that there was little distinction between Roman and Christian spaces. It was one of the earliest purpose built Christian spaces that we know about.
We then visited the basilica's baptistery, which was at the same location but in a different building because at this time people were not officially members of the church until they were baptized. The baptistery was a six sided structure. Six is an important number within Christianity, and there are numerous theories as to why it had six sides including God's creation of the world in six days or that it could symbolize two trinities (2x3=6). Another interesting observation about the baptistery was that it held aspects from many religions because it was built before Catholic domination in the region.
On our way to our next stop, we walked through the ancient port, and then we ended up at the National Archeological Museum. We were given free time to explore the museum, which housed varying sculptures. We were able to see funerary elements, examples of common men and women's clothing, and traditional military attire as well as ancient jewels and ceramics.
We then took a much needed break for our last ( :( ) group lunch. We had an amazing three course meal, including pasta full of carbs and cheese, a meat dish, and dessert. Not only was it an escape from the cold, but we were also able to enjoy great conversation.
Our last activity of the day was a visit to what Mike refers to as the "Fascist Mountain", which serves as a World War I monument. The monument was commissioned by Mussolini in 1929. It was meant to commemorate the lost lives of WWI and took ten years to complete. It is a pyramid-like structure that looks like a staircase where each stair is about ten feet high. Names of 40,000 Italian soldiers were listed in alphabetical order on the structure, and remains of another 60,000 unknown soldiers were located at the top of the monument in two tombs.
As we made our way up Fascist Mountain, we made a similar trek as the soldiers would have taken while fighting during WWI. Right away the monument was different than others that we have visited because we not only got to see the structure, but we also got to walk up the mountain and interacted with the monument. At the top of the monument, we had a beautiful view of Italy. The monument matched the typical fascist style with a simple linear structure, which housed a chapel at the top, only visible after ascending the mountain.
The names on the structure were below the word "presente" which mimics the soldiers performing roll call, highlighting how the soldiers listed went above and beyond their duty. Adding the names made the monument more powerful and emotional by adding a personal touch and allowing visitors a possible personal connection to the monument. This made us all consider how each name listed was made equal and gave the monument a sense of unity. We also speculated that each name listed gave Italians a sense of pride that the people before them had sacrificed for their nation.
Despite the early wake up call, we had a wonderful second day in Venice. We're all excited to travel to Milan tomorrow but a little less excited for the trip home on Sunday.
Kelsey and Vanessa