November 28: a normal day in Italy, Thanksgiving in the States. This is my first one outside of the country, and it’s a special one indeed: my family came to visit me for Thanksgiving break!
I met my parents in Venice after a 4-hour train ride from Rome. They have always wanted to go sightseeing around Europe. What better place to start than in Italy, where I’m studying abroad this semester?
The moment I stepped outside of the train station, I knew that it was flood season in Venice (Venezia in Italian). It was cloudy and a bit chilly outside – glad I was wearing a warm jacket! The water had risen above the canals and flowed onto the streets! There were even raised platforms for pedestrians to walk above the water. It really is the Floating City!
Mom brought me a pair of plastic boot covers, and I gladly put them on. I was going to need them, in these flooded streets! At least the water was receding as time went on. It would have been quite an experience if the water went up to my knees!
We had lunch in a restaurant by the busy “parking” center for the taxis, gondolas, and ferries of the city. All the modes of four-wheeled transportation you would see in cities like Rome and Florence are completely replaced by boats! We saw a few police boats and aquatic ambulances as well.
After lunch, we went to the Piazza San Marco. Not only did we see St. Mark’s Basilica, but we also got a more hands-on experience in Venice thanks to the pigeons in the square! The birds there are not afraid of humans and flock toward anybody who has crumbs for them. There were pigeons landing on everybody! A lot of them landed on me! One of them stayed on my shoulder for a long time. Some of them perched on Mom and Dad as well.
We strolled alongside the water (which, thankfully had receded enough for us to wear our shoes without the plastic covers) for a bit and took in the views of Venice. I bought a small Venetian mask and had fun posing with it near the bridges!
For Thanksgiving dinner, we tried some Venetian food alongside the classic Italian dishes. We had a seafood appetizer complete with fresh shrimp, slices of smoked salmon, boiled octopus, and some sarde in saor, sweet-and-sour Venetian sardines. We shared some classic carbonara and some mushroom pizza. We didn’t have any apple pie, but I had some gelato for dessert!
The three of us enjoyed seeing the city at night. The water shimmers in the glow of the lamps, and the light inside the ferries stand out from the rest of the scene. Stunning views!
As I wind down after our Thanksgiving adventure in Venice, I find myself more grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this semester.
I am thankful for the Holy Cross Office of Study Abroad for helping me apply to the Temple Rome program and for guiding me through the entire process. My journey here would not have been possible without their support.
I am thankful for the Temple Rome staff for welcoming me to their program and for helping me adjust to my life in Rome. I am still using the advice they gave me at orientation, and I learned a lot from them throughout the semester.
I am thankful for my professors at Temple Rome for teaching me this semester. I love all of my classes and enjoying learning new things from them every day. They have been very kind and helpful since Day One.
I am thankful for my classmates at Temple Rome for their openness and their kindness. I enjoy spending time and going on adventures with them.
I am thankful for my parents for being supportive of me while I am on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the semester. I’m glad I can call them sometimes, and I’m honored to host them in Italy over Thanksgiving break. Hope my Italian is good enough!
I am thankful for my experiences this semester. Studying abroad is not easy, but the challenges I’ve faced in a different country away from home are rewarding. I’ve grown braver and more adventurous in my time here. I’ve honed life skills that had only started developing back home. I feel like an adult, managing all my time for classes and chores and planning all of my trips from scratch. Learning to be independent is a valuable asset to have, and I know that it will serve me well.
Lastly, I am thankful to my viewers and fans online. I don’t know all of you in person, if at all, but I am happy that you’re reading my blog and following me on my adventures abroad. I’m flattered by the kind feedback some of you have given me at the beginning of the semester. Thank you for coming on this journey. Know that I am thinking of you this Thanksgiving, no matter where I am and no matter where you are.
I may not be home in the United States to celebrate with you, but I’m glad I can still be thankful to all of you abroad. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
One thing I’ve learned to appreciate during my semester abroad is the opportunity to not only learn things firsthand through field trips in the city, but also to apply what I learn in class to new experiences outside the city.
This is the case with Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, a political science class that has taken me to places as close as downtown Rome, under 30 minutes away on the Metro, and as far away as Lisbon, a three-hour flight from Fiumicino airport.
I went to Lisbon for an academic excursion in the middle of November with not only Professor Rinelli and my classmates from Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, but also with Professor Bordignon and her Contemporary Politics of Europe class. We took a bus to the airport on Thursday evening and flew to Lisbon.
We arrived late that night, ate at an American(!) diner (well, what better way to welcome a group of American students than with some American cuisine?), and checked into our hotel. I fell asleep instantly and was ready to see the city the next morning.
After breakfast at the hotel, our professors gave us 24-hour passes for the Lisboa Metro. We used them at a Metro station close to the hotel and switched to another train before we got to our destination: the coast.
After some ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the sight of the shore (and at a bridge in the distance, which looks exactly like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco), we continued on our visit to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA for short).
We learned about the organization and their role in regulating maritime transport in Europe through a short presentation from an EMSA representative. From the 270 representatives from 28 countries in the European Union, many are from Portugal and Italy. EMSA has been making maritime regulations since 2002 and has added two major revisions to their policies in response to human migration in the Mediterranean since 2013.
I was fascinated by all the expansive technology and protocols behind the scenes of maritime safety. In particular, I was intrigued at how EMSA monitors and communicates with ships through satellites and drones.
We asked a lot of questions during and after the lecture. Some of them were about EMSA’s domains in the international scene. EMSA is a broad organization that operates on the European level. We learned from the answer to a question about what EMSA can do about a region-specific issue, such as pollution from cruise ships in Venice, that it is up to each member state to handle local incidents.
I asked a question about EMSA’s involvement in cases of irregular migration aboard European ships. I learned that the organization investigates incidents that happen during maritime transport and works to determine the root causes and contributing factors behind the case. However, it is up to the member states to investigate serious incidents, such as deaths of migrants on ships. EMSA does keep records of incidents in state-by-state logs for its database, which can be accessed for legal cases in the future.
After the interesting presentation at EMSA, we headed to the local market and had an hour to explore by ourselves. I loved walking around the Time Out Market in central Lisbon. I couldn’t wait to try some Portuguese food for the first time!
Excited to try some Portuguese food in the market!
Seafood is a staple in Portuguese cuisine, and the Lisbon market was bustling with seafood chefs and customers. I saw trays and tanks of fresh fish and crustaceans on my stroll through the stands.
My friend and I decided to eat at a cleverly-named shop called “Sea Me at the Market,” where we ordered fresh seafood. I tried some cuttlefish with a twist: it was fried in black tempura! Quite different from the calamari I tried at the beach in Rome. I heard from my friend that the pan-seared tuna was very good as well. We shared some bacalhau (Portuguese for cod) in some savory fishcakes and enjoyed it with some tomato rice. Delicious!
After lunch, we met outside the market and took the Metro to our next stop: the Centro Nacional de Apoio à Integração de Migrantes (CNAIM), or National Center of Aid and Integration of Migrants. I had seen the migrant center near Termini station in Rome on a previous trip for Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, but I could tell that this center was going to be much different from the one in Rome.
On our tour inside the building, we stopped by the gallery next to the first-floor waiting room. There were photographs of migrants from a camp in Greece displayed on the wall with powerful messages next to them. I found the placement of these two-dimensional black-and-white photos next to a waiting room full of three-dimensional people fascinating. I thought about the stories and message each migrant told through their photographs. I wonder what stories the migrants waiting just outside have to tell, and how they might feel about the messages in the gallery.
We learned from our guide that CNAIM has been providing a variety of services to migrants of all backgrounds and legal statuses since 2004. 75% of its funding comes from other places in Europe while the remaining 25% comes from the Portuguese government. The center in Lisbon is the largest one in the country, bigger than the other two in Portugal. The organization offers answers to necessary questions about the integration process and has partnerships with other entities, including over 100 other centers in different municipalities.
CNAIM offers its services in 15 different languages on site and has access to a support in 60 languages through the telephone support line. There is also a small kindergarten near the first-floor waiting room, where the children of migrants going through the immigration process in the center can learn and play as their parents are in meetings with staff. With so much in one center, I was not surprised to learn that CNAIM has won many awards for what they do.
On our way upstairs, we walked past the health office, the board of immigration services, the family reunification services, the social security office, the ministry of justice, the education office, and the legal support office. Each office provides general information to migrants who need guidance and referrals to other centers for their cases.
In addition to the row of offices, there is also a mentoring program at the center, where over 1000 Portuguese citizens volunteer to mentor migrants one-on-one based on specific needs and skillsets. CNAIM is partnered with 60 other programs and has a 10-session entrepreneurship class that teaches and advises migrants who want to start businesses in Portugal. The program aims to promote networking and workshops with Portuguese professionals and encourages former trainees to share their knowledge with migrants currently in the classes.
After learning about all the services CNAIM offers migrants, we headed into a separate hall for a Q&A session. On our way there, I couldn’t help but think about the migrant center in Rome when I walked past a mural of a woman reading a book. It reminded me of the painting of an African woman facing Dante, the father of Italian literature, that I saw near Termini. The image represents a migrant working toward integration into society, and this is the message I got from the mural at CNAIM.
During the Q&A session, my classmates asked a lot of questions and learned a lot from the answers. I was happy to hear that there was no political backlash against CNAIM when it opened, and the Lisbon community is accepting of the center and the migrants it helps. I also learned that many new arrivals in the country first learn about CNAIM and its services through other migrants. The center opens at 8:00 a.m., but there are people waiting outside the door since midnight for CNAIM’s services.
I learned a bit about Portuguese citizenship as well. I was surprised to hear that there are no questions about the history or government of Portugal on the citizenship test: there is only a language section. As a naturalized US citizen, I couldn’t imagine a citizenship test without a question about the branches of government or years of a specific war.
Unlike American citizenship, Portuguese citizenship works under ius sanguinis, which is Latin for “right of blood.” People who are descended from Portuguese citizens are Portuguese by law. The United States works under ius soli, “right of soil,” which grants American citizenship to anyone born in the country.
Our last stop after our visit to CNAIM was the School of Law at the University of Lisbon, a public research university in the city and the largest in the country. It rained a bit after we walked out of the Metro station near the university. We did see a rainbow afterward, and I took it as a sign of a good visit ahead.
We went on a short tour inside the school. The University of Lisbon was founded in 1911 and holds over 100 years of history. We walked through its historic lecture rooms and its huge faculty room, which has paintings of faculty on its walls.
We finished our visit with a special lecture from Professor Nuno Cunha Rodrigues, a friend of Professor Rinelli’s. He spoke about how Portugal is different from other countries in Europe. There are fewer political parties in Portugal, and none of them can be considered “extreme.” The country is also geographically removed from issues that other European nations are addressing in the political scene. There are also no regions and only one dialect of Portuguese in the entire country.
Before our trip, I remember how Professor Rinelli mentioned that Portugal was a “political exception.” I heard in the Q&A session at CNAIM that Portugal is not a racist country, and Professor Rodrigues’ lecture about Portuguese history helped me understand why this is the case. Portugal was, in his words, “traumatized” by a brutal dictatorship and a horrible war that was claimed more Portuguese lives than the Vietnam was did American soldiers. Younger Portuguese citizens fled during this period in the mid-20th century, and since then, the country has been more open to foreigners.
I was intrigued by the lecture. In high school, I only learned about Portugal in the context of the 15th and 16th centuries, when Spain and Portugal split the “New World” along a vertical line on the map. I don’t remember learning much about Portugal outside of the Age of Discovery, the Spice Trade and a little bit from the Scramble for Africa. This was my chance to learn more about the history of Portugal.
Through my questions at the end of the lecture, I learned that Portugal was actually on the same side as the US during World War I! It must have been a lot, since Portugal had an unstable government for almost two decades after its monarchy was abolished in 1910.
Portugal was also one of the only countries that remained neutral and was relatively unaffected by World War II. During the Cold War, Portugal was allied with the US it was isolated from the situation because of a war with Angola, which was a Portuguese colony fighting for its independence at the time. There was also a military revolution in the 1970’s that overthrew a dictatorship that had been in place since the 1930’s. I was in awe of how a brutal dictatorship ended so peacefully with the nonviolent Carnation Revolution.
In closing, Professor Rodrigues stated that Portugal is a country with over 800 years of history and has some of the most stable borders in the world. Its people are unified under a strong national identity. You don’t learn about that in a high-school European history class! I’m glad I got to learn a lot of new things from our visit.
After the lecture at the university, we went to explore the city by ourselves. My friend and I headed downtown to look at some restaurants. We settled for a small spot near the theaters of the city. We shared a plate of sauteed prawns with the heads and shells still on. I’m glad I got to eat some fresh prawns before I left Portugal! I was curious about them at the market.
We took a taxi back to our hotel and fell asleep quickly after our busy day in Lisbon. I couldn’t believe I experienced that much in just one day!
You would think that after doing so much in one day, that would already make for a pretty full trip. But wait, there’s Moor!
The next morning, we learned about the multicultural history of Lisbon, starting with the influence of the Moors from North Africa. We met José Linu, our guide from the Batoto Yetu Association, an organization that promotes traditional dances from Africa and leads post-colonial tours of Lisbon, at the Igreja de São Domingos.
I first learned about the Moors in my high-school European history class. They were Muslims from North Africa who settled in the Iberan peninsula in the 8th century. I remember reading about how the Spanish Inquisition drove them out of the area in the 13th century.
At the beginning of our tour, we learned about the African influence in Lisbon. The very square we were standing in was a major meeting place for Africans in Portugal. The church itself was an important religious location for Africans who were freed from slavery, and they referenced African saints in the regions. The priests there were of African descent as well.
The church survived two earthquakes and a fire between the 14th and 17th centuries. It was almost completely destroyed by the natural disasters, and there are still signs of the destruction inside.
José gave us some ginger candy as a little pick-me-up on our tour. He said that, according to African tradition, there was magic in ginger candy. I was more than happy to take a few pieces: I grew up eating ginger candy in the United States, and according to Chinese tradition, ginger has multiple medical benefits on the body.
José told us about the cultural importance of Fado, a genre of music that originated in Lisbon. Fado is similar to the Blues in the United States, in that it is known for its melancholic tones. Homesickness is a major theme in Fado music. He said that Fado has influences from African dance, beginning as a lively dance performed in the streets of Lisbon. We saw artwork relating to Fado and the multiculturalism of Lisbon in the historic Moor area of the city which is known for its tunnels and stairs.
This part of the city has seen a lot of cultural exchange throughout history, and it was here that some Portuguese nobles from the upper end of society mixed with the locals who performed Fado dance and music outdoors. Eventually, Fado was brought from the streets into salons and the music lost its lively percussion. José told us that it is important not only to promote new artistic-cultural movements, but also to remember the roots of cultural gems such as Fado.
Further along in our tour, we stopped by a long street teeming with customers from multicultural shops. We saw one of the older buildings from the center, which survived the earthquake of 1755. Some people called the event a “punishment for Fado.” I would call it a natural disaster completely unrelated to human activity.
We learned about the colonial history of Portugal. There are streets named after former colonies. José, who works at the migration center in Lisbon alongside his job promoting African traditions and leading colonial tours with the Batoto Yetu Association, said that he is working on education people about the often-overlooked history of the country. It is important to remember the past of a place, even if it is not very well known.
We finished our tour with a walk in the park and a group photo in front of the School of Medicine of the University of Lisbon. We stood in front of the statue of José Tomás de Sousa Martins, a doctor who treated and helped find medical aid for the lower-class people of the city. Our tour guide José mentioned that he was from African descent and hailed as a hero, with people still leaving gifts and tokens of appreciation at the base of the statue today.
What better place to end our tour in front of a statue after a walk in the park?
After we thanked José for the tour, we had some free time to explore the city before our flight back to Rome. I decided to take the Metro to the Amoreiras Shopping Center to buy some gifts. The place looked like a skyscraper, and I was excited to find out that I can get a panoramic view of the entire city from the rooftop! I bought some handbags for my friends and family (and a cute hat for myself), had some fresh tuna (can’t leave Portugal without trying some!), and bought a ticket to the rooftop. What a view, from the highest point in Lisbon!
I left the shopping center very happy with my trip to Lisbon. I was thinking about everything I learned on the plane ride back to Rome. I’m glad I had the chance to study abroad not only in Rome, but also briefly in Lisbon as part of this academic excursion. This is not an opportunity I’ve ever had before, and the unique experience has made my semester abroad even more special and memorable.
November 9 marks the end of my second month in Rome! I haven’t quite figured out why time seems to pass by so quicky: does time flow differently in this time zone?
Speaking of time zones, I learned that daylight savings ends during the last Sunday of October in Italy. In the United States, daylight savings time ended on the first Sunday of November. For one week, I was only five hours ahead of my family in Boston and everyone at Holy Cross. But now that it’s past the first Sunday of November, we’re back to a six-hour time difference.
This was one of the unexpected things I learned in my two months abroad in Rome. I’ve picked up so much in my time here that I don’t know where to start in my two-month reflection!
I do know that I have adjusted very well to life in Rome in my second month here. I’m learning more Italian both in and out of class, and I feel comfortable asking for directions or holding conversations with people I encounter on my walks around the city. I also feel more comfortable shopping for groceries, clothes, and shoes in full Italian.
I’ve learned to say “troppo grande!” (too big!) when one of the boots I tried on at the local shoe store was a too big and “troppo piccolo!” (too small!) when it was too small. Italy uses European sizes for clothes and shoes, so it’s taken a lot of trial and error to find the right sizes for me. From all the “troppo grande!” and “troppo piccolo!” I heard myself say, I have figured out that I can wear size 37 shoes. Very different from the sizes I wear in the United States.
At the grocery stores, I like paying in cash. Rome is a very cash-heavy city, so definitely withdraw a lot of cash at once, keep some in the safe at home, and pay with bills! Also: bring your own grocery bags! I keep a foldable cloth bag in my backpack and purse at all times, so I won’t be amassing any plastic bags in the apartment!
At the cash register, I sometimes hear the cashiers ask me if I have 1-Euro or 50-cent coins so they can give me fewer bills and coins in change, and I like seeing them smile when I give them what they’re asking. It feels nice to make someone’s job a little easier by listening to what they say and understanding what they’re looking for!
Besides becoming for familiar with and comfortable in my environment, I have to say that I’ve really come out of my shell on campus! The president of Temple Rome came to visit us a while back, and there was an open-mic session where students could talk about their experiences in Rome so far in front of everyone.
I’m not usually much of a talker, but for some reason I was feeling bold enough to improvise a speech on the spot. I talked a lot about how I love seeing the ancient and modern worlds merge together on my adventures abroad, and how much I love the artifacts in my favorite Metro station. I got a few laughs and a lot of applause. I was told afterward that the president was impressed and amused by my impromptu speech. Glad this whim of mine amused someone!
I was also happy to be featured as Student of the Week on Temple Rome’s website a while back. I came across someone asking me if I wanted to answer a few questions for the website, and I thought, “why not?” To this day, I laugh at the answers I gave in that interview. I’m proud of the advice I gave at the end of it, though. I think a good balance of studying, resting, and travelling is key to a good experience abroad. Let’s not overwork ourselves!
I managed to sign up for the last Italian cooking class of the semester. And good timing, too – I almost missed this opportunity! I had fun kneading dough. It feels a lot like helping my mom knead dough for pork buns at home. The pasta was delicious. Partly because it was pasta, but also partly because I put in some effort to make it from scratch!
In addition to pasta, I’ve also enjoyed exploring Piazza Vittorio (which I wrote about in one of my previous posts) and trying out of different types of food. I was delighted to find some good Asian restaurants there and enjoyed eating at a local pho place. The taste of the beef broth and the texture of the meat, vegetables, and fresh rice noodles…it reminds me of how my sister and I would get pho together sometimes. It’s just what I needed as the weather grows colder in Rome. (Yes, it does get cold here! Just not at the same as New England.)
I’ve been cooking a lot this semester, more than I have ever cooked in my life! But sometimes, when I get sick of even my own cooking and really miss the wonderful Chinese dishes my mother makes at home, I eat out. I’ve tried a lot of classic Italian dishes, but when the homesickness strikes, nothing beats a meal at the local Chinese restaurant! I ate some rice, pork ribs, and spicy green beans for lunch one day and felt much better afterward.
When I’m outside of class and not at the residence, I like to go exploring in the city. I’ve gotten used to using not only my monthly pass for the Metro, but also my trusty Musei in Comune (MIC) card. This handy pass grants me free admission to a lot of museums in the city! Makes seeing remnants of the ancient world a lot more affordable. It reminds me of how I can get free admission to the Worcester Art Museum with my Holy Cross ID back in the States! (Check out an article about seeing ancient artifacts at the WAM I wrote for the school newspaper last year!)
Every now and then, I like to walk around the city after class and try to catch a good view or two in the evening. I was very happy to capture this shot of the evening sky of the city, as seen from the top of the Spanish Steps. This is not a sight you can see just anywhere – better enjoy it while I can (and the weather doesn’t get too cold!)
I’ve also enjoyed travelling around Italy and taking in all the beautiful sights outside the city as well. Everywhere I go, I try to buy postcards from local souvenir shops. By now, I must have at least five pounds of postcards, books, and replica coins (I love ancient coins!) in my room. Souvenirs make great decorations for the room – makes the place feel more like home. I’ve gotten to see a lot of museums and read a lot of books about the places I’ve seen, so when I tape postcards to the wall and keep the books on my shelf, I feel like I’m curating my own gallery and creating my library based on my travels.
I have been very lucky in that I have not had any major mishaps on my trips around Italy. One of my friends told me that she had her passport stolen on a trip outside the country. I’m glad that we learned what to do in a situation like this at orientation. It is very important to stay calm, report the stolen passport to the police, and go to the US Embassy to obtain a temporary passport.
Regarding safety, I recommend these tips.
1.) Be aware of your surroundings. The more crowded the place, the harder it is to keep track of everything and the easier it is to lose something. Always pay attention to your belongings!
2.) Travel with at least one other person you know. You are less vulnerable when you are not alone. If something happens, you will be able to help each other out. I’ve helped a friend find something she lost, and we both figured out how to get back to our hotel after dark.
3.) Buy a discreet money belt and/or an anti-theft bag. I have both of these, and I have not gotten anything stolen. Definitely keep your passport, ID, keys, and bank cards in the money belt or anti-theft bag. Crossbody bags work best, as they are difficult to steal. Make sure backpacks are closed! Even better if they have locks.
4.) Don’t stay outside too late at night. I like to at least start to head back to the residence or any other place I’m staying at around sundown.
5.) Make photocopies! Be sure to keep a photocopy of your passport photo and signature pages separate from your passport – you’ll need these as proof that you are a citizen when you arrive at the embassy to report a stolen passport! By law, you are also required to carry a form of state-issued ID on your person in Italy. I keep a photocopy of my passport and my US driver’s license in my money belt at all times.
After those serious points, I’d like to end my two-month reflection with a little note to you, my viewers.
I hope you are enjoying my blog. It is hard to believe that two months have passed since my first day of classes at Temple Rome. I am over halfway done with the semester and have only a little more than a month before I head back to the United States. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing about my adventures abroad and hope that you enjoy following along through my words, photographs, and videos.
I am having a wonderful time in Rome and want to share that my joy with all of you. I am truly grateful for the opportunity I have in studying aborad for the semester, and for the honor of recording my experiences here. I enjoy taking in everything this place has to offer, and I love learning about the history and culture of every place I visit. I hope I can capture that in my work here and can help bring my experience to life through the screen.
That said, as a little celebration of and thank-you for these two months as a study abroad blogger, here is one of my favorite sights in Rome: bubbles at the Piazza del Popolo, a few minutes away from campus. A dopo! (Until later!)
As I settle into the second half of the semester (how time flies!), I would say that my favorite part of studying abroad is getting to learn through direct experience. I love learning new things both in and outside of the classroom.
For my Race in the Ancient Mediterranean course this semester, I am learning about the ancient world through not only examining the histories of understudied people in the ancient Roman Empire, but also through seeing artifacts with my own eyes in Rome.
On our second trip of the semester, we went to the Capitoline Museums (Musei Capitolini in Italian) on top of the Capitoline Hill. The museums are the oldest in Rome, built in the 15th century during the Renaissance, when ancient Greek and Rome were the main themes of European culture and art. The first exhibits were made of bronze statues that the Pope offered to the city of Rome, and from here came the museums as they stand today.
I was in awe even before I got to the museum. Instead of heading to the classroom that Thursday morning, I took the Metro to the Colosseo stop and admired the huge monuments all around me. In addition to seeing the Colosseum outside the Metro stop, I caught a few glimpses of the Roman forum on my walk to the Capitoline Hill.
I found Professor Bessi and my classmates on top of the hill (which was not too taxing for my legs; all the stairs at Holy Cross have prepared me well for my semester abroad). After getting into the museum for free thanks to the Musei in Comune (MIC) cards we got at the beginning of the semester, we walked into the courtyard.
We looked at a collection of stone slabs with images of women carved into them. Professor Bessi said that these were originally from a temple in the Campus Martis that was erected in the memory of the emperor Hadrian, who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century C.E. The carvings came from the base of the temple and represent the different provinciae (plural of the Latin word provincia, from which he get our word “province”) around the empire.
Hadrian was known for being a Roman emperor who spent little time in Rome. He was fascinated by other cultures, especially Greek culture, and strove to integrate even the most remote provinces in the empire and instill a sense of common Roman identity among all the people. The temple honor him captures this aspect of his personality by featuring each of the provinces, represented by women (nouns have genders in Latin, and provincia is feminine) depicted in the Greek style.
We headed indoors and stopped at the massive Palazzo di Conservatori. I was awestruck by the gorgeous paintings that lined the entire room from wall to wall. There was not a single part of the room that was not decorated with art.
The room, whose name means “the Conservator’s Palace” in Italian, was built in the 16th century. All the artwork in the room was inspired by the ancient Romans and features scenes from Roman history as told by the ancient historian Livy, who wrote about the origins and history of Rome in his Ab Urbe Condita Libri (Books from the Founding of the City) in the 1st century B.C.E.
All around the room, I saw painting of the foundation stories of Rome. I felt like I was going back in time, back to the first time I saw Latin in middle school. One of the first stories I read in class was the myth of the twins Romulus and Remus and how they were raised by a she-wolf. Romulus, after whom Rome is named, is said to have founded the city in 753 B.C.E.
I learned more about the earliest days of Rome as I continued into more advanced levels of Latin in high school. Now, as a college student, I got to see all of what I learned in front of me!
The art depicting the story of Rome continued into the next room, where we stopped to look at one of the bronze pieces gifted by the pope in the earliest days of the museum. The bust of Lucius Junius Brutus, the leader of an aristocratic revolt that drove out the last king of Rome, represents a major shift in Roman history: the shift from monarchy to republic in 509 B.C.E. The bronze portrait of him, however, is certainly not from the 6th century B.C.E. It was much more likely made centuries after in a retelling of the tale.
Another wave of nostalgia hit me as we walked into the next room and stopped at a piece that my teenage self would have recognized from her books. I got to see the famous Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) with my own eyes! The detail on the piece is remarkable: such a sharp contrast between the roughness of the she-wolf’s fur and Romulus’ and Remus’ skin!
These were things I didn’t notice when I first saw a picture of the Capitoline Wolf in my seventh-grade Latin textbook. Eight years later, I am going on a field trip to the Capitoline Museums, where I can see the sculpture in person!
It is amazing to see that story of Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf has lingered for so long after 753 B.C.E. What amazed me more was the story about this piece that Professor Bessi told us at the museum. It turns out that the Lupa Captiolina did not always look the way it does today. In fact, it was really only the wolf! The twins were not added until the 16th century C.E.!
It was thought that the wolf was an ancient piece while the smaller sculptures of Romulus and Remus were Renaissance additions. There was a conference years ago at which chemical analyses on the base of the piece revealed that the she-wolf was sculpted in the middle ages!
In the next room, we saw a piece that was actually ancient: a Greek krater (a vessel for mixing wine) dating back to the 7th century B.C.E. The Aristonothos krater, as it is called because of the potter’s signature visible in the ancient Greek inscription, depicts a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic about Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. I had read about Odysseus outwitting a giant one-eyed cyclops when I read the Odyssey in class, but seeing the scene on a vase in front of me was a different experience in itself!
The vase was uncovered at a site where the ancient Etruscans used to live. The Etruscans were a dominant force in central and northern Italy before 753 B.C.E., and they engaged in a lot of trade with the ancient Greeks. Greek pottery was in high demand for the ancient Etruscans, and through the acquirement of physical goods came the spread of Greek language, culture, and religion.
The inscription and imagery on the Aristonothos krater captures this perfectly. And it shows that ancient people had a wicked sense of humor – the cyclops met his downfall because he drank his wine unmixed, and now he is on a vessel designed for mixing wine!
We headed toward the recently-renovated part of the museum, where the original bronze statue of the emperor Marcus Aurelius is on display. There is a replica of this piece at the top of the Capitoline Hill, just outside the museum.
Professor Bessi mentioned that when the statue was uncovered in the Middle Ages, people thought it was a sculpture of the emperor Constantine, who ruled the Roman Empire over a century after Marcus Aurelius did. The funniest part about this room is the fact there is actually a statue of the real Constantine across from the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius and the marble sculpture of the lion and the horse!
The newly-renovated part of the museum also houses some ancient ruins found in the area. There are pieces of an ancient temple dedicated to the Capitoline Triad – the gods and goddesses Jupiter (or Jove), Juno, and Minerva. It was interesting to catch a glimpse of the excavation process in the middle of a modern renovation of the Capitoline Museums. There is even a wall of the Capitolium Jovis (a temple for Jupiter; there was one of these at every Roman colony) standing inside with a smaller-scale replica beside it!
After our walk through the remnants of the temple, we visited the Horti Maecenatiani, or the Maecenean Gardens. Maeceneas was a friend of the emperor Augustus in the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E. and was known for his wealth and love of art. He was also involved with the ministry of culture and displayed lots of Greek sculptures in his gardens on the Esquiline Hill. A lot of the statues are Roman copies of Greek originals, but some of the pieces are made of real Pentelic marble, which comes from an area north of Athens.
One of the most memorable statues for me was a sculpture of the mythological satyr Marsyas, who made the grave mistake of boasting that his music was greater than that of Apollo, the god of music. As his punishment, he was skinned alive. I found the contrast between the pale marble of his skin and the sheer redness of his raw flesh very striking. It really gets the message across: don’t be a braggart!
In addition to the wealth of statues in Maecenas’ gardens, there is also a large collection of jewelry in the museum. The golden pieces and their sparkling gemstones were in such good condition that I thought they were modern accessories in the fashion district of modern Rome! You can hardly tell that they’re from the first century C.E. And it wasn’t only people who wore these: the ancient Romans used jewelry to decorate pillars as well!
We walked through the basement of the museum and looked at some gravestones. The inscriptions were still legible on most of them, and I had a lot of fun practicing my ancient Greek and Latin! According to Professor Bessi, Greek was the universal written language of all the ethicities in ancient Rome. We spent a longer time looking at the gravestone of a Jewish woman who had the majority of her funerary inscriptions in Greek but the last part of it in Hebrew. Amazing to see cultures overlap!
We were in for quite a treat when we got to see the Roman Forum from a good vantage point in the museum! I loved seeing all of the space outside the museum from one spot! It was my first time seeing the Forum, and it was a wonderful experience to process the breathtaking view!
Our last stop was at another famous piece in the Capitoline Museums: the Dying Gaul. The ancient Gauls were a Celtic people who lived north of Italy in the alps and to the west where France is today. Julius Caesar waged war against several Gallic tribes and recorded his battles in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries Regarding the Gallic Wars) in the 1st century B.C.E. I read part of Caesar’s work in high school. I was excited to see the artwork in person!
For a decade, the Gauls were his enemies, yet he chose to respect them by featuring a piece depicting them gracefully in defeat. The Dying Gaul is a Roman copy of a Greek original thought to have been commissioned by the King of Pergamum, an area to the east, centuries before Caesar was born. The man in the sculpture is identifiable as a Gaul by his hairstyle and jewelry around his neck. He is about to collapse, but keeps most of his composure despite the pain of defeat.
It fascinates me how of all the ways Caesar could have represented his fallen enemies, he chose to display this piece in his private estate. No caricature of the Gauls or humiliating trophies in this statue! Talk about sportmanship!
I left the museum very pleased with what I saw. For years, I have been studying the historic and cultural contexts of the ancient world, but have very rarely seen them outside of paragraphs of text. Seeing all the artwork in three dimensions and with my own eyes – now, that’s what I call an enriching experience! I cannot imagine another place that can offer such a fulfilling expansion of my knowledge in this way as the Capitoline Museums.