In my last post, I had just arrived home and started to reflect on my semester abroad. There is so much to unpack from my time in Rome, both figuratively and literally!
I’ve been asking my friends, followers, and viewers online for questions they’d like to ask me about my time abroad, and let me say that you all did not disappoint! Thank you for your questions! Here are my answers to them.
Question: How did you choose a study abroad program?
When I was on campus, studying abroad was a something I hear a lot about! As a first-year, I heard older students talking about how they either planned to go abroad or had just returned from their time away from campus. I attended the Study Abroad Fair and got to hear first-hand accounts from students who had studied in different places. I learned more about specific programs through formal information sessions and through one-on-one appointment with the Office of Study Abroad.
I worked with both my Study Abroad advisor and my academic advisors to find a program that was right for me. I took into consideration my goals for the future. As a double-major, I had to look through multiple program catalogs to find one that would best help immerse me in another culture while still keeping me on track with my academic plans. I created several courseloads that would work with my two majors and looked at programs in more detail from there.
I chose Temple Rome because Rome was the best fit for my plans and interests. As a Classics major, I had always wanted to see the things I had studied for so long come to life in front of me. I started learning Latin in middle school and delved deeper into the world of the ancient Romans in high school. I loved seeing ancient artifacts and learning about the people whose language I was studying in museums.
At Holy Cross, I expanded my views of the ancient world beyond Rome: there were so many other cultures and peoples to explore in the ancient Mediterranean! I knew from my ancient history classes that ancient Rome had expanded into the largest civilization in the region and incorporated the cultures and histories of the lands it covered into the empire. And I had a chance to study in the city that was once the center of such a large expanse of land. I wanted to go to Rome not only to learn about not only the ancient Romans, but also to look for the influences of other cultures in the city and beyond.
My other major, psychology, impacted my decision as well. I learned about the beginnings of developmental psychology in my introductory psychology classes, and a name I remember seeing often was Montessori. I looked up this name, and it turns out that Maria Montessori was an Italian physican who devised the Montessori method of education for the underprivledged children of Rome in the early 1900s! I was lucky enough to have seen where the method had started in the San Lorenzo district in the city, an area I had explored in not a psychology course, but in my political science course! I’m glad I got to walk through history for not only my Classics degree, but also for my studies in psychology as well.
Question: What was the most unexpected experience you had during your time abroad?
There were so many unexpected things that happened while I was abroad I don’t know where to start! I had two travel-related mishaps, one when I missed my bus to Pompeii because of construction on the Roma Metro (a misadventure I made the most of here) and the other when my flight back to Rome was pushed a day back because of aviation strikes (transportation strikes are common in Italy) and I stayed an extra night at a hastily-booked room in Catania, Sicily.
An unexpected experience I had in Rome was when I used three languages in one day while walking through the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino at Piazza Vittorio (an adventure I wrote about here). I heard a lot of the merchants say “Ni hao!” (“Hello!”) to me in Chinese (a language I didn’t think I would hear much of in Italy). My professor’s friend, Omar, who works at a butcher stand in the market, asked me a few questions in Chinese! It took me a moment to switch from English to Chinese to respond to him, and even longer for me to switch back to English to talk to my classmates, and later from English to Italian for Italian class! I was not expecting a trilingual experience that day!
Question: What are some highlights from visiting Florence?
When I went to Florence for a weekend in October, I liked seeing how different the place was from a city like Rome! The streets were less crowded and more colorful, with distinct architecture and art from the Renaissance. My favorite place was Ponte Vecchio, where I got to see an amazing sunset! The pictures I took from that short trip are some of the best ones I took from my entire semester abroad. The photo of the sunset in Florence was also one of the prints I gave away for my fundraiser; it was very popular in the Temple Rome community!
Another highlight from my trip to Florence was the food. I had heard of Tuscan cuisine in the United States, but I had never tried until October! I tried charcuterie for the first time in Florence and loved the local pizza and pasta as well. I even got to try something new in the Mercato Centrale on my last day there! One of my former professors who read my post about Florence said I was “adventurous” for trying fried rabbit there! It’s fun to try new things.
Question: Did you have a new favorite food you tried?
This is a hard question: I had so much good food abroad! While I loved trying regional dishes in the places I visited (cannoli and chinotto in Sicily, sarde in saor in Venice, and so on), I have to say my favorite food from the semester is a tried and true Roman classic: carbonara. I tried the dish of pasta, eggs, pancetta (pork belly), and pecorino cheese (the local sheep’s cheese in Rome) several times, both near Via Flaminia behind campus and farther away from the center of the city. My favorite carbonara was at the seaside restaurant I went to in Ostia. I giggle to myself every time I think about the ingredients, because I can imagine trying to make an omelette from bacon, cheese, and eggs at home!
Question: What was your favorite lunch place around campus?
Yet another hard question! So many good places to eat lunch around campus. Almost every day, I looked for places to eat along Via Flaminia and tried a few different ristoranti (larger places to sit down and eat) and trattorie (places to get a quick bite of pizza or sandwiches.) I’d say my go-to place behind campus was Alice Pizza, a pizza chain with a lot of choices! I got to try classics I’ve tried in the United States like the margherita (tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese) and tried new toppings like prosciutto (sliced ham) and roasted melanzane (eggplants). Orders are priced by weight and heated up in the oven while you pay.
Question: Any activity recommendations besides just sightseeing and eating?
A very important question! While there is so much to see and eat while abroad, it is also important to get involved with local activities at school as well.
When I was at Temple Rome, I got notifications about upcoming events and could access places I could sign up for them. We all signed up for Italian cultural labs, which could be anything from exploring in the historic markets of the city to learning Italian with dogs to listening to Italian music!
Some of my classmates volunteered at local places like high schools near campus or the refugee center further downtown. Others signed up to play calcetto (soccer) or basketball after classes. I was lucky enough to sign up for the last cooking class of the semester. Making pasta by hand was hard, but it was lot of fun and definitely worth it in the end!
We also got to attend special lectures on campus about issues we wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. I went to a discussion about race in Italy and met Susanna, an Afro-Italian activist who shared how she found her identity in Rome. I got to plan my own activity on campus through my fundraiser for QuestaèRoma, the organization Susanna works with. (Read about how I planned this project here.) I’m grateful to Temple Rome for their support through my independent project. I’m glad we could make something wonderful happen for the holidays!
Those are all the questions I got for this Q&A! Do you have anything else to ask me? Leave a comment below, and we’ll see if I get enough questions for another short Q&A next month as well. Happy New Year!
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.
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.
Ever since I was in elementary school, I loved going on field trips. Museums are some of my favorite destinations in any place, and I was excited to explore one on my first class trip of the semester!
I usually have three-hour lectures on Thursday mornings, but this Thursday, I went to the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia (National Etruscan Museum of Villia Giulia) with my classmates. I am taking a class called “Race in the Ancient Mediterranean” this semester. I am excited to be studying the Classics in Rome, and I have been looking forward to this course since I first learned about it while applying to study abroad.
My classmates and I met our professor at the start of class and walked ten minutes to the museum. Temple Rome’s campus is in a very convenient spot – not too far from cultural gems such as the Villa Giulia!
The Villa Giulia was built as a suburban residence for Pope Julius III in the 16th century. The Via Flaminia (which is the long road behind Temple Rome and very close to the museum) was an ancient street that lead into the city, but had some parts of it built in rural areas. The Villa was meant to be a comfortable, colorful dwelling away from the chaos of downtown Rome for the Pope.
However, the pope’s palace on the Via Flaminia was reclaimed by the state and repurposed into a museum for artifacts attributed to the Etruscans, an ancient people who lived in central and northern Italy before Rome was founded. The land they cultivated was called “Etruria” and spanned from the Arno River in the north (around where Florence is today) to the Tiber River in modern Rome.
Their civilization was a major independent power from the 8th to the 6th centuries B.C.E., but the cities were scattered and never unified into what we might consider a “nation” today. They were eventually “Romanized” and fully absorbed into the Roman civlization by the 2nd century B.C.E.
Many major geographic features of Italy are named after significant aspects of the ancient Etruscan civlization. The body of water to the east is the Adriatic Sea, named after the ancient port of Adria in the northeast, and the western sea is the Tyrrhean Sea, which comes from Thyrrenoi, an ancient Greek word used to describe the Etruscans in the context of piracy (a negative stereotype the ancient Greeks and Romans held about the people). The Romans called the Etruscans the Tusci, which is where the modern region of Tuscany gets its name. The Etruscans themselves, however, called themselves the Rasenna.
After looking at the map and discussing the possible oriental (i.e., from Asia Minor, where modern-day Turkey is today) origins of the Etruscan people and their culture, we looked at ancient Etruscan artifacts. Many of the objects on display come from tombs, which were sealed after funerals and kept away from corrosive elements outside of the sites.
Wealthier Etruscans could afford more lavish grave goods such as chariots and intricate bronzework for their tombs. Some rich families even buried their dead with ancient Greek pottery, which was highly-prized by the Etruscans. There was a lot of interaction with the ancient Greeks through trade. Ancient Athens in particular benefitted exchanging pottery for goods from the mineral-rich Etruria.
The Etruscans had their own special type of pottery called “bucchero” (a Portuguese term that does not have origins in the ancient world, interestingly enough!) that saw vases turn black in the kiln, but the reddish-orange vases from Greece were especially valuable. Along with pottery, the ancient Greeks also had an influence on Etruscan religion, which involves the worship of deities similar to those from ancient Greece. The imagery decorating the traded goods is a sign of cultural exchange in the ancient world.
In the basement of the museum are more reconstructed tombs, this time from specific burial mounds called tumuli. I’m fascinated by how the archaeologists and curators managed to recreate the atmosphere and setup of a tomb outside of Rome in a modern museum setting. Walking into these reconstructions is like walking into the past. Only the past is ageless, with how the recreations are displayed today.
Through a brief lecture on artwork in tombs, I learned that death was not necessarily a dismal time of grief. Some tombs had lively patterns and colors painted in them, with scenes of pleasure such as feasting and other cheerful social events meant to celebrate the life of the deceased. What an interesting combination of contrasting concepts!
At the end of the hallway on the first floor is a famous artifact in Rome: the Sarcophagus of the Spouses. The terracotta piece is modeled after a sculpture and portrays two figures, one male and one female, reclining. They are dressed in traditional clothing and wear the enigmatic “Archaic smile” that was common in art from the 6th-century B.C.E. The stylized features and outfits imply that there was artistic influence from Asia Minor.
The Etruscans were very different from the early Romans in the region in not only the places they drew inspiration from, but also in their social structures and cultural norms. The Sarcophagus of the Spouses is significant in that it exemplifies the trope of representing male and female figures together: Etruscan women joined men in pleasurable social events such as symposia (similar to the ancient Greek symposium, except in Greece, only men took part in the activity).
Early Greeks and Romans had a negative view of the Etruscans because they saw their women as “too free.” Ancient Greek and Roman women were excluded from social events; a woman who was present at a symposium was never a wife of one of the men at the event. Women at such events were dancers or learned conversationalists who entertained guests. None of them were related to the men at the symposium.
The Sarcophagus of the Spouses in the Villa Giulia is one of two of its kind: the other existing piece is in the Louvre in Paris. I think I might go see its counterpart in France one day. I’m curious to compare and contrast the two myself.
I went outside of the exhibit halls during a short break and looked at the nymphaeum, an open area resembling a grotto, where nymphs would be found in ancient mythology. I was stunned by the beautiful mosaic on the ground surrounded by shrubbery and complex columns and arches. What a sight!
The final parts of our museum visit took place in the halls of Greek vases behind the Sarcophagus of the Spouses before we headed upstairs. On the second floor is a wide exhibit about the ancient Etruscan language. Our professor told us that Etruscan was not like ancient Greek or Latin, which are categorized as Indo-European languages in the linguistics family tree.
However, the ancient Etruscans modeled their alphabet from the ancient Greek one, which in turn was adapted from the ancient Phoenician alphabet. The Latin alphabet, which many western European cultures use today, also comes from the Etruscan alphabet. The challenge lies in not transliterating ancient Etruscan, but instead in identifying the grammar and syntax from the very little the Etruscans left behind in writing. I asked my professor why this is the case, and I learned that because the Etruscans were “Romanized” later on, they adopted and wrote in Latin instead of their former main language.
We finished our visit with a discussion about the “contrast” and “otherness” with which the ancient Romans perceived the Etruscans and people who were “not Roman.” The ancient Etruscans were technologically advanced with their craftsmanship compared to other people in Italy in the 8th century B.C.E. and had complex religious rituals. The Romans took their ritual of using animals to fortell omens, whether through searching the intestines and livers of sacrificial animals or watching the flight patterns of birds, from the Etruscans.
Yet the Romans did not want to be as “primative” as the Etruscans, whose art and culture were different from those of other tribes in the area. Etruscan women were seen as “too strong” and “loose” compared to the “proper” Roman ladies who stayed out of social events, and Etruscan men were considered too lavish and “soft” because of a stereotypical tendency toward luxuries like jewerly (a large collection of which was on display in the museum) compared to the “harder” and “proper” Roman men.
This broader contrast in itself was good food for thought as I headed back to campus for my next class. It is fascinating how someone can want to be both like and unlike another who is perceived as “other” or even as a complete opposite. My first instinct was to react with confusion because I initially perceived the concept as a paradox, but after I took my professor’s advice about thinking more deeply about the visit for the next class, I think I’ve learned how to start processing seemingly-contradictory information. I am looking forward to writing my reflection paper about this visit and sharing my ideas in class next time.