This semester, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to learn about the ancient world through not only lectures in my Race in the Ancient Mediterranean class, but also through many class trips. The last trip of the semester was a visit to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, a museum a short minutes away from Termini station in the center of Rome.
Palazzo Massimo is a fairly recent branch of the Museo Nazionale Romano, the National Roman Museum. It was built in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. It was interesting to see ancient artifacts on display in such a new museum!
Our first stop in the museum was at the Rabirii relief. This 1st-century grave monument was found along the Via Appia, a road south of the ancient city. We can tell a lot about the lives of the people on the stone just by looking at their names. It looks like the two people on the left side of the relief had a special status in ancient Roman society as freedpeople, former slaves who had earned their freedom and lead their own, independent lives. There are Greek names written underneath the Latin on the stone, an indicator of the Rabirii’s origins in Greece.
We also a similar mix of Greek and Roman culture through a sculpture called the General of Tivoli. The General has the idealized physique of a Greek hero but the realistic head of a middle-aged man. Fascinating to see the two artistic tropes combine into one piece!
In the next room, we saw a familiar figure in a different role. I learned about Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, in high school, but I had only read about him in the context of his military and political leadership. I got to see a different statue of him in his religious role as Pontifex Maximus, the highest priest of Rome.
One of the more famous pieces in the Palazzo Massimo is the bronze Boxer. Bronze statues are rare because historically, many of them have been melted down and so that the raw material could be repurposed. The Boxer has realistic wounds on his face that make him look like he was in a fight today.
Many of the artifacts in the Palazzo Massimo come from the estates of wealthy Romans, who displayed elaborate art in their gardens. The museum houses one of the only true Greek originals, found in the gardens of the Roman writer Sallust.
In the basement of the museum is an important find in the city: the Grottarossa Mummy, unearthed in Rome in 1964. The mummy is of an 8-year old girl from the 2nd century C.E. While my classmates and I initally thought she might have been Egyptian because the practice of mummification came from Egypt, the girl is a fully Roman mummy. DNA analyses conclude that she was likely native to the area.
The girl was found in an intricately-carved marble sarcophagus, currently displayed in the same exhibit. The coffin depicts scenes from the Aeneid, a famous epic poem written under Augustus. The main character on the sarcophagus is not Aeneas, the hero the poem is named after. Instead, the carvings show his son, the boy Iulus, participating in a hunt.
Near the mummy and the sarcophagus are also the objects found in the girl’s tomb. She was from a wealthy family that could afford not only to mummify her, but to do so with elegant jewelry. Right next to the necklace and amulets was the girl’s childhood doll, which would have been left at a special temple when she reached puberty.
We went back upstairs to look at some earthenware and glassware from around the Roman Empire. Professor Bessi told us about how many of the objects we saw in front of us in the room were Gallic versions based on ancient Roman designs. This imitation craftsmanship was widespread throughout the empire, even reaching parts of Africa as well. Glass was also a commonly-reproduced material throughout the empire.
The Gauls were not the only ones to make imitations of classical crafts – the Romans also made copies of Greek art. The Discus Thrower is a famous example in the museum. It is a copy-of-a-copy of an ancient Greek bronze statue that is thought to be lost.
We also saw some artifacts recovered from the sunken Nemi ships. Unlike statues like the Boxer on land, bronze pieces submerged in shipwrecks were not prone to getting melted down and thus were preserved underwater. It was interesting seeing so many bronze animals holding rings in their mouths while similar statues on land might have had their material repurposed above sea level!
In class, we learned about ancient Roman interactions with the people of Africa. What I found fascinating and noteworthy in studying these relations is the fact that from the late 2nd century to the early 3rd century C.E., Rome was ruled by an emperor from a region called Leptis Magna, which is in modern-day Libya. His name was Septimius Severus, and he was the founder of the Severan dynasty in ancient Roman history. Professor Bessi said that he spoke Punic, the language of the ancient Carthaginians in north Africa, as his first language and spoke Latin with a Punic accent in Rome.
Further along in our tour of the museum, we saw another remnant of ancient Roman interaction with Africa. There was a sculpture of a woman in Egyptian garments and headdress. She represents Egypt, which became a province of Rome in the beginning of the empire. I’m thankful for her choice of attire, because I can figure out who she is!
We saw a reprise of the Greek hero physique in a statue of Antoninius Pius, who ruled the empire in the mid-1st century C.E. He is depicted with an ideal body and a proportional face. It seems that he is immortalized in the prime of his life in this grand likeness of him.
In the last room we saw on our trip, there were intricately-carved sarcophagi. I was blown away by the detail on the so-called Muses Sarcophagus. It must have taken ages to carve!
Professor Bessi stopped at a very important artifact for our class: the sarcophagus of Marcus Claudianus. We learned about the ancient Christians and how they interacted with the Romans in class, and I was surprised to see Christian iconography on the coffin. One of the main challenges in reconstructing ancient Christian history is the lack of iconographic evidence due to the people’s aversion to depicting themselves and their faith at the time.
The carvings on this sarcophagus are invaluable to tracing the Christian presence in Rome before Christianity became widespread in the empire in the 3rd century onward. Not to far away from the massive piece was a smaller work of art depicting Jesus as Orpheus, a character from classical myth known for his ability to move anyone with his music. He is known as “Iesus Docente,” which roughly translates as “Jesus as Teacher.” Interesting to see Roman myth and Christian beliefs overlap!
I was sad to leave the museum after this visit. This was my last class trip for Race in the Ancient Mediterranean, and my last class trip at Temple Rome. I enjoyed learning through a very active, in-person perspective during my time abroad, and I will look fondly on my photos and written reflections in the future to relive these experiences.
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!)
I have never taken a political science class before, so I didn’t know what to expect when I enrolled in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy. The topics and discussions in the class really challenge me to consider perspectives and ask questions I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.
I’m always excited to learn new things from Professor Rinelli and from my peers in the classroom. For the session before our midterm exam, however, I was in for a bigger treat: a field trip to Piazza Vittorio in the middle of the city!
One of the readings we did for the class focused on the experiences of people who migrated to Rome, both from within and outside of Italy. We read a book titled Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio. The book is a murder-mystery organized into testimonies from different characters, with each one coming from a different place and having a different story to tell. We examined the characters’ histories and prejudices and analyzed them in the context of broader questions such as why people migrate (and what separates different types of migrants – immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers – from each other), what stereotypes develop about certain groups, and what kinds of challenges do migrants face in Rome today.
Our guide worked for Migrantour, a non-government organization (NGO) that strives to raise awareness about the cultural diversity of Europe by organizing tours of multicultural cities. She introduced herself as an Albanian immigrant who lived in Rome for 16 years. I was excited to learn from a migrant in Rome, especially when discussing migration and diversity!
The tour focused on the Esquilino Square, which is the most culturally-diverse area in the center of Rome. Unlike the districts filled with the remnants of ancient times, the was developed as a way to modernize the city after Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871. Italy was not a unified country since the end of the Roman empire until the mid-19th century, when Vittorio Emanuele II, the king of Sardinia, became king of all of Italy. The area called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele (near the Vittorio Emanuele Metro station, right after the Termini stop), called Piazza Vittorio for short, is named after him.
We left our meeting-point at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in downtown Rome and walked a few minutes past Termini station. Roma Termini is the largest station in Rome and is the major center for buses, the Roma metro, trains, and rides to the airport. I’ve been there multiple times to transfer to the Metro B or to catch trains to places outside of Rome, but I have never learned about the history in much detail until our class trip that mid-October morning.
We stopped at a place near the station, which Professor Rinelli described as a crucial location for migrants, since it was at the center of the city and held its main point of transportation and movement. It was a center for migrants that offers several different services for people who migrated to Rome from different places. Not only is this place a school where migrants can learn Italian (similar to the place my parents and sister took ESL (English as a second language) when they first moved to the United States), it is also a place where migrants can find legal advice for their status as immigrants or asylum-seekers and obtain medical assistance, a crucial service for the survival of vulnerable people.
It appears to be run-down, but this is only because it is very difficult to run a center like this one. The organization is not funded by the government or the church – in Rome, when it comes to helping human beings, a lot of things need to go through the Vatican. Furthermore, it is especially difficult for migrant women, especially Muslim women, to integrate into Italian society. Professor Rinelli added that this is an issue of marginalization because of religion and gender.
Around the migrant center were murals by a street artist named Sgarbi. To the right of the building, painted on the corner, was a portrait of Alberto Manzi. He was a teacher who taught Italian to one million people through television in the 1960’s. To the left was a larger painting of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, which includes Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso (the first of which is what we call “Dante’s Inferno“) and widely considered the father of Italian language and culture. That is the reason why Dante is facing an African woman: the mural is a message and commentary on the multicultural society gravitating around the center.
Sgarbi’s work around the migrant center is one of the most moving things I’ve seen in Rome. I’ve always known I was an immigrant: I noticed that my family and I looked different from most people in Boston since I was in elementary school, and when I was a little older, I learned about my family’s journey to the United States. However, it wasn’t until I started taking this class that I learned what it means to be a migrant.
From a young age, I’ve understood how important it is to learn the lingua franca of a place. I was luckier than the rest of my family because I never needed to learn English as a second language: I grew up in Boston and learned English at the same time as the other children. I do not speak with the same accent as my parents or my sister and did not have the same struggles with reading and writing as they did. I remember being around my parents when they got phone calls in English and sometimes explaining what the person on the other end of the line was saying. I remember speaking on the phone in English myself when my parents got too confused to understand what the other person was saying.
Seeing the picture of Manzi and learning about who he was and what he did for a million people really touched me. The fact that he was able to teach so many people the valuable skill of communicating with, understanding, and creating bonds with others through television is amazing. Learning about the meaning of the mural also brought me back to my childhood. My mother told me that when I was little, she and I would watch children’s programs on TV. Most of my family’s exposure to English at home came from the television back then, and I grew up watching the same shows as my classmates did. We got better at English through watching TV, and I think I learned a lot of my English from the kids’ shows that focused on vocabulary and grammar. I could relate to the people who learned Italian through watching Manzi on TV in the 60’s.
Another one of Sgarbi’s works: Dante (who wrote Inferno) face-to-face with an African woman. A very important piece around Termini!
Professor Rinelli mentioned that adding the image of the African woman facing Dante on a wall around Termini was also a strong statement in favor for integrating migrants in Rome. I thought about his point about how migrant women in particular struggle to integrate more than migrant men do. I felt sorry for migrant women in Rome after hearing that – I am a migrant woman myself – and found solace in seeing the woman in the mural juxtaposed with the one and only Dante. The deeper meaning of Sgarbi’s piece gave me hope that integration is happening right here and now, and made me fully realize that this progress is unfolding right in front of us thanks to the power of these artistic representations.
We concluded our time outside the migrant center learning about the general time periods of migration in this part of Rome. The first major wave of immigration from places outside of Italy happened in the 1970’s. Italy was first a nation of emigration, but we also learned that in the late 19th-century, after the unification of Italy, Piazza Vittorio has always been a melting pot of cultures and languages from the workers who built the area after they moved here with hopes for better lives. It wasn’t until decades later when more people started moving into Italy from other countries.
The first groups of immigrants were from North Africa, in particular Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, countries that Italy once colonized and were part of the Fascist Empire during World War II. There were also people moving to this block in Rome from southern Italy. This part of the city was fairly empty at the time because of an economic crisis, and the new immigrants opened small shops in the properties, which were later purchased by Chinese immigrants.
We headed further downtown toward the Mercato Esquilino. In 1991, it was an open market that was a setting for The Bicycle Thieves, one of the most famous neo-realistic Italian films that was also hit in international cinemas. The Mercato was then moved into a new closed space in 2001. It is the largest and the most important market in Rome, with roughly 150 shops, most of which are food and grocery stands.
On our way, we stopped by a garden that was once part of the department of Asian languages at the Sapienza University of Rome, a few minutes north of Esquilino. There, I was surprised to see a statue of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, of all people! Professor Rinelli described the piece as something “unique” to Rome and in Italy overall. He said that the art in Italy is mostly euro-centric and that there are almost no references to other religions or cultures, so a piece of Asian art on display in a public space is rare to see. I’m glad I got to see it on this field trip!
We made our way to the market and entered to see a bustling area inside. There were too many shops to count, and I saw people selling things from different types of clothing, accessories, food, household essentials…you name it!
We walked through the first part of the market and headed outside to the newer part of the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino. We learned about an initiative to give unsold goods to marginalized people in the area. So far, the market has donated a lot of food. I was happy to hear that everything is going to good use, even if unsold. It feels nice to know that people are helping those less fortunate than they are in this way.
We turned around and saw another one of Sgarbi’s pieces: a mural of a woman and a child reaching toward a scene of different fish in the ocean. On the top left were the words “Diversita Elemento Di Vita,” which means “Diversity is the element of life.” A powerful message that added to his other works around Termini!
The new part of the market was even busier than the first part. I saw a lot of fresh grocery stands selling produce, meat, fish, spices, and condiments. I walked past a display of bok choy and Chinese eggplants and got hungry. These are things my family and I always buy at Asian supermarkets back home. The stand made me think of my mother and her cooking. I could almost imagine smelling fresh eggplants cooking in our wok with some soy sauce and garlic. I think I’ll call Mom and ask for her recipes so I can make use of the nostalgic vegetables I saw on this trip.
On our walk through the market, I heard some of the people greet me with not “Hello” or “Hi,” but with the standard Chinese “Ni hao!”
Professor Rinelli told me that a lot of the people working in the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino were migrants or descended from migrants, and that they know “how to treat a Chinese.” I asked him if people in Rome saw me as American or Chinese, and he said that if I don’t speak, I am Chinese. I am 100% Chinese by blood, so it makes sense. Wait until they hear me speak Italian with an American accent!
Our last part of our adventure in the market was a short talk with one of Professor Rinelli’s friends, Omar. His family has run several butcher shops in the area for 39 years. He surprised me by speaking to me in Chinese. It turns out that he is a polyglot, speaking Spanish, French, Tagalog, Romanian, Chinese, and English! We also met his father, who told us about the importance of selling halal meat in Rome. Butchers like Omar and his father provide a valuable service to the Muslim community in the city.
Islam is not the only Abrahamic religion that is part of Italian society. There is a long history of Judaism in Rome, with services that offer kosher food is important in the city. Islam’s entrance into Italian society is fairly recent compared to the centuries of Jewish history in Rome. Learning about the cultural history at the butcher stand was a unique experience. I found Omar’s father’s explanation of how to prepare halal meat fascinating – I really learned a lot from him! Right behind us was a Chinese butcher stand that also prepares halal meat. I was amazed by this additional layer of cultural diversity in the market! It makes me happy to see people from different cultures cater to each other.
We said goodbye to Omar and his father and headed outside. We said another goodbye to our Migrantour guide and met in a square for a little bit to discuss the last part of the book. After a discussion on how the author captures the experiences of migrant women, I learned more about the history of the place.
The Esquilino square is, as Professor Rinelli said, “what you might call a melting pot in the United States” with people speaking different languages. In a way, he added, it was like a Babylon. In the 1990’s, the market was spread all around the square. I can only imagine what that must have been like, a square surrounded by markets stocked with international goods! Luckily, I can visit the old Esquilino through The Bicycle Thieves, the movie Professor Rinelli mentioned earlier. I can’t wait to watch such a famous film!
Finally, we learned about the architecture in this area and how it reflects the multi-layered soul of the ancient city. The psychology major in me was excited to recall that Professor Rinelli mentioned Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and likened it to Rome: he wrote, “Dreams stand to childhood memories, in the same relations as some baroque places in Rome to the ancient ruins, whose slabs and columns have provided the material for the construction of modern forms.”
I found it hard not to laugh when Professor Rinelli said that the architecture around us “makes no sense in Rome.” He himself is a Roman, and many parts of Rome do not look completely Roman. There was structural influence from northern Italy and from models categorized as the “Parisian style.” There is also a lack of balconies, which I hadn’t noticed until then. Fascinating how much you notice after learning about it firsthand!
This trip captures my favorite parts of studying abroad. Not only do I get to take classes on topics I had never tried to learn before, but I can also get am immersive approach through experiencing the topics in the real city. I’ll admit that Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy is one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken, but it is a very fun challenge I am eager to take on. I look forward to learning more about the world around me through further adventures in Rome.
And so ends another week at Temple Rome! Midterms are done! The semester is flying by quickly.
Looking back on my experience so far, I would say that one of the best parts of studying abroad is the fact that I can walk around Rome, but also experience other cities in Italy as well. Two weeks ago, I took up a classmate’s offer of spending a weekend in Florence with her and some of her friends. I bought my train ticket, packed my bags, went to Termini, and headed north.
Florence, called Firenze in Italian, is a city in Tuscany, which is a province in central Italy. It is almost two hours north of Rome and has an area of over 100 square kilometers (40 square miles; Rome is an area of almost 500 square miles) and has been around since the time of the ancient Romans.
Firenze is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance (15-17th centuries C.E.) and was home to the wealthy Medicis, a family who held power in northern Italy. One of the Medicis commissioned works from artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo.
I was in awe when I exited the train station on Friday morning. Everything I saw was like looking at a painting. Such grand architecture and brilliant colors complementing the beautiful Florentine sky!
My classmates and I stopped at a local restaurant, where I tried a maiolona pizza. I thought I liked meat-lover’s pizza in Boston, but let me tell you, when it comes to pizza, the original really is better!
I managed to finish the whole thing in one sitting and decided to sleep it off at the place we were staying afterward. After I woke up, we went to see the Arno river to see the Ponte Vecchio, which is Italian for “old bridge.”
And this is no misnomer: it really is an old bridge, dating back to medieval times! Hard to imagine that it was the only bridge not destroyed during WWII. It is currently a major center for jewelry shops in Florence.
For dinner on Friday night, my classmates and I tried some Tuscan cuisine: charcuterie! I tried a lot of different breads and cured meats. I never had charcuterie in the United States, so it was good to try it in Florence!
Enjoyed some Tuscan cuisine with a Florentine charcuterie board! From left to right: bread with olives, slices of mortadella, bread with tomato-chili paste, some olives, slices of prosciutto, some sheep’s cheese, pieces of spicy salami, and some roasted vegetables.
The next day, I took another train north, this time to the city of Ferrara. We had a guest speaker one day in Immigration, Race, and Identity in Contemporary Italy, one of the classes I am taking a Temple Rome this semester. Sara Prestianni is a photographer and advocative for migrant rights. She focuses the effects of migration policies in north Africa. I was fascinated by her talk and heard that she and her colleagues would be presenting at an International Festival at Ferrara on Saturday afternoon.
I knew I was going to be in Florence for the weekend, and it was only an hour away via train, so what was there to lose? Unfortunately, by the time I got to the venue, I asked one of the festival staff about the event and she said that the place was full and could not fit any more people.
At least I got a cool-looking program about the Internazionale a Ferrara! I hope I can read it in its full Italian one day.
I wasn’t going to let my efforts to get from Florence to Ferrara go to waste, so I walked around the city for an hour. I was happy that I got to see a new place on a sunny day. The famous Castello Estense, which is a medieval fortress surrounded by a moat in the center of the city, was so beautiful in the sunlight!
I bought some postcards at a local gift shop. I love collecting postcards everywhere I go; they make great decorations for my bedroom wall! I brought the postcards from Ferrara to class along with the Internazionale a Ferrara 2019 program to class after I went back to Rome. I showed all my souvenirs from Ferrara to Professor Rinelli, who teaches Immigration, Race, and Immigration in Modern Italy. He said that it was unfortunate that I couldn’t see the festival, but he looked amused when I showed him my postcards from the city.
I walked back to the Ferrara train station and went back to Florence. I met my classmates for dinner at another restaurant. There, I tried a maialino – pasta with pork sauce. Two for two with the good food, Firenze!
On my last day in Florence, I decided to do a bit of shopping. Florentine leather is known for its high quality and high demand in the global market. There are leather good everywhere, sold both in the vast outdoor markets around the city and in smaller indoor shops along the sidewalks.
I strolled through the San Lorenzo market, a major outdoor shopping space in Florence. I got curious about the large building in the middle of the market, so I went inside and was surprised to find in the bustling Mercato Centrale (pronounced mur-cah-toe chen-trahl-le) of Firenze!
I was fascinated by all the food stands. It reminded me a little of the food court at my local mall, only each shop had its own unique history of being founded and run by artisan chefs. I stopped by a fried food station, where I grew curious about one of the items they had on their menu: fried rabbit.
I spent €10 on a special combination of fried foods: fried chicken on the bottom with some fried rabbit on top, sprinkled with bits of fried vegetables and a few lemon slices. (Don’t worry, Mom: I’m eating my vegetables!) To this day, I’m impressed that I didn’t get any of the batter crumbs on me as I ate it while sitting on a bench near the market entrance.
This was my first time trying rabbit. I’ve had boar and venison in Titignano last month, but fried rabbit was really quite something! I could tell it was rabbit because it was the meat that didn’t taste like chicken; trust me, I know what chicken tastes like. It had a mild flavor but a strong aftertaste.
After my spontaneous lunch in the Mercato Centrale, I resumed my stroll through the shops at San Lorenzo market. I stopped at a few outdoor stands to buy some gifts for friends and family in the States (get ready for some real Florentine leather from Hui!) and to buy some new accessories. I think the felt hat and silk scarf fit me quite well after I take off my ponytail!
I decided to spend my last hour in Florence seeing the Arno one last time. As I headed toward the Ponte Vecchio, I noticed something I had missed on my first visit on Friday evening. There was a statue of a pig that I looked up on my phone a bit later. It is a bronze statue called Il Porcellino (Italian for “The Piglet”). I saw people placing coins in its mouth and rubbing its nose. Turns out this is a tradition in Florence, and feeding the Porcellino some coins before touching its snout is supposed to bring good luck!
Il Porcellino (“The Piglet”) in the middle of Florence. I saw people putting coins in the boar’s mouth. I read that rubbing its nose brings good luck. No wonder why the bronze looks a bit different on its porcine snout!
The river looks absolutely stunning in the afternoon sun! I’m glad I decided to revisit the bridge and enjoy the view at a different time of day. Time seemed to stand still by the Arno that afternoon, and I could have sworn I was there for hours until my phone screen lit up with a reminder that I had agreed to meet my classmates to pick up our luggage at the hotel half an hour before catching our train back to Rome.
It was a wonderful weekend in Florence. Such a rich culture and history in a small city! Very different from Rome in its atmosphere and scenery. I’m happy I got to experience it firsthand. I bought some things for myself as souvenirs. I think of Florence every time I wear my leather jacket. It is the first leather product I’ve ever owned, and the shopkeeper said that it will last a lifetime. Just like the memories of this weekend in Florence.
This Saturday was a special day: I had a visitor! A familiar face I knew before coming to Rome: my friend Simeon was coming to vist from Siena.
Simeon has been a friend of mine since our first year at Holy Cross. We are both juniors studying abroad in Italy this semester. I am at Temple University Rome while he is at the Siena Art Institute, about a 3-hour bus ride away. He is a studio art major with a concentration in Africana studies. It was nice to hear that he was in Italy as well and we were excited for our day in Rome.
I was more than happy to meet him at Roma Tiburtina station (I wasn’t late this time!) and buy him a day pass for the buses and trains in Rome. We are both from Boston and are used to the busy city. Simeon said that spending some time in Rome was a nice break from life in Siena. I was very curious to know what he meant by that.
Simeon told me about Siena and how different it was from a heavily urbanized place like Rome. Siena is a less-populated city, with a little over 50,000 living there compared to Rome’s over 4 million inhabitants. With an area of 118 square kilometers (a little over 73 square miles), Siena is also much smaller in size than Rome, which has an area of 1,285 square kilometers (496 square miles, over five times as big as our hometown Boston’s area of under 90 square miles). Simeon showed me pictures he took at Siena. I can see why Rome is much different now!
We talked a bit about our housing arrangements abroad. I live with five other girls in the Residence near a Metro stop while he lives with a host family whose home is a five-minute walk away from the Siena Art Institute. Simeon showed me some more pictures, this time of landmarks in the city. I liked seeing the pigeons at the fountain at the Piazza del Campo in northern Italy: it reminds me of the pigeons that flutter about in the Piazza del Popolo near Flaminio station, where I walk to Temple Rome in the morning. I also like the Duomo Cathedral – it strikes me as so simple, yet so complex, in its design!
Navigating the city was a challenge – even though I have been in Rome for almost a month, I am still not used to the altered format of the Roma Metro on weekends. There is construction going on until December, which means that on some weekends, there will be no service for part of the Linea B train. I have to figure out where I can take the subway and where we’ll need to find a bus shuttle to the right Metro stop. Getting around the city looks a lot different when you’re seeing a Metro path above ground!
After transferring from actual Metro to substitute bus on Linea B, we made it to the Colosseum, which Simeon wanted to see while in Rome. I was relieved that we managed to make it there with all the confusion and questions I asked transit staff at the stations. I’m glad the locals could understand some of my Italian through my thick American accent.
We stopped by a local ristorante for some pizza. It was nice to shout “Due!” (“doo-eh,” which means “two” in Italian) after greeting the waiter at the entrance. I usually say “Uno!” (“one”) because more often than not, I’ve eaten out alone. We got a table for two and talked about our study abroad experiences over some fresh pizza. It really hit the spot, after all the energy we spent just getting here! I had fun switching from my conversation in English with Simeon (I don’t talk much when eating out because I’m usually eating by myself) to shouting “Scusi!” (“Excuse me!”) or “Conto, per favore!” (“Bill, please!”) in Italian. It was quite an experience.
We split the conto (the bill) and headed toward the Colosseum. We had both learned something about the site before coming to Rome. Simeon learned about the place in his art history class while I learned a little about it in my Roman history class as a high-school senior. It was interesting to hear Simeon’s knowledge on the place and to combine it with my own.
We started at the southwest part of the Colosseum and looked at the Arch of Constantine. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This area is no exception. The massive arch was added in the early 4th century C.E. while the Colosseum was built in the late 1st century C.E. It was interesting seeing the later monument before the earlier one. When we walked further into the site, the opposite happened: the Colosseum was closer in sight than the Arch was. The panoramas I took say it all.
We wandered around the Colosseum, weaving past cars trying to drive through tight spots and other visitors in line for the archaeological park. I want to come back to the Colosseum sometime and see more of the place; you can only get so much from an outside view. But as students who have never seen the place in person, this experience was breathtaking. In the time we had, we were happy with what we saw.
We walked back outside and spent a lot of time looking for the substitute bus back toward Tiburtina. Simeon had a bus to catch, and I was not going to make him miss his ride to Siena. During our search, we looked at the horse-drawn carriages around the Colosseum and got souvenir coins from a machine near the closed Colosseo Metro station.
If only the subway worked: we wouldn’t be looking for the bus stop in the first place! We joked that squeezing into the bus was going to be a lot like taking the bus in Boston, and that we were trying to get to Downtown Crossing or South Station, the larger stops on the public transportation in our home-city. I was surprised to feel a little homesick now, of all times, but thinking about how funny the situation is because it feels like home in a way made me feel better.
We eventually found the bus stop and took the substitute shuttle back north. We made our way to the functioning part of the Linea B and got to Tiburtina with what we thought was a few minutes to spare. We asked drivers around the bus station (in a mix of English and Italian) about the 5:45 service to Siena. Turns out there was no rush on our end: the bus was late!
We waited for the bus together and made sure the bus that had arrived after 6:00 was the right bus. I was sad that Simeon was going back so soon, but after a hug, I felt happy that he was happy with his day in Rome. I like to think that he learned a lot from me just like I learned a lot from him. It was nice to see a familiar friend in a place I’m still getting used to, and I hope to visit him in Siena during my time here someday.
Friday: the end of the week, a time to wind down. I had just finished my third week of classes at Temple Rome and was thinking about what I wanted to do. I finished taking care of business on campus and just got back to the residence in the afternoon when I got an idea: I was going to see Ostia!
At orientation, I heard that Ostia was a common destination for Romans who wanted to go to the beach. It is easily accessible via Roma Metro. I would need to transfer subway lines a few times to get there from the residence, but it was affordable with the unlimited rides on my monthly pass. My Metro card is really paying off.
I brought my camera with me as I made my way onto the Linea A, and then the Linea B to take a new train: the Roma-Lido line. I did some research on transportation in Rome, and it turns out that the concept of this particular urban railway was a pressing issue since the 19th century, because people wanted a way to connect the center of the city to the shore. Projects to construct the line went on and off for over a century until eventually, the modern Roma-Lido line became what it is.
The stop I got off at was called Ostia Antica: Ancient Ostia. And for good reason: it was close to the Parco Archaeologico di Ostia Antica! I ran across the bridge outside the train station to the entrance of the archaeological park: I realized that the staff would stop admitting visitors after 5:00, and it was already 4:40 by the time I arrived.
I made it to the ticket office in time and got into the park without a problem. I had about two hours before the park closed, so I made the most out of my short visit. I was stunned by the sudden change between the modern park entrance and the first thing I saw inside: archaeological ruins! The remnants of a place where actual ancient people lived in!
Ostia was a significant place in Roman history. Some historians argue that it was the first “colony” of Rome in its early days from the 8th century B.C.E. Access to the Tiber river delta was crucial for resources in Italy, and eventually, Ostia became a valuable port town of Rome. The ruins are what is left of the houses and public spaces people used, and are what we modern visitors wander around and look at today.
It’s not just 21st-century humans who walk on the ancient stone roads: I had an unexpected encounter with a friendly cat that approached me, meowed, and sat at my feet, purring. I stroked my new feline friend for a while. The way the stray cat walked up to me reminded me of how my cat would greet me every time I returned to my family home in Boston. The meows and purrs sounded like the ones my cat makes, too. I felt like I was missing something in staying in Rome, and this cat seemed to fix that by being so much like my pet at home.
I walked around the park and got curious whenever I saw steps leading to platforms. I thought it would be interesting to record my experience walking up the steps and taking in the view, so I did just that on my phone. I found stunning sights of Ostia from the high vantage point and discovered things I would have missed on ground level. Some of these things include a large mosaic that covers several rooms of what was once a large house and a view of the theatre that I would have missed otherwise.
I kept an eye on the time. I managed to find the exit and head out before the staff was scheduled to do their rounds and ask people to leave before closing time. I’ll definitely come back here some other time and explore the rest of the ancient port-town.
The sun was starting to set, and it dawned on me that seeing the sunset from the west coast of Italy is an opportunity I’ve only seen once. As a Bostonian, it was impossible for me to see the sun set into the ocean: the Atlantic Ocean is on the east coast, not the west. I decided to take the Roma-Lido line further toward the shore.
I explored the more modern part of Ostia and came across a bustling, lively area near the sea. I saw a lot of restaurants and shops. Even this late in September, business is still booming at the beach!
I’m glad I caught the sunset over the Tyrrhean sea that evening. It was beautiful and reminded me of the fun time I had in Santa Marinella a few weeks ago. I was amazed at how a view like this is now so accessible to me from the Metro. It’s not something I can have in Boston!
As the sun sunk into the waves, a wave of hunger sunk into my body. I thought that since I was already so far from the Residence, and there were a lot of popular restaurants in the area, I might as well eat out.
I stopped at a place with a lot of outdoor seating. I felt more comfortable greeting people in Italian (“Buona sera!” means “Good evening!” Formal and appropriate.) and in ordering food. I find myself hesitant less as I learned how to get the waiter’s attention with “Scusi!” (“Excuse me!”) and start my order with “Vorrei” (“I would like…”).
I learned how to conjugate verbs in the present and how to form sentences. My pronunciation is improving, and I didn’t struggle as much with long words with a lot of consonants. I managed to order spaghettoni alla carbonara, a specialty in Rome. I found it funny how most of the ingredients – eggs, bacon, and cheese – sound like something I’d eat for breakfast in the States in an omelette, but in Rome, would be components of a classic pasta dish in the city. I enjoyed my carbonara and salad very much.
I walked back to the train station and made my way back to downtown Rome. I retraced my steps on the Metro and returned to the Residence, tired from all the running I did at the archaeological park and at the shore but satisfied with my photographs and the dinner I managed to order in not-as-shabby Italian. Most of all, I was pleased to learn that an adventure does not have to be a huge undertaking to be meaningful; the little things like riding a new train, seeing just a bit of an ancient port-town, petting a local cat, and trying a regional dish matter just as much, if not more!
Greetings, from a bus I boarded at the last minute! I didn’t plan to do this, but I’m glad that at least for the next three hours, I can rest assured that the rest of my trip will go according to my original plan. I feel relieved to be on my way to Pompeii and to be typing this amusing story on my phone.
I booked this day trip a few days ago. I bought a ticket to Pompeii online and woke up early to catch my 8 a.m. ride at Roma Tiburtina station. Unfortunately, I didnt know that I’d be delayed by weekend construction at Termini station, where I had planned to catch the Linea B train to Tiburtina. The Linea B platforms were closed.
I took the replacement shuttle to the next Metro stop, where the Linea B was going to Tiburtina, and arrived at exactly 8:00. I think I saw the bus to Pompeii leaving the moment I got to the station. Ah, so close! And it was all because of the delay at Termini.
I ended up buying a ticket for the next bus to Pompeii at the station. It was for 11:35 a.m. There was no way I was going to stay at the bus station for three hours, so I decided to explore.
The delay at Termini became an impromptu trip around the area. I did a lot of things for the first time. I took a bus for the first time (fun fact I learned at orientation: in Rome, a bus might not stop for you unless you wave at it like you would do with a taxi in the States!) to a local Linea C station and rode the new line as well.
I walked around the Lodi stop and found some interesting sites. There were plenty of remnants from the ancient world that I didn’t expect to find today. There is an ancient amphitheatre and several gates and walls from antiquity as well. I saw a Latin inscription on my stroll. I’ll try to figure it out from the picture I took when I can enhance the photo on my computer.
I gave myself about an hour to get back to Tiburtina. I made it to the bus station at 11:30. Close call!
I’m helping myself to the fast food I bought porta via (the Italian equivalent for “to go”) before I went to Tiburtina for the second time today. I think I’ve earned some lunch for my unexpected adventure this morning. Fries have never been so good on the bus!
I can now truly understand the importance of being flexible, able to adapt to sudden situations out of one’s control. I feel brave for improvising a new plan on the spot and for trying new things in a new part of the city.
I’m glad I could figure out what was in the previously unfamiliar area and how to get to interesting sites I found on Google Maps. I’m glad I got a nice Italian phone plan at Temple Rome during orientation. The local coverage and high monthly allowance for high-speed data was very useful in this “trip.”
This ended up being a fun adventure into the past, with all the ancient monuments and the archeological site I walked around this morning. And I’m enjoying writing this previously-unplanned post for my blog! Thank goodness I brought my battery pack and the portable WiFi device I rented during orientation.
I’m very happy that things worked out in the end, even if they didn’t at first. Making adjustments on the road is an special experience in itself.
As a city person, I appreciate the conveniences of public transportation. I was pleased to find out that both the Residence and the Temple Rome campus are short walks from Metro stations in the city. I bought my first monthly pass from a local Tabacchi for €35 during orientation. It has really come in handy: unlimited rides on the bus, tram, and Metro for an entire month! Just have to remember to pay another €35 at the Tabacchi when October comes.
I’ve been taking the Metro to class every day. The Cipro (pronounced “Chee-proh”) stop is five minutes away from the Residence.
I also ride the subway to other locations in the city. The Spagna (pronounced “Spahn-nya,” Italian for Spain) Metro station (one stop away from Flaminio, which is a 10-minute walk from Temple Rome) in particular is a convenient location for sightseeing. I see a lot of tourists taking pictures of the iconic Spanish steps and of the famous Trevi Fountain all the time – most of them walked from the Spagna stop. It’s a busy station!
One of my housemates who explored the city more than I did told me something interesting about the Metro. A lot of the main attractions are accessible from the subway stops, but was I interested in an archaeological site that was literally INSIDE a Metro station? You bet I was!
The San Giovanni Metro station, which is three stops away from Termini in the center of the city, is a significant station on Linea A of the Roma Metro. It is one of only a few stops on the entire subway system with a connection to the new Linea C of the Metro.
I was surprised to hear that Rome didn’t have that many subway lines – I thought a large city would have at least five lines. My hometown of Boston, which is much smaller than Rome, has more lines on the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority) than the eternal city does. (There are four subway lines in Boston.)
The city of Rome has wanted to add a new Metro line for years. However, construction was delayed fairly often. Every time the city dug underground, chances were that people might find ancient artifacts buried there. It is important to preserve the archaeological context of any artifact so any research on the found material can be more accurate and give us a more complete understanding of the past.
San Giovanni has been the site of several of these ancient artifacts, and the city of Rome decided to install an exhibit inside the Metro station, displaying artifacts where they were found. The city even added artwork of the objects and timelines that indicated what time period and depth beneath the ground (in meters) they came from near the stairs and escalators. The first time I saw the station, I thought I was daydreaming about Classical archaeology in the middle of a Metro stop!
I took Classical archaeology at Holy Cross as a first-year student. One of the concepts I learned was the Law of Superpostion. Layers of earth form on top of each other for passing each time period – the oldest layer hidden deeper underground while more recent layers are closer to the surface. I got to experience this firsthand riding down the escalator at the station.
I kept track of how far underneath the surface I was going and what time period the layer of earth at that depth corresponded to. The lower the escalator went, the further back in time I went. There were artifacts from the Middle Ages to times of the Roman Empire to the Roman Republic to the Roman Kingdom and even to prehistoric times!
In Classical archaeology, I also learned about how modern people react when they encounter ancient artifacts while digging underground. I learned that in Athens, Greece, there is a Metro stop that is like San Giovanni in Rome. In fact, there is an entire collection at the Syntagma Metro station in central Athens! It is called the Syntagma Metro Station Archaeological Collection and is on display in the busy subway.
I’m grateful to my housemate for telling me about the hidden gem of San Giovanni. I’ve gotten to know my housemates over the past three weeks, and they have gotten to know me. They know that I love Classical archaeology and would love to see remnants from antiquity. I was thrilled to see the exhibit in the Metro with my own eyes! I now have a better sense of what it’s like to live a city that has been around since ancient times – I surely won’t find anything like this back home! Speaking of home, time to go back to the Residence! Going back up to the modern era by walking back up the stairs to 2019!