After spending an artful morning in Firenze, we were off to Roma. What better way to end my extended Study Abroad travels than to visit this ancient city!
During our first night in Rome, we took a walking tour with a great local guide, Elena. We climbed up Capitoline Hill (after two years of walking up Bascom Hill, this was no problem!) and saw the replica of the Equestrian Statue of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (the ancient Roman original, created in the year 175, was moved in 1981 for restoration to one of the Capitoline Museums). Elena explained that this statue is one of the few survivors of its type from this early era. Most other bronze statues had been destroyed, either by Christians who believed them to be pagan idols, or due to the common practice during the Middle Ages to melt down and reuse the metal for coins or new sculptures. The 14-foot tall Marcus Aurelius bronze was inadvertently saved from destruction because it was thought to be a statue of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great.
As we were walking, I kept seeing the letters SPQR everywhere – on manholes and even on these statues! Our guide explained that it stood for ‘The Senate and People of Rome’ (translated from the Latin: Senātus Populusque Rōmānus) and is used as an official emblem of the municipality of Rome.
We also had an astounding view of ancient ruins and then visited the Pantheon, built as a temple to the gods of ancient Rome about 1900 years ago and where the first two Italian kings and the famous Renaissance painter Raphael are buried.
We then made our way to the Piazza Navona, where we admired the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Bernini. Artist Bernini designed the fountain for Pope Innocent X of the wealthy and noble Pamphili family. Each of the four River Gods represent a continent through which the papal authority had spread: the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia), the Río de la Plata (the Americas), and the Nile (Africa). The River Gods surround an ancient Roman obelisk (81 CE) which is surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove and an olive branch. Below the River Gods are a plethora of exotic animals: a lion, dragon, serpent, horse, dolphin, and a crocodile.
We were then free for the night to grab some dinner. Shelby and I chose a lovely restaurant on the Piazza because it had free WiFi and was close to our hotel. We sat outside and I ordered the lasagna (even better than at one of my favorite Madison restaurants – Biaggi’s)!
We woke up early the next day (August 10) to begin our amazing last full day in Europe! We started out in Vatican City (we first had to go through security) and then went to the Vatican Museum, housing the Tapestry Gallery, the Gallery of Maps, and (drumroll please…) the Sistine Chapel!
The Sistine Chapel was originally built as a private chapel for Pope Sixtus IV within the Vatican from 1477 to 1480. It is now where the Papal Conclave meets to elect a new pope. Our local guide explained that all of the strategically placed fig leaves on the sculptures were added later because the sculptures were thought to be indecent. In order to be allowed into the Sistine Chapel, people must wear clothing that covers the shoulders and knees (children excluded). I had to plan ahead and pack a change of clothes (it was too hot to meet the dress code all day).
Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512 and it is breathtaking! He was known more as a sculptor than as a painter and was initially reluctant to accept the commission from Pope Julius II. In the center of the ceiling are nine panels in three groups depicting the Book of Genesis, including the creation of heaven and earth, the creation of humanity, and the story of Noah. The most well-known panel is The Creation of Adam which depicts God reaching out to touch Adam’s hand, imparting the spark of life. In total, there are 343 painted figures covering the ceiling.
After leaving the Sistine Chapel, Shelby and I walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. By tradition, it is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles and the first bishop of Rome. It was a feast for the eyes – sculptures everywhere, altars, and amazing architecture! Michelangelo’s sculpture Pieta is in St. Peter’s; it is his only signed work of art. We also saw where Pope Francis lives; he lives in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the Apostolic Palace.
After grabbing a quick lunch, we then headed over to the Coliseum. The Coliseum originally had four stories, but now there is only a small part that still has all four. Even with just two or three levels, it is very imposing and grand! Seating among the levels was according to social class, so that the wealthiest people sat closest to the fighting. It took about 8 years to build (the work done mostly by slaves) from 72 to 80 CE. Coliseum managers imported exotic animals from Africa, northern Europe, and Asia for the gladiators to battle though many animals died during the transportation process. Back in the day, the Coliseum was protected from the sun by an overhead awning; understandable since I felt uncomfortably warm after just 5 minutes on the second level. The floor of the Coliseum was covered with sand to absorb the blood spilled during fights. Gladiators were slaves and had no civil rights; they were pitted against each other and the winner had to ask the crowd what to do with the loser (as depicted in the movie, Gladiator, with Russell Crowe). We walked around on the first and second levels and saw the sheer size of the Coliseum, which could seat about 55,000 spectators. On the first level we saw below to where the gladiators and animals would wait for the machinery to lift them up to the stage and begin their battles.
After such an eventful day, we dined at our hotel and then relaxed by the pool. It was hard to imagine that in 12 hours I would be leaving for the airport to fly back home to Madison. My summer in Europe has felt both like a lifetime and a few moments all at once. While I am returning to my ‘normal’ life, it will seem very different from what I became used to in Spain. The two weeks spent traveling in Europe after my study abroad in Alcalá was a wonderful way to end my adventures and also nice transition back to speaking English with the Americans in our tour group. Though, I have heard than many study abroad students experience ‘reverse culture shock’ when arriving home.
And so my study/travel abroad experience ends in Rome.
I will wrap up my final thoughts in the next blog entry as I write about staying in touch with my Spanish host family, adjusting to life again at UW-Madison, and why students should seriously consider including study abroad in their academic plans.