We've been on the move the last few days. We traveled up the Italian coast, from Naples to Siena, in pursuit of our penultimate destination: Florence. Check out some recent shots of Siena, where we toured both the Basilica Cateriniana and the Siena Cathedral.
Today, we departed our hotel in Rome and crossed national borders to the Vatican City, a sovereign city-state embedded within the Italian capital. There, we toured the Vatican Museums, once papal residences to Roman Catholic leaders. Matt served as our tour guide, while Justyna and I added our two cents during our viewing of Raphael's School of Athens.
Afterward, we spent about ten minutes in the Sistine Chapel, a truly remarkable multi-panel fresco in Saint Peter's Basilica. The chapel is Michelangelo's masterpiece (though, historians often acknowledge the artist himself disliked nearly every moment of its creation -- he considered himself a sculpture).
We culminated our day walking through a few more piazzas and enjoyed a pizza dinner back at the hotel.
Tomorrow, we head to the Da Vinci Museum in the morning, and then we'll prepare for our next legs of the trip: Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii, and Florence.
Much like yesterday, we toured the ancient Roman sites on foot. First, we visited the Capitoline Museums — three art and archeological museums (a three-tiered building plot situated in Piazza del Campidoglio), replete with sculptures, paintings, and general artifacts from throughout the Roman republic and empire. Historians trace the museum’s origins to the late 15th century, when Pope Sixtus IV donated “ancient bronzes to the people of Rome and located them on the Capitoline Hill.” The most renowned objects include a head bust Constantine (a colossal head structure abutting the building wall), a statue of a mounted Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the center of the piazza, the wounded Amazon, Bernini’s Medusa, the Spinario, the Capitoline Venus, and the She-Wolf of Rome. Interestingly, many of the Roman pagan statues were destroyed on the orders of the Christian Church during the Middle Ages, but the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius remained, in part because medieval Christian authorities erroneously thought it depicted Emperor Constantine, who institutionalized Christianity in the early 300s. Much of our morning was spent completing a scavenger hunt, as we located many of these famous artifacts.
Afterwards, we ate lunch near the museum and then spent the afternoon touring the Roman Colosseum, site of ancient gladiatorial games. We snapped tens, if not hundreds of photographs inside, walked up to the upper and lower parts of the ancient building, all before heading out to visit Constantine’s Arch, the Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus.
After our visit to the Colosseum, we walked through the Roman Forum and visited Julius Caesar’s tomb, where we held a seminar on the tension between having a strong, relatively beneficent autocrat versus a corrupt, oligarchic senate whereby power was distributed much evenly.
In the evening, we had free time and dinner in the beautiful Trastevere district.
Tomorrow, we head to another country and visit the most heavily-visited place in the world: the Vatican City. Stay tuned!
The last few days have been jam-packed. In what follows are short descriptions of each day:
Day 4 (14 July 2016): We spent our last official day in Athens on a highlight walk. We toured the last few parts of the city with Eleftheria before bookending our time together with a Greek folk dancing lesson at a theatre in Thissio. After our dancing extravaganza, we ate a delightful dinner just below the Acropolis (and with the Erechtheion in view!).
Day 5 (15 July 2016): On Friday, we departed Athens on Alitalia and arrived in Rome in the early afternoon. We drove into the heart of the Italian capital and watched Gladiator. Soon after, we arrived at our hotel, a former convent, and settled down before dinner. We ate at a nearby restaurant and at gnocchi, spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti pesto, and pizza, among many other Italian dishes. We closed out the night finishing Gladiator and hanging out in the convent courtyard.
Day 6 (16 July 2016): We began our first official day in the city walking to several well-known religious, historical, and cultural sites. First, we walked to Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri at the Piazza della Repubblica. In 1561, Pope Pius IV ordered the construction of the church and for it to be dedicated to “the Most Blessed Virgin and all the Angels and Martyrs”). He ordered it built, owing to a monastic vision about early Christians who served as slave labors under Diocletian. The basilica is particularly known for its meridian line, a sort of sundial that permits the sun to enter through an opening. Pope Clement XI, who commissioned its internal construction, sought to demonstrate (among other things) the Christian triumph of the Gregorian calendar over early pagan calendars.
Afterward, we walked to and toured the Galleria Borghese. Matt and Justyna provided a guided lecture inside the museum; they spoke in depth about Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (which captured David dangling the head of Goliath in one hand and holding a sword in the other — if you look carefully, the sword carries an abbreviated inscription H-AS OS, which art historians and Latin scholars interpret as Humiliates occident superbiam, or “humility kills pride”). We also visited upon another David, a Bernini marble that gets less acclaim than Michelangelo’s version. This sculpture is more physical in action, as David is in the midst of throwing a rock toward Goliath. We previewed this David in anticipation of the Michelangelo marble we’ll see in Florence. Several more paintings, busts, and artifacts lay about the museum, including, in particular, Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.
After touring the Galleria Borghese, we walked around adjacent gardens in the direction of Piazza del Popolo (“The People’s Square”). We walked in this direction to hold seminar in between Augustus’s Tomb and Ara Pacis. We spoke about when propaganda functioned as a force for good and evil. By the end of the seminar, we felt conflicted about Augustus’s legacy: truly, he was not as simple and celebrated as we make him out to be!
After our seminar, we walked to the Roman Pantheon, a church that was converted from a pagan temple. A crush of people snapped photographs in and out of the complex, all while some religious adherents sat down inside to think, pray, and reflect. The edifice itself is ashen next to its neighboring buildings, but it still attracts thousands of people a day. It is the largest unreinforced dome in the world.
We snapped photographs as well, swung by the Church of Saint Ignatius and marveled at the awe-inspiring interior (did you know that much of its interior ceiling is flat but that its painting give the illusion of curvature!?), and then headed to the Trevi Fountain to snap some more photographs. Afterward, we ate dinner nearby to cap off our night.
On Wednesday, we visited the ancient sites at Mycenae, now a relatively small town about 50 miles southwest of Athens. Four thousand years ago, Mycenae was a major Greek city center and military stronghold. Much later on, the castle situated in this hill town were occupied by the Venetians, the Ottomans, and finally the Greeks. We spent a short part of the day in seminar discussing Socrates' parting dialogue before his execution.
Later in the day we went to Nafplio for an afternoon of fun in the sun. We had a picnic just off the water and then stayed at a local private beach to swim, read, eat, and rest.
Thursday is a bit of an off-day. We could all use some rest, but we will have an Athenian scavenger hunt later on in the day. Stay tuned!
Today, we visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. At the museum, we took part in a scavenger hunt. We searched for and discovered the following objects:
We also had a delightful evening seminar on Thucydides's "Melian Dialogue." We discussed the virtue and justice of war historically and contemporarily.
Tomorrow, we head to Mycenae and Nafplion for a beach day!
Today, we visited the Acropolis, an ancient citadel situated high above the city of Athens. The Acropolis contains several buildings, some of which less destroyed than others! Of those buildings, we hold with highest regard the Parthenon (the other buildings are the Propylaea, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike). The word Acropolis comes from the Greek "akron," meaning "highest point," and "polis," meaning "city." In Athens, you'll discover that the Acropolis indeed is at one of the higher points of the city.
We tethered this visit to the Acropolis with a reading from Pericles's funeral oration, which despite its plaintive title, highlights the virtues of Athenian democracy.
We had some down time as well, so we took some group pictures and general shots of the Athenian cityscape. Enjoy!
Discursive Discourse Delivered