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.