Rome in Three Days: the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palazzo Massimo, and more!

It seems that every week my blog post begins with the same sentiment: I can’t believe how quickly the time here is slipping through my fingers. After completing all of my midterms last week, I was relieved to have a week long break, but I was also upset that my time abroad is almost over. When I first arrived, I was constantly thinking about my dogs, my friends, my university, and everything that I missed about being at home. Now that it’s October, I’m beginning to consider everything that I’ll miss about living in Italy. How will I be able to live without an espresso machine at home, infinite gelato shops on every corner, and ancient artifacts within walking distance? How have I been here for three months without seeing the Roman Forum and the Palatine hill? On Thursday afternoon I realized that I seriously need to get moving if I want to visit all of the museums, ruins, and sites on my itinerary.

In order to motivate myself to visit as many museums as possible during my break, I picked up a three day Roma Pass.  The Roma Pass provides free entrance to two museums or archaeological sites, free access to all public transportation within the city of Rome, and discounted tickets to most of the museums in Rome. It also allows you to skip the long lines at major attractions like the Colosseum and the Castel Sant’Angelo, which makes the Roma Pass a valuable asset. Certain sites are grouped together, like the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and other museums have multiple branches throughout the city. By selecting two sites with multiple attractions, it is possible to visit plenty of museums with the two free admissions. We visited four sites in three days: the Palatine Hill/Roman Forum/Colosseum, the National Roman Museum (the Baths of Diocletian and the Palazzo Massimo), the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the National Etruscan Museum. Regular admission for these museums would have cost around 42€. The Roma Pass was only 36€ and provided us with free access to public transportation as well. The purpose of this long-winded paragraph is to recommend the Roma Pass to anyone who loves museums, hates paying for individual bus tickets, and values their time too much to stand in long lines.

In three short days I was able to see many of the sites and museums on my “must see while in Rome” itinerary. In fact, I took so many pictures during the three days that I’m going to share them throughout my next two blog posts. I wanted to produce one post about the experience, but I realized that this would be impossible to write coherently in a short post (and it wouldn’t be enjoyable to read). Instead, today’s post will consist of my favorite pictures from the experience and historical context about Hadrian and the Castel Sant’Angelo.

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Our first stop was the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which was the most beautiful area of Rome that I have visited so far. I was in classical studies heaven as we walked around and checked out the remains of various temples and monuments. I’ve seen so many photos of the Roman Forum before, but nothing beats the experience of walking through the Forum and imagining what it would have been like during the height of the Republic or the Empire.
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In front of this magnificent arch, you can see the remains of a Republican era chain-link fence with ancient Roman warning signs. Yes, I make terrible jokes like this every time I see modern fixtures next to ancient monuments. “And if you look to the right, you will see an ancient electrical box.”
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The Roma Pass was 36€, but walking directly into the Colosseum without waiting in a two hour line with screaming children and grumpy tourists was priceless.
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Visiting the Palatine hill and the Roman Forum was a spectacular experience, and these sites were more peaceful and less crowded than the Colosseum. I could have spent an entire day sitting around in the imperial palace or watching people walk by in the Roman Forum. I will certainly return to spend more time on the Palatine hill before I leave.

The next day we visited the Palazzo Massimo and the Baths of Diocletian, which are two branches of the National Roman Museum. I could have never imagined how extensive the collections would be. The statues, frescoes, and inscriptions that I have studied for three years were in display cases right in front of me. Roman museums are unlike anything else that I have ever visited.

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A statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus that appears in almost every world history textbook. I was a little bit too excited when I saw this statue, and I forced Tyler to sit in that room with me for ten to fifteen minutes while I ranted about how amazing Augustus is. The Palazzo Massimo had so many famous statues and busts of Roman emperors, and I plan to include these pictures in one of my next posts about the various emperors of Rome.
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Just one small piece of the incredible collection of statues housed at the Palazzo Massimo.
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This glorious fresco was found in house of Livia, the wife of Augustus. I wish that WordPress would allow me to enlarge my panoramas to their full size, but it won’t. Since the panoramic photos are too small, you can click on the images and view them in a separate window.
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In the basement of the Palazzo Massimo was a huge collection of coins from every time period of Rome’s history. I easily could have spent several hours just in this room, examining each of the coins individually.
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The museum within the Baths of Diocletian also possessed an outstanding collection of Roman artifacts, statues, and Latin inscriptions. The museums in Rome not only contain incredible pieces of history, they are also housed within beautiful buildings with unique architectural designs.
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I think that the ability to piece together entire Latin inscriptions from small, fractured segments is so impressive. I can barely translate a full paragraph of Latin with two dictionaries, editor’s notes, grammar charts, and an English translation at hand for extra assistance.
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The sign on the door and the angry head above the door are saying “Do not enter!”
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The Baths of Diocletian were so massive that it’s almost impossible to capture the entire height of the structure in photos.
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We also visited the Baths of Diocletian an hour before it closed. This gave me the chance to sit alone in the cold bath room, which is illuminated with blue lights after dark.

On the third day of our Roma Pass adventure, we were exhausted. We started at the Castel Sant’Angelo in the mid-afternoon, and once again we enjoyed the ability to enter the site without waiting in line. The Castel Sant’Angelo was designed by the emperor Hadrian and erected between 134 and 139 AD. Although it was constructed as a mausoleum for Hadrian and his family, many of the original contents were destroyed and removed after it was converted into a fortress in the 5th century. Today the Castel Sant’Angelo is a museum, and it mostly focuses on the building’s history as a fortress and prison. The museum contains sparse references to Hadrian, the man who designed and constructed this magnificent mausoleum, which was once the tallest building in Rome.

To be honest, I was disappointed to see that Hadrian’s memory was almost erased from this monument. In honor of Hadrian, who is one of my favorite Roman emperors, I would like to share some facts about his life and his accomplishments. Born in Spain, Hadrian was orphaned at the age of ten and was raised by the future emperor Trajan, one of his father’s cousins. Under the guidance of Trajan, Hadrian pursued a political career and held various public positions in his cursus honorem. Hadrian, while on a military campaign in Syria, was adopted by his predecessor Trajan, who was deathly ill at the time. Due to the fact that Trajan’s wife, Plotina, signed the adoption document, this adoption was controversial. Hadrian had to earn his new position as emperor by securing an endorsement from the legions and the Senate. After obtaining power, Hadrian spent more than half of his reign travelling outside the city of Rome. As emperor, Hadrian avoided militaristic pursuits (aside from the Second Roman-Jewish war) and he reduced the territories of Rome by declaring certain possessed lands to be indefensible. The Senate did not support Hadrian’s policy of non-aggression, and some historians believe that the emperor’s travels allowed him to avoid dealing with the Senate in Rome.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Hadrian had a passion for architecture. Having been raised in the house of Trajan and his architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, Hadrian was inspired to pursue his architectural goals as emperor. Hadrian designed many of the buildings at his villa in Tivoli, constructed his family’s mausoleum, rebuilt the Pantheon, and built a new temple based on his design that Apollodorus had ridiculed. He also wrote poetry in both Latin and Greek, fortified Britannia with a wall, and re-popularized the beard. Hadrian is an fascinating historical figure, and visiting the Castel Sant’Angelo was an interesting opportunity to think about his impact on the history of Rome.

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I told Tyler to stand in one place because I wanted to take a panorama. Instead, he decided to run to the other side of the courtyard so that he could make a second appearance in this photo. I still love this picture. Of course, you can’t see this at all, because WordPress ruins my panoramas.
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The Castel Sant’Angelo was once a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian; it is now a mausoleum for lost hats that have fallen off during windy days.
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Despite the lack of information about ancient Rome, the Castel Sant’Angelo boasts some outstanding views of the Tiber River and Vatican City.
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I really hate selfies, but sometimes selfies are the only way to take a good picture without passing your phone to a total stranger.
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Oh look! A single glass case was dedicated to the original appearance of Hadrian’s mausoleum. Cassius Dio may have been referring to this statue atop the mausoleum in the following quote. “It was so large that the bulkiest man could walk through the eye of each horse, yet because of the extreme height of the foundation persons passing along on the ground below believe that the horses themselves as well as Hadrian are very small.”
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The interior of the Castel Sant’Angelo was slightly difficult to navigate. We passed by the same rooms countless times and struggled to find an exit when we were finally exhausted from walking in circles. But it was great exercise!
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This was the one of the few depictions of Hadrian that I could find as we walked around.
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A panoramic view of the perpetually busy bridge leading into the Castel Sant’Angelo.
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After the Castel Sant’Angelo we walked to the National Etruscan Museum at the Villa Giulia. We arrived two hours before the museum closed, and we were the only visitors there. Being alone in a museum filled with ancient burial treasures and ritual sculptures was kind of creepy. I’ll post more of these pictures in my upcoming post on Roman religion.
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All of the monuments in Rome are so beautifully illuminated at night!!!

Now that I have a week to explore Rome (and the rest of Italy), I’m looking forward to writing more posts and sharing more photos from these museums. I hope to write a few new blog posts this week while I’m on the train to Pisa, Florence, and Venice. Thanks for reading! Arrivederci!

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Pompeii in Pictures

I woke up on Friday morning at 5:00, excited and exhausted as I packed my bag for Pompeii. After spending three hours on the bus with other students from my Ancient Roman Civilization course, we arrived and disembarked, ready to explore the ancient ruins with our professor. Wandering around Pompeii was unforgettable; I was finally able to visualize the architectural descriptions of Roman homes and structures that I had read about in text books.

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other Roman towns along the Bay of Naples. While Herculaneum was instantly consumed by pyroclastic flow at the base of the volcano, Pompeii was destroyed by the intense heat and molten rocks raining down after the eruption. The remains from Pompeii, though often fragmented, have allowed historians and archaeologists to develop a more thorough understanding of life in a Roman town. Walking through the ancient city was certainly a solemn and humbling experience for me. As I tried to imagine the lives of Pompeii’s inhabitants, I felt connected to these individuals. Their homes, pets, food, entertainment, worries, desires, and all other aspects of their daily lives are so similar to our own.

Rather than writing a detailed description of Pompeii’s history, today I would like to share some of the photos from my visit and use the captions to explain some aspects of life in the ancient world. Four years ago when I began learning Latin and studying ancient Rome, I was most interested in the differences between our culture and theirs. However, today I find myself marveling at our similarities and realizing that humans have always acted, to put it simply, like humans. Although there are plenty of differences to be discussed, connecting to antiquity by discovering our shared humanity is a more fulfilling task.

We started our site visit outside of the city walls, where burials would have taken place. Pictured is one of the many elaborate tombs.
We started our site visit outside of the city walls, where burials would have taken place. Romans desired to be remembered in the afterlife, and the inscriptions on their tombs often told the story of their lives to visitors entering the town.
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Our professor was incredibly excited to see that this palestrum was finally open to the public for the first time in her career. She was less impressed by the spooky, distracting background music that was being played over speakers in the portico. She commented “I don’t know why they can’t open any new modern exhibits for visitors without the weird, creepy background noise.”
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This palestrum would have been the training ground and exercise yard for young men. Surrounded by a three sided portico to provide protection from the weather, the palestrum was an important venue for exercise and socialization during the daily lives of Roman men.
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The new palestrum exhibit includes cases of objects found during the excavations of Pompeii. We were all amazed by the ancient dice that look exactly like the dice that we all know and love today.
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Over the walls of the palestrum, it is possible to see Pompeii’s amphitheater. The amphitheater was built after Pompeii became a Roman province in 89 BC under the authority of Sulla. A venue for gladiatorial shows was considered a requirement of all Roman towns, and this uniquely designed amphitheater was erected to fulfill this requirement.
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The unique design of this amphitheater allowed it to be identified in a wall painting that depicts a riot during a gladiatorial event. This riot was so chaotic and destructive that the town of Pompeii was forbidden from hosting any gladiatorial events for ten years. When a large earthquake took place three years after the riot in 62 AD, the emperor Nero decided to revoke the ban on gladiatorial battles to revive the spirits of the townspeople.
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A panoramic view inside of the amphitheater. I have incredible respect for those who are able to read and translate Latin inscriptions like this one. I can stand in front of Latin inscriptions for hours without being able to decipher the letters, abbreviations, or meaning.
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Pompeii was beautiful in the early morning and became crowded very quickly in the afternoon. My travelling tip still holds true: always visit sites as early as possible. Also, the trees in the background of this image are known as umbrella pines, and are mentioned by Pliny in his letters to Tacitus about the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. He described the cloud of debris from the volcanic eruption as resembling “umbrella pines” that were commonly found in the area surrounding Mt. Vesuvius.
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Inside of the amphitheater a large wooden pyramid has been built that holds the plaster casts of those who died in Pompeii. These remains were preserved using a method discovered by the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli. The Fiorelli method involves pumping plaster into the hollow cavities left by the bodies that had rotted away beneath the volcanic rock. These plaster casts allow us to know how these men, women, and children spent their final moments.
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While most seemed to spend their final moments lying on their backs, this particular cast depicts a person huddled over in a seated position. To me, this cast was the most upsetting; it expresses fear and despair. Being in this room was a solemn reminder that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was a calamity. Despite the archaeological importance of sites like Pompeii, it is still worth remembering the humans who suffered in their final moments on August 24th, 79 AD.
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The skulls and teeth of these remains were still intact when the plaster casts were made. The couple cuddling together in their final moments was another heartbreaking reminder of these humans’ unfortunate fates when their lives were brought to a premature end.
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To be honest, I’m still confused about what this individual was doing at that moment. He seems strangely at peace with the situation.
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There is Mt. Vesuvius lurking in the background over a vineyard in Pompeii. Several ancient sources attest to the fact that Mt. Vesuvius was not believed to be a volcano. It was described as a “conical hill” in some cases. Others believed that it was once a volcano, but it could no longer erupt.
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This marble counter top belonged to a storefront that served food to people walking down the street. Most Roman houses did not have a personal kitchen, so it was common to eat meals on the go. That’s right, the Romans had fast food.
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Open gardens, called peristyles, in the back of the home were a common feature of the Roman domus. This garden has been replanted so that visitors can imagine what it may have looked like before the eruption.
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It’s an obsidian mirror! Not only is this a cool example of Roman objects that resemble modern objects, this obsidian mirror is incredibly rare. Only a few other examples of obsidian mirrors have been discovered in the Roman world.
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Wall paintings, columns, and porticoes were essential features in the Roman domus. Pompeii is a spectacular site because many of the frescoes have been preserved, which allows us to understand how colorful and vivid the inside and outside of Roman structures once were.
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This little niche in the wall is an ornate example of a lararium, or a shrine to the household gods. Romans not only worshiped their gods publicly at temples, they also revered their ancestors and a set of gods who were thought to protect their homes and families.
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Although I took many pictures of frescoes at Pompeii, the majority of the photos were blurry and failed to show the true beauty of the paintings. But I had to share this fresco of Narcissus, observing himself in the reflection of the water. Before the era of Netflix, wall paintings of your favorite mythological scenes would provide you with entertainment.
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Another image with Mt. Vesuvius in the background. I heard several people criticizing the residents of Pompeii for “being stupid and living so close to a volcano” on Friday. I wanted to remind them of two very important details: 1) Many of the residents were veterans of Sulla’s army who received the land for their service. No one in their right mind would have rejected their right to land in the Bay of Naples based on the paranoid suspicion that perhaps the nearby mountain was a volcano. That would be ridiculous.      2) Again, Mt. Vesuvius was not believed to be an active volcano. People living in Pompeii at that time were not idiots who willingly chose to live next to a potentially destructive volcano. Despite the fact that my professor clarified this several times, everyone still enjoyed mocking the people who died in the disaster.
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I have no idea what these blocks actually are, but we were referring to them as “ancient Roman Lego bricks”
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As a Lego enthusiast and a huge fan of things that I don’t understand, these miscellaneous blocks were pretty awesome. WHAT ARE THESE?
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An interesting feature of Pompeii is the prevalence of bricks. Unlike Rome and other larger cities, Pompeii did not have access to expensive materials like marble. Instead, monuments like this triumphal arch were constructed with bricks and then covered in a layer of plaster that would be painted to look like ornamented marble. It’s  unfortunate that all of their hard work has vanished, and we’re left with the ugly bricks that they tried to cover up with plaster.
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The main forum of Pompeii was in the process of being reconstructed after the major earthquake in 62 AD. When the city was frozen in time 17 years later, it remained apparent that many buildings were still being rebuilt.
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This area was dedicated to the deified emperor Vespasian. The altar and surrounding district is interesting because it was built after Vespasian’s death in June 79 AD. Two months later Mt. Vesuvius erupted, which makes this one of the most recently finished projects before the destruction of Pompeii.
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This is another brilliant example of how columns in Pompeii were composed of brick and then covered with plaster to resemble white marble. The column in the background shows the difference between the brick and plaster. I love how the Romans inventively used the materials that were available while still creating the illusion of grandeur.
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The basilica of Pompeii on a beautiful day. The basilica was an important venue in the forum that served as a courthouse. Many civic affairs would have been conducted here, and it played a crucial role in the politics and daily lives of citizens in this town.
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A massive collection of various vessels alongside the plaster cast of man’s best friend. This dog was discovered chained up in the entry way of its master’s home, protecting the belongings inside.
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More miscellaneous vessels and a treasure chest! It was common for Romans to flaunt their wealth, and this chest was found in the main atrium of a home where every incoming guest could wonder what magnificent treasures were inside the locked box.
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Roman latrines!!! Benches with strategic holes would be placed across the stones jutting out of the walls, and groups of men would sit down to do their business together. I’d like to imagine that they also used this precious time to discuss the gladiatorial battles and the results of recent elections.
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Going to the public baths was also an important part of daily life in ancient Roman towns. This bath facility in Pompeii was beautifully adorned with sculptures, mosaics, and reliefs. Pictured here is the roof of the hot water bath.
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In the hot water bath facility, these clever rivets in the walls would guide condensation from the roof to these small overhangs. This prevents condensation from dripping onto the heads of the bathers below. Another smart solution implemented by the ancients.
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As I mentioned previously, many Romans loved to flaunt their extravagant wealth. In the case of this domus, the House of the Faun, the owner had acquired the land from two properties to create his giant estate. This unnecessarily large doorway practically screams “I have a lot of money!”
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The House of the Faun is named after the little statue in the center of this picture, the Dancing Faun. From the front of the domus, you can see the two peristyles and massive size of this private residence.
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This is only one of the peristyle gardens from the House of the Faun. Although this estate is gorgeous, its size and grandeur does not represent an average Roman domus.
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This mosaic is one of the most famous pieces from Pompeii. It reads “Cave Canem” (Beware of the Dog) and once again it is a reminder of how certain aspects of life are so similar to the lives of the Romans. Before we left Pompeii, I picked up my own “Cave Canem” souvenir to hang up at home so that I can warn people about my vicious pack of dachshunds.
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This panorama was taken at a villa outside of Pompeii, the Villa of the Mysteries. The villa is named for the painting in this room, which seems to depict a young woman being initiated into the mystery cult of Dionysus. However, this interpretation is frequently debated by scholars because it seems unlikely that the initiation practices of a mystery cult would be depicted in art. No matter what the subject actually is, the fresco is an outstandingly well preserved and beautiful example of Roman wall paintings.
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After a long day of exploration, I asked a friend to take a picture of me in front of these preserved wooden shutters at the Villa of the Mysteries. This Villa once sat upon a cliff overlooking the sea, and these shutters were used to block the breezes from entering the bedrooms. I love it!

Visiting Pompeii and the Villa of the Mysteries was a wonderful learning experience, and I loved exploring the homes, shops, and civic buildings frozen in time. Wandering through Rome and other towns from the Roman world, I realize how clever, creative, and resourceful humans have always been. From our desire for entertainment to our love of luxury, we share many qualities with those who lived in the ancient world. Studying abroad has provided me with a unique opportunity to see so many historical monuments in person, and I’m grateful for this every day. Until next time, ci vediamo!

On Storms, Sickness, and Studying Abroad.

Recently life in Rome has been throwing me some curveballs. For several weeks I avoided contracting the cold of fall 2015 that was being passed around the study abroad program, but I finally fell to the dreaded sickness. After a few days of bed rest and fluids, I began to feel better yesterday morning. I spent the weekend watching a thunderstorm through my bedroom window and hoping that I would feel like myself again by Saturday night. Last month I booked a nighttime tour of the Colosseum, and I was determined to get out of bed for this experience. Although it was still raining heavily on Saturday evening, we trudged through the storm to meet our tour group at Trajan’s Column.

A rainy night in Piazza Venezia.
A rainy night in Piazza Venezia in front of the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

I had already planned a blog post about the history of the Colosseum that would allow me to share some pictures and information from this tour, but the bad weather interfered with my plans. Our tour guide announced that they were not able to open the Colosseum that night due to the storm, so we were given a full refund and sent home. I jokingly commented that Jupiter had been warning us with the recent thunderstorms, and no one in the group (except for my boyfriend) seemed very amused. I was definitely disappointed that nighttime tour was cancelled, but I was also happy to be out of the house again.

Our disappointed tour group huddled together in the rain, waiting to discuss refunds on the Colosseum Tour.
Our disappointed tour group huddled together in the rain, waiting to receive their refunds for the cancelled Colosseum Tour.

After taking some blurry photos of Trajan’s Column and telling Tyler a few of my favorite stories about Trajan’s architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, we hurried home. I’ll probably discuss Trajan and Apollodorus in greater detail when I write about Hadrian and the Castel Sant’Angelo, but now it’s worth mentioning that Hadrian had Apollodorus banished and put to death because he had ridiculed Hadrian’s architectural designs. The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t purposefully offend people, especially those who will eventually become emperors. That is how you get banished and sentenced to death.

Standing in front of Trajan's Column, which looks strangely bland in this blurry picture.
Standing in front of Trajan’s Column, which looks bland and boring in this disastrously blurry picture.
A stock image of Trajan’s Column that shows how detailed and ornate this beautiful piece of architecture is.

On our way home yesterday evening, Tyler and I started talking about life in Rome, including our challenges, our successes, and our overall lack of preparation. This conversation inspired me to compose a few packing lists for any prospective study abroad candidates who happen to read my blog. I want to share with other students some of the most useful items I packed, the least useful items that needlessly weighed down my suitcases, and some things I’ve learned about Rome so far.
The Most Useful Items I Packed:

  1. Cold and Flu Medicine: without this box of magical pills, I would probably still be miserable. I recommend bringing medicine from home to prevent an emergency trip to the farmacia.
  2. Hydrocortisone cream: Roman bugs are ruthless, and I’ve heard a few complaints about the price of bug bite cream in Italy. Bring your own to relieve the pain immediately when the legions of bugs attack.
  3. Vitamins: multivitamins can be expensive here. If you are used to taking a daily vitamin at home, then bring enough to last the duration of the trip.
  4. Plenty of t-shirts and tank tops: with the humidity and heat in Rome it is impossible to wear shirts more than once without feeling sticky and disgusting. I vacuum sealed almost twenty tank tops and t-shirts to save space in my suitcase, and I’m grateful for this decision every single day.
  5. School supplies: for the sake of saving money and time during the first few days here, bring your own school supplies from home. It is possible to buy notebooks, binders, and index cards here, but it was really convenient to have everything prepared before classes started.
  6. Clipboard: maybe this item should have been included in the school supplies category, but I think it’s important enough to list separately. Having a clipboard has been essential for taking notes during site visits.
  7. Ziploc Bags: I recommend buying a big box of plastic bags and packing them in your suitcase because they are always useful (for snacks, leftovers, organization, etc.) and seemingly impossible to find in stores here.
  8. As many socks as possible: as I said before, the humidity is intense here, and it can ruin clothes and socks quickly. In order to avoid running out of socks, bring every pair that you own (or as many as possible).
  9. Comfortable walking shoes: unfortunately, I only brought one pair of comfortable walking shoes, and the cobblestone streets are starting to take a toll on them. I wish that I had packed another pair of walking shoes.
  10. Specific brands of toothpaste, deodorant, and soap: I am strangely particular about the products that I like use, so it was a good idea to pack my favorite brands from home. This isn’t necessary for everyone though.

Five Things that Needlessly Weighed Down My Suitcases:

  1. Uncomfortable walking shoes: I do not know why in the world I packed two pairs of dress shoes, extra flip flops, and the worst boots I owned. I haven’t worn any of these shoes yet, and I’m sending all of them back with Tyler when he leaves in November. If you can’t walk five miles in the shoes that you are considering packing, don’t bring them.
  2. Books: I slept for the majority of my eighteen hour flight, but I optimistically thought that I would spent this time reading several books on mythology and Roman politics. This was a bad idea and a waste of space. Now I have to bring home my old books with new textbooks.
  3. Extra Phone Chargers: I cannot justify having brought eight phone chargers on this trip. I could have a different charger in each room, place two in my bags, and still have extra phone chargers. My worst nightmare is forgetting to pack a phone charger, but I think that I overcompensated.
  4. Ridiculous Clothes: when I was packing frantically at 3:00 AM, every item of clothing seemed so necessary. “But what if I get invited to a formal cocktail party? I better bring two of those dresses that I’ve never worn! Six identical sweaters! Yeah, why not?” Now that I’m in Rome, all of this extra apparel is gathering dust in the closet, just like it did in my closet at home.
  5. Straws, scissors, and miscellanea: For some reason I assumed that there wouldn’t be plastic straws in Italy. I packed so many random items that were easily found in any Italian supermarket. Of course all of these items are useful, but they are not necessary to bring with you from home.

Three Things I Have Learned about Rome:

  1. The weather here ranges from violent rain to smoldering heat. Since I’m from San Diego, I only possessed the wardrobe to deal with hot weather. Now that it’s raining at least once a week, I have realized that I am not prepared to deal with rain. Recently I had to buy a new waterproof coat, rain boots, and other winter apparel that will become completely useless when I return to my eternally sunny hometown. I also wish I knew how to use an umbrella without hurting innocent people around me. I am embarrassingly awful at handling an umbrella in strong winds.
  2. Walking everywhere simply is not possible, but using public transportation can also be difficult. Today I waited twenty minutes for a tram because I was feeling a little bit lazy. When it finally arrived it was completely packed full of people. Everyone else pushed ahead of me and squeezed into the crowded tram while I stood on the curb with a dumbfounded expression as the tram pulled away without me. I decided to walk to my destination, which took about fifteen minutes. Moral of the story: walk whenever it’s possible and enjoy the free exercise on the streets of Rome.
  3. There are so many things to see in this city that it is overwhelming at times. I want to visit every museum, church, park, and garden that Rome has to offer. I have learned that the best way to see as many things as possible is to spontaneously pop into places that look interesting. Every time I pass anything familiar or new, I take a moment to explore. This strategy has allowed me to see plenty of churches, ruins, and museums that I would have walked past otherwise. Spontaneity and a willingness to explore are two useful characteristics to possess while studying abroad.

Living in Rome has been an exciting, challenging, and surprising experience. I wish that I could travel back in time to August and give some of these tips to myself as I threw everything into my suitcases. I hope that this advice might be helpful to other students who are thinking about studying abroad in Rome. I also hope that I can finally return to writing about Roman history in my upcoming blog posts. Maybe this week will be the last time that I am wildly derailed by a change of plans! Next Friday I’ll be in Pompeii, and I promise to share some amazing photos from my site visit and interesting stories about the importance of this Roman town. Thanks for reading! Arrivederci!

Wandering Around Rome

The second week of this semester has come and gone, and I am amazed by how quickly my time here is passing. In order to ensure that I am getting the most out of my study abroad experience, I have been trying to balance my studies and schoolwork with exploration and adventures. To be honest, it’s been hard for me to study, travel, and take care of myself during this trip, but I think that I am finally figuring it out. I’m reading history textbooks on the elliptical, mentally conjugating Latin verbs as I walk to school, and practicing my Italian conversation skills whenever the opportunity arises. I’m still finding enough time to sleep, of course, because sleep will always be one of my main priorities.

Every day I am seeing more of this gigantic city through a combination of careful planning and spontaneous decisions. It seems that no matter how well I plan our weekend adventures, Tyler and I always end up wandering around and stumbling upon sites that make my original plans seem boring in comparison. Today we were going to visit the Castel Sant’Angelo because admission is free on the first Sunday of the month (but also because I love the concept of emperors building elaborate mausoleums to commemorate their narcissistic glory). Prioritizing sleep over exploration, we woke up late and arrived around 2:00 to see an astonishingly long line wrapped around the Castel Sant’Angelo.

The Castel Sant'Angelo. I will definitely be returning soon to explore its interior and visit the museum.
The Castel Sant’Angelo, completed in 139 AD. I definitely plan on returning soon to explore the museum and interior.

We decided to forget about our plans (sorry, Hadrian, maybe next time), and instead we followed the flocks of tourists heading toward Vatican City. As we took a few panoramic photos and stopped to admire the beauty of St. Peter’s, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should stop making plans and embrace the idea of wandering around aimlessly every weekend.” Today is the first Sunday of October, and I have more than two months remaining in the Eternal City. I have realized that whenever I allow myself to get lost in the confusing cluster of cobblestone streets it becomes possible to discover so much more than whenever I have effectively followed the directions.

A panoramic view of St. Peter's Basilica. Of course there aren't two obelisks, but that's the side effect of taking panoramic photos.
A panoramic view of St. Peter’s Basilica. The double obelisks are a side effect of the panoramic photo.
Enjoying Vatican City together. This is the first time we asked someone to take a photo of us. After a full month this is our first picture together that isn't a selfie.
Enjoying our time wandering around Vatican City! Surprisingly, this is the first time we asked someone else to take a photo of us. After several months here this is our first picture together that isn’t a selfie.

Before I left, one of my best friends recommended “getting lost” as often as possible while living in Rome, and this seemed like such a terrifying thought at the time. Why would I ever want to get lost on purpose? We live in the era of GPS technology and Google Maps! But as usual, he was right, and I’m starting to appreciate the moments when I have no idea where I am.

Weaving through the colorful tour groups with their matching attire and drowning in the sea of selfie sticks, I enjoyed some moments of clarity today. The chaotic crowds of Rome are both amusing and fantastic. All of us have our noses stuck in a map, but none of us seem to know where we are going. We are speaking countless languages, staring at the sky, and trying to avoid oncoming traffic. I could have spent today in a museum that I had already researched, but instead I spent today stumbling upon sites that I don’t quite understand. Although I wished to publish a blog post about the historical context of Hadrian’s mausoleum, all I have to write about today is my ongoing realization that Rome is immense, bountiful, and full of wonderful things to see.

On our way back home to Trastevere we walked through the Piazza Navona, continued to wander until we passed a few ancient monuments that I couldn’t identify, and eventually we found ourselves sitting at the Circus Maximus watching dog walkers. As we strolled down a familiar street on our way to the Circus Maximus, we saw some crowds entering a church and decided to follow them. Once we entered the church we were astonished by the elaborate ornamentation and artwork embellishing its interior. We spent a while admiring the Baroque art throughout this beautiful church, the Santa Maria in Vallicella, also called the Chiesa Nuova. Once again, spontaneous decisions and cancelled plans lead us to discover the most amazing treasures.

This panoramic picture didn't work very well, and it certainly doesn't show how beautiful the Chiesa Nuova truly is.
This panoramic picture didn’t work out very well, and it certainly doesn’t depict how magnificent the Chiesa Nuova truly is.
I will always find art on the ceilings to be absolutely amazing. Most of my time here was spent gazing up at the breathtaking artwork.
I have always thought that ceiling paintings are incredible. Most of my time here was spent gazing up at the spectacular artwork on the roof.
Baroque artwork in this breathtaking church. I am so happy that we stumbled upon this place today.
More beautiful Baroque artwork in the Chiesa Nuova. I am so grateful that we spent some time here today.
The art, the marble, the altars, the columns...the grandeur of this place took my breath away.
The art, the marble, the altars, the Latin inscriptions, the columns…the grandeur of this church took my breath away.

Tomorrow is the first site visit for my Ancient Roman Civilization course, and I’m so excited to explore the ancient ruins with my classmates and professor. On that note, it’s time for me to get some sleep and rest my feet after another long day of walking around Rome. Thanks for reading, ci vediamo!