Nov. 18: Ravenna

It feels so strange to be writing this, but we’ve all been saying it, so I guess I have to…today was our last lecture, our last day of class, our last day on the road of the FSP. It’s a little bit surreal; I can’t believe how fast nine weeks has gone by. It seems like just yesterday that we were romping around the tombs of Cerveteri and Orvieto and learning about the wonders of hut-urns (sigh)—and now here we are in Ravenna talking about a completely different kind of mausoleum!

            This morning—brilliantly sunny but very cold; we’ve discovered that Ravenna fall feels a lot like Hanover fall—we took the bus out of Ravenna proper to the town of Classe (Latin Classis), the Adriatic dwelling-place of the Roman fleet (and the Roman port). In the 6th century, the Byzantine emperor Justinian took back Ravenna for the “Roman” empire (now run out of Constantinople; the Western Roman empire is sadly in shambles, and Rome itself is, I think, pretty grim), and built a bunch of new churches in the city. This morning we saw the second of the two, San Apollinare in Classe.

            Now I have to admit (this is a big admission of nerd-hood, which I have to make fairly regularly these days) that I’ve been hoping to come to San Apollinare in Classe since my senior year of high school when we discussed the mosaics of the church in AP Art History. I was particularly fascinated by what seemed to me to be horribly inaccurate sheep. The church did not disappoint; not only were the sheep just as silly as I remember them—they have ridiculously long tails! Sheep don’t have tails!—but the other mosaics were just spectacular. The colors—the green and blue—were beautiful, and (as usual) the use of gold was very impressive. What I think is so cool about this particular church’s mosaics is how they create a visual representation of the hierarchy of the church: you’re there, looking up at the altar, where your local priest would be; above him is the flock of lambs, the church; standing amongst them is the local saint, Apollinaris; above him is the cross flanked by three sheep (who we think are apostles); above that is the hand of God flanked by Moses and Elijah (the two Old Testament figures who were sent to heaven and became angels);  and finally, above the hand of God, is a rather severe-looking Christ. You can trace the hierarchy of the church through the decoration—it’s so cool. (And the sheep are pretty great too).

            I can’t believe the term is over—of course, we have an “in-class” essay tomorrow that will wrap up our work—but I’m so happy we got to end it in Ravenna, away from Rome. Now I can remember Rome as a glorious ancient city and not the rather decrepit one it became after the 4th century CE. We were all so happy to be back in Rome this evening, and it’s really started to feel like home. It’s been a great place to spend nine weeks. And now that I’ve been all sentimental about how attached I’ve grown to the city, I’ll add this: I will NOT miss traveling through Termini. That place is a mess.


Nov. 17: Ravenna

 Today, we visited several early Christian buildings. We first visited the Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista. The church, dating back to around 425 A.D. was constructed by Galla Placidia, the sister of Emperor Honorius. The basilica featured several features that we would see later, including a colonnade on each side, covering the side aisles, a central nave culminating in an apse, a clerestory as an upper level and mosaics (in this case floor mosaics). Next, we visited the Neonian Baptistry. Constructed in the early 5th century, during the time of the Ostrogoths, the octagonal room featured lovely mosaics along its upper level and ceiling. The depiction of Jesus’s baptism by John, overseen by the Holy Spirit and the River Jordan, and framed by a procession of apostles was repeated and refined in the Arian Baptistry (late 5th century). At the Arian Baptistry, established during the time of the Roman emperors, we talked about some of the finer details of early mosaics including the beautiful gold leaf pieces, the use of the false oculus or tondo surrounded by an oak leaf (symbolizing triumph), the nimbus (halo), and the solium (throne).
Next we went to the Basilica of San Apollinare Nuovo (dedicated to the saint who brought Christianity to Ravenna). Built between 493 A.D. and 526 A.D., the church featured beautiful mosaics. Along the wall underneath the clerestory, a religious procession (of martyrs and saints) moves towards Christ and the Virgin Mary (respectively). Atop the procession, between the clerestory windows are images of important religious figures while at the very top are scenes of Christs’s life (following in the Roman narrative tradition).
Finally, we headed over to the Museo complex. We quickly looked at the Ravenna Relief before going over to see the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The tomb was AMAZING. The walls and the ceilings were covered with beautiful mosaics of wildlife, and zodia, and stars. It was outstanding. Afterwards, we spent a little while in the Basilica of San Vitale which had a very interesting polygonal shape, two story colonnade, and presbytery. However, the most amazing part of the church were the mosaics in the presbytery and apse. Featuring stories of saints, depictions of the emperor and empress, and Christ seated atop a globe in the apse, the decoration was splendid.
Overall, a day filled with beautiful mosaics!


Nov. 15: Firenze

After a free day in Florence yesterday, we woke up this morning and headed over to the Archaeological Museum of Florence. On the way, we stopped at the Foundling Hospital, an early work of Filippo Brunelleschi. Currently the headquarters to the Italian version of “Occupy Wall Street,” the building originally functioned as a children’s orphanage in the 15th century. Professor Ulrich talked about the building’s classical influences, highlighting how Brunelleschi created new spins on traditionally Roman architectural features. We took some notes, snapped some pictures, and rushed into the Archaeological museum to escape the brisk morning chill.

The museum held a lot of wonderful objects. In the Etruscan gallery, we saw an ivory writing tablet, bronze armor, and a particularly puzzling display on tomb paintings with “Etruscan-style” music playing in the background. There was a lot of Egyptian material on the second floor, including wooden sarcophagi with mummies. We also saw a lot of Hellenistic sarcophagi that looked very similar to the ones we saw in Volterra. We admired the bronze statues of Minerva and a man in the orator pose (creatively titled “The Orator”) and quizzically examined the bronze chimera statue (lion’s head + goat’s head emerging from the back + a snake for a tail = a very odd combination). On the uppermost floor, Professor Ulrich pointed out an Etruscan sarcophagus decorated with scenes of Greeks fighting Amazons. Since Greek paintings are very rare, the sarcophagus gives us an idea of what Classical Greek painting styles looked like. In a room near the Amazon sarcophagus, we saw the Francoise Krater, one of the earliest examples of Greek black-figure pottery. The krater features many different scenes from the life of the legendary Greek warrior Achilles and also provides the earliest known representation of Doric architecture. After some concluding comments, we were set free from our classwork for the day.

With so much free time on our hands, we grabbed some lunch and ventured off into the city. Some people checked out some of the numerous stunning churches in the area while others shopped at the leather market or perused the galleries in the Uffizi (home of many famous Renaissance paintings, including Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus). Florence has such a rich history, so we had plenty of things to see and do!

In the late afternoon, most of us met up with Professor Ulrich for an optional trip to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito (“St. Mary of the Holy Spirit”). The church was a later work of Brunelleschi and we saw a lot of forms from the Foundling Hospital repeated in Santo Spirito. Although the façade is pretty plain, the interior is elaborately decorated with paintings and sculptures. As we walked around the church, Professor Ulrich pointed out some of the important architectural features. After saying goodbye to Professor Ulrich and Imo for the evening, we wandered around the city some more, grabbed some dinner, and retired to our rooms for the night to escape the cold.



Nov. 12: Tivoli

We boarded our trams, metros, and buses to Tivoli with zeal, eager to see Hadrian’s Villa, one of the greatest sites of Imperial Rome.  Fortunately, before we broke down the gates in enthusiasm, Prof. Ulrich gave us a thorough overview of the site’s history and layout.  He discussed the layout of the site, which scholars subdivide according to function and allusions to different geographic parts of the Roman Empire.  Throughout his lecture, Prof. Ulrich underscored that Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) traveled extensively and loved architecture.  His villa reflects these interests, with well-placed allusions to Athens (Stoa Poikile) and Egypt (the so-called Canopus) as well as through innovative areas such as the Maritime Theater and the Piazza D’Oro.  Furthermore, Prof. Ulrich deemed Tivoli an architectural playground or laboratory. Hadrian, uninhibited by finances or public demands, experimented with conventional forms, such as the Doric Order.  The space also reveals his fascination with water and his interest in the interplay between exterior and interior space.  While, Apollodorus of Damascus, the acclaimed architect of Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan, ridiculed Hadrian’s designs (and was soon executed for his criticism), students, scholars, and artists continue to flock to the Villa to study Hadrian’s designs.    

Armed with this comprehensive introduction to the Villa, we set out for the Stoa Poikile region, a peristyle courtyard surrounding a long pool (housing turtles and ducks!) in the middle.  The original Stoa Poikile, or painted porch, sat on the north side of the Athenian Agora and featured artistically significant (and now-lost) paintings of the Battle of Marathon.  While the paint has faded from Tivoli’s walls, we nonetheless enjoyed ambling around the serene pool.  Next, we visited the (so-called) Sala dei Filosofi, an apsidal room, and the Maritime Theater (or Island Villa), a wondrous dining room surrounded by water.  Although the Maritime Theater appeared confusing at first, Prof. Ulrich emphasized the axiality of the space, if we stood at the end of the axis.  Unfortunately, restoration work and our fear of guard prevented us from experiencing this great view for ourselves.  We continued our adventure at the guest house, where Hadrian housed some of his guests (in style, I might add).  The uniformly sized rooms featured exquisite black and white mosaics, possibly (and probably) contemporaneous with those we had seen early this week at Ostia.  
    Of course, a day at Hadrian’s Villa would not be complete without a visit to the Piazza D’Oro, the famous Canopus (where we lunched and admired copies of to-scale copies of Caryatids).  Mid-afternoon, the group split up to explore the site on its own.  Several of us enjoyed visiting another bath complex before wandering back to the bus stop to return to Tratevere, where food, papers, and packing awaited.  Check back soon for our updates about Florence!
Anna Leah

Nov. 11: Via Appia Antica 

Today was our day on the Via Appica Antica, the old road lined with tombs that was one of the main entrances into the city. We all made our own ways there this morning, with Emily leaving early to meet with Professor Ulrich in preparation for her presentation today, and with some of us choosing to walk to the site and others choosing to take the bus. Many of us arrived very early, and had the pleasure of petting a cat that crawled into our laps and sat on our bags and rather interfered with journal writing that people were trying to do. We then ventured into the expansive Villa of Maxentius on which Emily gave a most excellent oral presentation, most notable for its circus, complete with starting gates, pivoting dolphins and dropping eggs to measure the number of laps the chariots made, and a judge’s box, for the performance of games (which no one would go to because this place is rather far out of town, as we discovered in getting here). The walls of the circus were also built with amphorae embedded, which lightens the structure without sacrificing integrity. The Villa also features a basilica, a hallmark of palatial-type architecture, and the 4th century masonry technique of opus vittatum. After the Villa we took a lunch/cappuccino break at a nearby bar and a park-type setting, and then headed (we thought) to the Mausoleum of Caecilia Metella, notable as the first example of the use of brick-faced concrete. Unfortunately, before we had the pleasure of entering the Mausoleum (which also featured some interesting Greek inscriptions that had letters inside of other letters), Kasia gave us an open-note pop quiz on the past few days. After that unpleasant endeavor and the much better Mausoleum, we entered the catacombs of San Sebastiano, early Christian tombs that were spooky and looked incredibly easy to get lost in (thankfully we had a guide); while down there we saw gorgeous wall paintings, floor mosaics, and stuccoed ceilings in rooms beneath the church. We also were able to go up into the church, which held a reliquary full of artifacts like one of the arrows that allegedly pierced Saint Sebastian, who was martyred by being shot full of arrows (which didn’t kill him) and then being clubbed (which did), in addition to the apparent remains of the saint (which had been in the catacombs underneath the church but were brought up because of the rising water table). Afterward, we made our way back into the city proper, some of us choosing to simply return home, and others venturing out to St. John Lateran and its associated baptistery, the church of the pope when he preaches in Rome, which was awe-inspiring, particularly because a mass was being held during our visit. Needless to say, today was a very good day in the neighborhood, surrounded by villas, mausoleums, catacombs, and churches. 


Nov. 10: S. Sabina, Arch of Constantine, Churches 

Today was a day full of monuments from early Christianity - we visited two churches, a triumphal arch, and a mausoleum!

We started out the day by meeting at the Church of Santa Sabina.  Some of us decided to get there by walking down by the river, while others of us opted to take the bus and walk up the Aventine.  I did the latter.  Even though the hill was a little steep, the Aventine area was truly beautiful in the morning.  It actually reminded me a lot of the area in Las Vegas where I live (suburban, lots of trees), but with fewer Starbucks and soccer moms.  

The early 5th century CE Santa Sabina was lovely, with a sort of milky white light coming in through the selenite windows in the clerestory.  On the far wall, Prof. Ulrich translated an inscription which described the man who donated the money for the church.  We also learned that Santa Sabina was a woman who had a titulus, (a secret Christian meeting place/center of worship) in her house back when the religion was still illegal; after she died, she donated the site to the Church, which is why the building is now named after her.

After our introduction to early Christianity, we hopped on a bus and went over to the Arch of Constantine near the Colosseum.  Constantine (emperor from 306-337 CE) built the arch largely from spolia (art appropriated from other monuments), including friezes attributed to Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.  However, rather than simply moving their reliefs to his arch, he actually removed their heads and added his own to the scenes (oh look, Constantine conquering the Dacians! Constantine sacrificing to Mars! etc.).  Interestingly, there is no overtly Christian iconography on the arch at all, only some images that one can assign Christian meaning if one tries very hard.

Our next two monuments were definitely Christian, however.  We visited the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, whose transept is actually the frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian.  The vaulted ceilings were so incredibly tall, it definitely gave us a visual of what a building like the Basilica of Maxentius might have looked like.  The marble floors and Egyptian granite columns, along with the beautiful baroque trompe l’oeuil wall painting, also added to the ambience of the church.

Finally, we trekked out to the 4th c. CE Mausoleum of Santa Costanza, built for Constantina (daughter of the emperor Constantine) who wanted to be buried near St. Agnes.  The mausoleum is domed, with an ambulatory around the perimeter and an inner colonnade.  There were some incredible ceiling mosaics depicting Christian iconography and biblical scenes.  There were also copies of the wonderful red porphyry sarcophagi made for Constantina and her sister. We saw the originals in the Vatican Museum!  Although the lights in the mausoleum were on a short timer (and cost 50 cents every time we wanted to turn them on!), we really enjoyed taking in the atmosphere of the building at sunset.


Nov. 9 Roman Forum

Today we had our last forum visit. This was our third time in the forum, and thinking back to where we were for our last two visits made me realize how much we’ve done so far, and also start to realize how soon the program is going to be over.

First, Chelsea gave a presentation on Domitian’s palace on the Palatine. The complex was absolutely enormous. One part that was really interesting was the sunken garden that was shaped like a hippodrome, or horse-racing stadium.

 After Chelsea’s presentation, Torrey gave a presentation on the Basilica Nova, or the Basilica of Maxentius/Constantine, which was also absolutely enormous and impressive. From a reconstruction of the basilica, we also saw how elaborately colorful and decorated the space would have been, but I had a hard time imagining in real space how that would have looked.

 We then looked at the Arch of Titus, which definitely displays the “exuberant” style we associate with the Flavian period. What I thought was especially interesting about this arch was that it has the first examples of composite capitals. The elaborateness and details of the friezes inside the arch were also very impressive, particularly in the scene of the spoils of Jerusalem. The depiction of the menorah in this scene is actually the one used on Israel’s coat of arms.

Ben then presented on the Arch of Septimius Severus. It was interesting to be able to compare the arches and the development of their artistic and architectural styles.


Nov. 8 Ostia

Nov. 5 Patheon

TODAY WE WENT TO THE PANTHEON!!! And a few other places… but the greater portion of our time was spent at the Pantheon for Kaitlyn’s presentation on its architecture. So as not to exclude the rather less imposing sites we also visited, I might as well start from the beginning. We met at 1 pm at the Column of Marcus Aurelius. It bears a great deal of similarity to the Column of Trajan, from its toris base to the gigantic egg and dart molding at the top, but the sculptures tried to counteract some of the issues Trajan’s column encountered. It is deeper so that the figures can be seen more clearly, and the scenes are somewhat larger with fewer people crowded in together and less scenic elements. Unfortunately the column has endured a great deal since its construction in 180 A.D. by his son Commodus. The base was completely replaced, and the figures along it cut out by a pope, and the column drums are no longer held with metal pins. Weathering has obscured many of the scenes, and earthquakes have misplaced a few of the drums. Like Trajan’s column, it is possibly to climb up through the interior of the column, though we did not. Afterwards we walked over to the PANTHEON, taking a brief coffee break in between. 

We’ve walked by the exterior of the Pantheon many times, but this was my first time going inside, and it was fabulous! Katelyn gave a wonderful presentation, starting with the exterior and explaining the three main parts; front porch, rectangular intermediate block, and rotunda. The Pantheon was first built by Agrippa in honor of Augustus, but the current structure is the remains of the Pantheon rebuilt by Hadrian that was later converted into a church. As a result, the building is very well preserved from Hadrian’s time, except for the decorations which were largely stripped off and replaced with new ones. Very little is known about the original Pantheon built by Agrippa, or even what the Pantheon was used for. It might have been a temple, or a meeting place, a combination of the two, or something else entirely. In any case, it is a spectacular feat of architectural engineering, with a dome 43.3 meters side and an oculis in the center 8.3 meters wide to let in height. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, so we weren’t able to fully appreciate the dome’s spectacular open air roof, but it was a truly beautiful building!

After the Pantheon we headed for Hadrian’s Mausoleum and stopped at Piazza Nevona on the way. The piazza is on the site of Domitian’s stadium, and still holds its shape. The stadium had a travertine exterior with arcades that would have looked a great deal like the coliseum. At Hadrian’s Mausoleum we talked about its architecture, and how he imitated Augustus’s mausoleum but raised it to a greater scale.

It was a great day! At the end we walked back to the apartments along the river, and thanks to good old daylight savings time, although it was just past 5 pm, it was dark out and the river looked much nicer than it’s daytime sickly green.

-Catherine Darragh

Nov. 4: Baths of Trajan & Baths of Caracalla

         Today was Imperial Bath Day! But seriously, all we talked about were the great Imperial bath complexes. It may sound boring, but it’s really pretty fascinating. First of all, the Romans were a shockingly hygienic people who really loved their bathing, as we discovered in Pompeii, where there are three major public bath complexes. The emperors, on the other hand, love to facilitate the bathing of the Roman people. So just about every emperor built a public bath complex for the Romans. I guess a clean people is a happy people?

            We started the morning at the Baths of Trajan, up on the Oppian hill (a sub-hill, if you will, of the Esquiline Hill). We had a permesso to go see the great sette sale, the cistern system that fed Trajan’s baths; however, according to our rather lackluster custode, all our permesso entitled us to was the ability to buy tickets to enter the site—not to go into the cisterns themselves, as we’d thought. So we didn’t get to go in but we did get pretty close—and we saw inside the massive water storage chambers, all lined in waterproof cement (and still holding a little water!). The building is actually really beautiful—seven large barrel-vaulted chambers cut into the hillside—and the park where they’re located is very quiet.

            From there we walked down through the public part of the park and through the remnants of the rest of the Baths of Trajan. There are only pieces of the brick structure left, amidst a massive Roman park complete with homeless people and playgrounds, but even these little tiny pieces give you an idea of how huge the scale of these buildings was. I’d look down at my plan, thinking that I’d found where we were, and the scrap of building we’d found was about half the size of what I thought we were looking at! Having the plan was integral in imagining the space, but you really need the massive leftover chunks to help you really understand how huge these bath halls were.

            The main event of the day was the Baths of Caracalla, a really well-preserved complex on the other side of the Caelian hill. Talk about scale! Surrounded by a massive outer precinct wall, up on a platform looking out over the Via Appia as it enters Rome, the baths are just gargantuan. Inside the buildings, there are really tall arches and huge piers—and they’re only the first story, the beginning of the roofing system! It must have been quite the out-of-body experience, coming in and bathing here. Every Roman citizen must have felt so small (which is the point of a lot of Imperial architecture—I guess in this case you never forget who gave you hygiene, who’s bringing the water into the city, etc.). After a great tour of the baths by Catherine (her final oral presentation—the beginning of the end!) I sat out in the park and ate my lunch where all the buff Roman men would have exercised. It was a stunning day—and there’s no better way to spend a Friday afternoon then napping on a huge granite column in the Baths of Caracalla. Life is good.