Ciao! As my first blog post I thought I’d start with what most people do when they arrive in a new place – they try to orient themselves. So, on the 19th of August, once everyone had settled in and those who hadn’t participated in the two- week intensive Italian class had finally arrived, we set out for a walking and bus tour of Rome, with Professor Jeffrey Blanchard, Mark Morris and Mark’s wonderful daughter Madelyn (the official class mascot) in tow. It involved a lot of walking (the hot August sun notwithstanding) and a few hours of respite in the air conditioned comfort of a bus where Jeffrey used a microphone to describe the sights of Rome and their historical value as well as interesting anecdotal associations. In the Jewish Ghetto we went into palazzos that seemed unremarkable from the outside only to discover that there were beautiful courtyards on the inside. From there we walked to the Campidoglio, the Colosseum and the Caelian hill, and climbed aboard our bus to the Appian Way and the Catacombs of San Callisto.
The walk in the beautiful gardens above the Catacombs led us to a memorial dedicated to the people murdered in a mass execution carried out by German troops during the Second World War. The Fosse Ardeatine, as it is called, is a moving monument that was built by a group of famous architects of the day. There are over 300 tombs aligned under a heavy roof that lets in a mere shaft of light at the base while the visitor walks into it through caves formed from the explosion that was set off to cover up the tragedy. After this moving monument, we walked out to a picnic lunch along the Appian Way and from there to what we found out was the the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome (the pope) – San Giovanni in Laterano.
Aren’t you surprised it isn’t St. Peter’s in the Vatican? So were we…Apparently the Vatican is the papal residence and not the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop. Adorned with a series of statues along its nave with renovations made by Borromini during the 17th century, the church was truly an amazing experience. We finished out the day by driving to Piazza del Popolo and lastly, a walk along the Pincio Hill, ending at the top of Spanish Steps for an arresting view of Rome. This is the city we have been in for more than three weeks now and yet as every day goes by we realize we have merely scraped the surface. There is still more “orienting” to be done and I have a feeling that is what the entire semester will be about. Hopefully by the end of it that literally wider perspective of Rome at the top of the Spanish Steps will have been transformed into a metaphorical one.