Early in the semester, just as we had gotten settled into Roma as our new home, the Architecture, Art and Planning students were off on our longest field trip of the semester. This post, a continuation to Part 1 written by my colleague, Art major Melody Stein, will recount our journey through the eyes of the architecture students.
An in depth summary of all of the incredible sights and experiences that made up our trip would be pages long, so for this post I will spare you some of the details and go right into the most memorable moments in each city.
The first of a string of destinations we visited in the north was the beautiful city of Bologna. Known for its continuous loggias, Bologna is home to some of the most unique architecture we’ve seen in Italy. As soon as we arrived at the train station we were greeted by the familiar sight of winter and snow that is entirely absent in Rome. Thanks to these loggias, almost every exterior paving surface was covered in beautifully ornate marble or stone and pedestrians are almost constantly protected from the elements. In these interstitial spaces between building and street we are enveloped in a unique kind of public zone. These covered areas give depth to every façade, simultaneously addressing the street and the storefronts that line the ground floor. In this way, every corner of Bologna offers a richly developed architectural experience. Unlike Rome, which is most known for its series of seemingly isolated and imposing landmarks, Bologna is a landmark in and of itself.
Here we had the chance to climb Bologna’s “Due Torri,” the central historic towers of the city. Personally, I always enjoy taking the time to climb to the top of any city’s tallest structures. These new vantage points give us the chance to see the places we visit as a cohesive whole and understand its geographic layout in the surrounding landscape. Not to mention, the views are always breathtaking. This particular climb, however, was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve had in recent years. The fact that the towers themselves are leaning when seen from the outside doesn’t exactly inspire confidence and the rickety wooden stairs seen from inside are enough to make anyone with a fear of heights turn and walk out the door. With each step I imagined the wooden boards cracking beneath my feet, or worse, the entire structure toppling down. On the way up, one has to periodically cling to the side of the wall to allow other visitors to squeeze by on their way down. But after this seemingly endless flight of stairs, we were rewarded by the tower’s incredible vantage point over the city. Of course, no trip to Bologna is complete without sampling some of its namesake cuisine, Pasta Bolognese. Lastly, the food we ate in Bologna was just the beginning of what was to be one of the most amazing cuisine experiences of my life.
During one of our days in Bologna we took a day trip to the tiny, yet beautiful town of Parma. Famously the birthplace of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, here I had my best restaurant experience of the entire trip. Initially shocked by the lack of people on the streets in Parma, I began to love the authentic feel of the town because it was devoid of the hordes of tourists that crowd the streets of Rome. Everything here seemed uniquely suited to the scale of the city, but the ornate churches we visited revealed its rich history. Food being one of my favorite parts of traveling, Parma is a destination not to be missed. Not knowing where to eat for lunch, a group of us walked into a randomly chosen and unassuming establishment and proceeded to have what we all remember as one of the best meals of our lives.
The art and architecture students had the opportunity to visit the town of Modena following Parma. Here we made a pilgrimage to the classic San Cataldo Cemetery by Aldo Rossi, remembered by many of the architecture students as their favorite site on the trip. Admittedly, when I first heard that we would be visiting a cemetery off the beaten path outside of Modena, my expectations were fairly low. However, it turned out to be a transformative architectural experience for my colleagues and I. Described by one of our professors as a “city for the dead”, the Rossi cemetery is a true masterpiece that takes advantage of pure architectural expression to create an experience that lacks any well-defined programmatic requirements. A contrast between old and new elements, the architecture reveals a unique narrative as one processes through the sequence of buildings on the site. Lucky for us, there was beautiful late afternoon light shining down on the snow covered ground which made the experience that much more memorable. Like any great architectural space, I find it to be incredibly difficult to describe the emotional power the Rossi cemetery evokes. It is truly something one has to visit and experience for themselves.
Next was Genova, an incredible city, and my personal favorite. Here we were greeted by a warm seaside breeze as we emerged from the train station. I was immediately reminded of California for its warm weather and palm trees, but the urban scale of Genova was something entirely unique. As a port city, Genova had a lively nightlife feel when compared to Bologna. As soon as we dropped our bags at the hotel we walked as a group to the redesigned waterfront, featuring Renzo Piano’s biosphere. Walking through the streets of Genova was one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip. Every street is filled with pedestrians, too narrow for most cars and made noteworthy by the absence of the grand piazzas and open spaces often seen in Rome. Here we saw many more beautiful structures and works of art, including several grand palazzos that are now museums for the public. The rooftop of one of these palazzos offered an incredible view over the city and out to the coast. As far as cuisine here, Gevona is famous for Pesto Genovese, and we were lucky enough to find a small homey restaurant where I had the best pesto dish in Italy yet. I found it particularly hard to say goodbye to the beautiful weather and character of Genova upon our departure and I hope to return some day.
Milan is a city I had wanted to visit since I first learned about the Milan Cathedral for a school project in the second grade, and it was very different from all of the other cities we’ve seen in Italy, including Rome. Operating on a very different urban scale, the city was much more modern than I previously imagined. Here we saw the Duomo di Milano of course, and even got the chance to climb to the roof. One highlight for us was visiting the Triennale di Milano where we saw a great exhibit on Ugo La Pietra.
During our time in Milan we took a day trip to the beautiful city of Como. Here the architects had a day filled with a series of works by Giuseppe Terragni which concluded with a visit to his iconic Casa del Fascio. Although small in scale, Como is a beautiful place to visit because of its close proximity to Switzerland and Lake Como.