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Laura Jessich “Villa of Poggio del Molino

This is the seventh in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Laura Jessich ’20 is an Art, Art History & Visual Culture Studies major.

When I see ancient roman pottery in a museum I think about gloved hands and quiet voices, noses in books and careful dusting. But these ideas came to an abrupt halt for the last portion of the trip. After walking 8-13 miles a day in Rome we were all pretty grateful to be heading to the country side and the beach. We ended up savoring those precious r&r moments more than I expected. We were met in Populonia by our lead archaeologist, Carolina, your typical Italian boss-woman, dressed entirely from head to toe in hot pink. After securing us food and shelter Carolina set out to fulfill our next rung on Maslows’s ladder: dirt. So much dirt. We spent the next week sweeping dirt, troweling dirt, digging dirt, collecting dirt, examining, carrying, dumping, heaving, breathing dirt. At the end of our 8 days our discoveries were totaled at a handful of green roman glass, some pieces of amphora’s are other varies kitchen ware, a brass hook, a plastic army man, and 100+ roof tiles.

Archaeology is way different than I thought, and honestly it mostly consists of cleaning. Our team of 18 people spent the first two days cleaning an area the size of a couple dorm rooms. Before we could start excavation we had to clear all the leaves, pull grass, cut roots, and collect rocks until our site was just plain brown soil. Then we finally started excavating. Think of the most inefficient way you could remove dirt from pile and there you have archaeology. Like having to mow your lawn with only scissors, we scraped away dirt layer by layer. Under the constant watch of Carolina and her other three amazing archaeologist we learned how to carefully uncover the fallen history of our villa. We were so lucky to learn from such talented, passionate, and unique people. Not to mention our site was by far the most pleasant of all we visited. Perched on the edge of Baratti Bay, we caught the ocean breeze in a wooded area that stretch up the coast.

The Villa of Poggio del Molino has an incredible complicated and overlapping history. It was first a fortress after the Punic wars that produced iron. After the Augustan era in 27AD construction began that transformed the building into an agricultural villa. It was used to produce fish sauce, an expensive delicacy for the ancient Romans. In its last phase it became a maritime villa with a full roman bath. This time is characterized by beautiful mosaics. The most remarkable of which depicts Medusa, but it had to be recovered due to fear vandalism.

Carolina’s mission is to change the way the community interacts with and views archaeology. The opportunity for us to work at this site was due to her decade of efforts to involve volunteers from all over the world in uncovering this keyhole into history. Usually digs are dominated by universities and inaccessible to the public, but Carolina seeks to change that approach and make it known that sites like these are part of everyone’s history.

Grace Sanwald: Mamma Mia!

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Grace Sanwald ’21 is undecided.

“Mamma Mia! Fantastico!”

“Amazing!”

“Carrrrrrbonized”

Don’t be surprised, friends, if you overhear the students of Crossroads-Rome saying these peculiar phrases upon return from our adventures in Italy. Out of context, they may seem meaningless and strange, but to us, they are endearing reminders of our time in Naples with our amazing and fantastic guide, Francesco (or Frank, if you prefer), who repeated these things throughout our day with him.

It was Pompeii day, and we woke up early in the morning for our three-hour drive to the Villa Oplontis, where we would start our visit. This Villa has a similar style of art as Nero’s Domus Aurea (Golden House) and is therefore thought to have been the residence of Nero’s wife, Poppea. Francesco wasted no time in telling us about poor Poppea’s death, brashly describing how Nero himself kicked her in the stomach while she was pregnant, ending her life. However, he lightened the mood by also informing us that the woman was known to bathe in donkey milk to keep her skin soft and smooth. Mamma Mia!

The Villa was wonderfully preserved by the layers of ash that fell upon the area when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Because of this, when the Villa was excavated in 1964, the precious fresco artwork on the walls was well preserved. This artwork cannot be replicated because it uses a special red pigment, called rosa pompeiano, which was made from toxic mercury sulfide. The artwork was all beautiful, but we stopped specifically to view one particular bird with had been painted with incredible detail, so that even the shadow of a pear is visible. Despite obvious talent, whoever painted such an ornate bird would have been considered merely an artisan at the time, rather than praised as the artist they were.

As we walked past a room full of amphoras (containers which usually held wine or olive oil), Francesco made comments reminding us not to drink too much at lunch. After all, we still had to make it through our afternoon visit to Pompeii without falling over. To most of us, this seemed like an odd comment, seeing as how none of our previous group meals had included copious amounts of alcohol. However, it soon became clear to us that this was a necessary warning. Little did we know we were actually headed to a wine tasting for lunch on a vineyard. Normally, this would be nothing special, as vineyards are everywhere in Italy, but this one was something else. It was located on none other than Mount Vesuvius itself (a still active volcano). Amazing!

The wine was great, but my personal favorite part of that afternoon was the unique pitchers the vineyard used for water. They were shaped like chickens, with the water flowing from the animals’ mouths like saliva. These were the cause of many jokes among the students about drinking a whole chicken throughout the meal. Some of us even took a mini chicken home as a souvenir.

After three weeks of visiting ancient sites, it is easy to forget that the simple structures around us are two thousand years old. The rooms, pools, and hallways were once used by ancient Romans in a time of emperors and heroes. At the Villa Oplontis, we walked on mosaics that survived a volcanic eruption and touched the ash that completely covered the landscape on that fateful day. It doesn’t get much cooler than that!

Ethan Phillips: The Vatican Museum

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Ethan Phillips ’19 is an Economics & History Studies Major.

“It is now housed in the Vatican Museum”

This phrase can be found on the bottom of object descriptions from locations across Rome or spouting from the lips of our various tour guides. During our three weeks in Rome we made dozens of visits to sites across the city that represent a variety of different time periods, both ancient and renaissance, and this phrase came up at almost EVERY SINGLE ONE!! The Vatican Museum must be STACKED, I thought.  With each time I heard it, or read it in our text, the anticipation for our trip to the Vatican brewed. Finally, after three weeks of traveling around Rome, the time had arrived for our trip to this renowned place.

On the way, Vatican Museum promoters, located across the city, shouted at us “This way to the Vatican,” “Need directions to the Vatican,” and my favorite “Wrong way to the Vatican Museum.” We meet up with our tour guide out front, go through something like airport security, and are on our way into the museum. I felt ready, but was truly unprepared for the extravagant showing I was about to receive.

 

This picture is the first thing that must be understood about the Vatican, it is absolutely CRAMMED FULL OF ART!! This picture is of a room that you pass by early on in the museum, is not accessible, and contains at least 30 sculptures. The room behind it almost surly contains more of the same. You learn early on that you are not going to be able to see everything and you have to be okay with that. The reason for this is that 150 feet down the hallway you start to get the BIG MONEY items, for example…

Here I am standing next to the LAOCOON!!! The real Laocoon! The same one that I have seen on PowerPoint slides in numerous classes. And I will tell you that it looks even better in person…

Alas, it was time to continue forward and find out what else this fantastical place had to offer. We continue on through the clutter of famous works, produced by artists you know from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, until we reach another that I simply can’t help myself but write about. This time I knew it was coming, and it is a personal favorite of mine, The School of Athens, by Raphael.

This fresco is another that I have gazed upon countless times in history classes when learning about ancient philosophy (shout-out Professor Davies). I love this fresco, and getting to see it in person was one of my favorite experiences from my entire trip to Italy. I got a little behind the group after staying to look at this bad boy for just a little too long and had to rush through exhibits until I caught up with them in the Sistine Chapel.

I have no pictures for this one because they are not allowed. I saw this policy in action when the women in front of me took a picture with her phone and was quickly berated by a security guard before being escorted from the building, missing the chance to view the frescos that envelop the walls. It was a risk I simply couldn’t take. The Chapel was another instance of a product that I have seen in a classroom setting not only living up to my expectations but exceeding them. The place was beautiful, and I understand why they choose the Pope in this location, it is magical. We stood in the room together for about a half hour before it was our time to leave and everyone’s neck was sore from staring.

And so ends our tour of the Vatican Museum. The museum, and the class overall, has taught me many things, possible the most important is that you need to get out and see things. Learning about things that interest you in the classroom setting is a privilege, but there is real value in going out and seeing them in person. As the director of IES (or Italian school hosts) told us at the end of a guest lecture, use your twenties to go and see what you’re passionate about.

Eduardo Cabrera: Eduardo in Rome

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Eduardo Cabrera ’20 is a Biology-Environmental Studies Major.

Life in Rome. For life in Rome, I needed a few things that are essential for my happiness
no matter where I live. My essentials include; Sleep, Food, Music, and Thrifting.

We were housed in a two room apartment on Via Gullio Cesare, a pretty active location
near the Vatican in central Rome. First thing on my list was to get to know my room. I partnered
up with Ethan to share one of the rooms. We slept on twin mattresses, while our friend Juan
Pablo enjoyed a queen size bed in the room next to us. My bed included an indented pit from the person who slept on it before me, but I made the best of it, making sure to lay on the sturdy, less used side touching the cool wall. After a long rest, tired from the ~15 hour-ish trip and heavy first group dinner, it was time to go grocery shopping. Grocery shopping may sound easy, but, as I’ve heard and learned, in Europe it’s a whole nother story. I chose to go to Express grocery store, and boy, did it really live up to its name! I picked up the essentials; milk, bread, veggies, and meat. “Borsa?”, the cashier told me. I nodded yes. He placed the bags on the counter and began to quickly scan my items. This is when the confusion and nervousness began. He told me my price, I paid him, and he went on to the next customer. But…MY GROCERIES WEREN’T BAGGED! I fratickly reached for the bags and began to put my recently bought items into them. I felt pressured to get out of there as quickly as possible. By the time I had bagged all my groceries, two fellow shoppers who were behind me in line had already left the store. I quickly walked home, a little frustrated and confused, but I had food. After that experience, I would enter every grocery store prepared with my bag, ready to race the cashier; bag my groceries while they counted my change.

Another personal necessity for living that I had to search for in Rome was thrifting!
Thrifting is a huge part of my life. I made sure to do my personal research and find the best thrift stores in Rome. I visited probably around 6 different vintage/thrift stores in Rome for a total of probably 10-15 visits. These days for me were some of the most exciting!! I took full advantage of the free metro pass given to us by IES. My free days were filled with listening to my “mellow slaps” playlist as I rode the Metro 5 to 15 stops to get to my destination. I was even blessed with street vendors of used clothes at the corner of our apartment street. Ethan and I made sure to stop by every opportunity we had and dig through the mounds of clothes up for sale. I’d rather not talk about how much I spent at these locations, but I can talk for hours about the items I bought. You’ll be seeing me in my Italian thrifted apparel throughout this coming school year for sure, especially the kapries!

Lastly, I roamed and discovered Rome with my music. Whether I was alone or with a
group of friends, I made sure to have my melodic tunes as I walked. Music filled my ears,
whether I was walking to the laundromat, where I’d always be asked to pay and desperately try
to explain to the owners that I didn’t have to pay, because somebody had me covered (IES), or
shopping for groceries, where I’d be hurried to pack my groceries. Music made me feel
comfortable in a city big enough to get lost in within minutes, like in Termini. Music allowed me
to appreciate the beautiful scenery of Rome, which included the architecture, the colorful
buildings, and even the busselling movement of millions of people. Living in Rome was
something different, but it was amazing. I made sure to make living in Rome very similar to
living at home, whether that’s Whitman or San Francisco, and I was successful!

 

Sean Cummings: Baratti Nature Reserve

This is the third in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Sean Cummings ’19 is an Environmental Humanities Major.

After almost four weeks navigating the hustle and bustle of the wild metropolis of Rome, our transition to the coastal region of Populonia at the end of the course came as a huge breath of fresh air (literally and metaphorically). Having grown up in a rural area, I’ve never felt 100% at home in any city, not even one as beautiful as Rome. So, naturally, when I heard our time in Populonia would include a visit to the Baratti Nature Reserve, it felt to me like another step in the right direction.

Our saunter through this heavily wooded area, though brief, yielded a wide array of sights and sounds. A dirt path twisted uphill into a dense forest rich with the scent of bay leaves and earth. Sunlight peeped through a thick canopy to throw spotlights on moths with speckled wings, and birdsong, the first we’d heard in weeks, gave way to the ringing cacophony of cicadas as we proceeded deeper into the trees. I paused, fascinated, to prod the fissure-riddled bark of a cork oak, light and spongy, the same material you’d find in a bulletin board or plugging the mouth of a wine bottle.

  

Our route led us up the hill to a large clearing dominated on one side by the remains of an ancient Etruscan rock quarry (dating back to the 7th century B.C.E.) and on the other by a few burial rooms hewn into a cliff face. Each was well-preserved: the quarry appeared as though it had only recently fallen out of use, with clearly rectangular cuts, two thousand years old and forever unfinished, still beginning to divide the rock into fresh blocks for construction of tombs further downhill. It was impressive to consider that people carved out perfect blocks of solid stone so large using only pickaxes, chisels, and wedges (not to mention transporting the massive weights once they’d been extracted). The burial rooms in the opposite wall were large enough and clear enough for a person to walk into, and stone benches on which to lay the deceased still lined the walls.

After taking our time to admire this site, we headed back downhill through the forest. The return portion of our walking loop included a different sort of tomb from the ones we’d seen at the top. These had been dug directly into the slope, each with a narrow stone staircase leading down to a dark chamber set deep into the ground (about ten feet deep by my estimation). A sign on the side of the trail told us these were family tombs used over many generations, and that many had included a wealth of artifacts buried along with the dead. We must have passed at least ten such tombs on our walk back down the hill, enough to reveal this place as a popular, or perhaps designated, burial area. Time had begun to reclaim many of these structures – leaves carpeted the steps and moss clung to the walls – but in my opinion this only lent a greater air of mystery and wonder to these ancient funerary quarters.

At last the path opened back up onto the broad, flowery meadow we’d started from, complete with shade-giving pines and a view of beautiful Baratti Bay. Our afternoon from that point on would include a walk down to the beach and a chance to swim in the waters of the Mediterranean (a perfect temperature at this time of year). This was without a doubt one of my favorite days in Italy!

Amanda Li: Pompeii

This is the second in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Amanda Li ’19 is a Biology-Environmental Studies Major.

Today, Sunday June 10th, we visited one of the most iconic sites of Italy: Pompeii. Accompanying us was, of course, our IES companion, Eduardo, and our tour guide for the day, Francesco. As an animated and cheerful guide, Francesco walked us through both the Villa Oplontis and Pompeii as he told us of their destruction after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Villa Oplontis is an ancient Roman villa, which is thought to have belonged to Emperor Nero’s wife, Poppaea, when she was not in Rome. Because the earthquake in 62 AD caused enough damage that the villa would need to be renovated and repaired, this area was less populated than usual. This residence was not excavated until 1964, allowing for many of the absolutely beautiful frescoes and mosaics to be better preserved than in many of the other places we’ve visited–Mamma mia! We certainly got a sense of what this imperial villa may have looked like in ancient times.

Pompeii was once surrounded by 2 miles of city walls with 14 watch towers and only 7 entrances. However, once it was conquered by the Romans in 300 BCE, these walls were torn down and suburbs were built outside the walls.

Some of the most interesting things we saw there, in my opinion, were the special exhibitions that were open which included plaster molds of victims of Vesuvius and carbonized foods that were found in the ruins. The plaster molds were created by detecting hollow spaces in the layers of ash, rock, and pumice. When citizens of Pompeii died in the eruption, usually from asphyxiation, their bodies were then covered in layers of ash, pumice, and rock that were still being expelled from the volcano. Eventually the debris hardened around the bodies, and as the victims decomposed, a hollow space was left in the layers in the shape of their bodies. Modern archaeologists were then able to insert two pipes into this space and pour liquid plaster into the hollow space through one of the pipes. The other pipe was to allow the occupying air to escape as the plaster displaced it. After allowing the plaster to harden, archaeologists would excavate this mold (with the bones inside which can still be seen on a few of the molds) which could be studied and displayed. This technique is less common today because archaeologists would like to study the victims’ bones which cannot be done once the molds are made because the plaster disrupts the chemical composition of the remains. Some of the carbonized food found in excavations included dried figs, walnuts, and even bread. The loaves of bread could be distinguished because of the 8 portioned sections that made them easier to separate. Bread is still made this way in Rome – we saw some in the Jewish Quarter! All of these pieces presented us with a snapshot of life in Pompeii in 79 AD and a hint as to the extent of the devastation caused by this natural disaster.

Other notable sites that we saw at Pompeii included the oldest amphitheater that would have had a big canopy overhead to protect its 20,000 spectators from the sun as well as a Greek-inspired theater. While the amphitheater was made for entertainment like gladiator fights, the theater was meant for dramas, comedies, and poetry readings. Pompeii also had 48 public fountains, beautiful frescoes primarily preserved in the wealthy domus, grooves in the original streets made for horse-led carriages to pass through, 25 known brothels, original lead pipes for water, and a public bath. All of these sites were found as they were left in 79 AD while the inhabitants fled from their homes. While Pompeii provides an incredible opportunity to catch a glimpse of the lives and habits of real Ancient Romans, it is also important to remember and respect the victims and their experiences during this natural disaster.

 

 

Melia Matthews: The Secret Garden

This is the first in a series of blog posts from Whitties studying on Whitman’s Crossroads: Rome, Italy: Landscape and Cityscape in Ancient Rome program this summer with Professor Kate Shea. Melia Matthews ’20 is a Biology & Classical Studies Major.

Ville D’Este- Tivoli, Italy

Another amazing day and another fantastic site that we got to experience. After we
explored Hadrian’s Villa about 40 minutes outside of Rome and had a delicious lunch at a
restaurant in the heart of ancient Tivoli, we headed to the focus of our afternoon, the Ville
D’Este.

We spent a few hours wandering around the centuries old villa, taking in the beautiful
frescoes, the different styles of paintings, and the gorgeous views overlooking the valley below.
But the greatest thing about this villa was the garden. Multiple terraces of lush greenery, gravity
powered fountains, and flowing water everywhere made the outdoor space a heaven on earth.

After being in Rome for 2 weeks, I have realized how much I miss the water. The Tiber runs
only a few short minutes from the apartments we are staying in, but it is not really swimmable,
and there are no easily accessible pools or rivers or lakes to jump in. In short, I have been
craving some water, and Ville D’Este provided. We ran our hands through the multitudes of
pools, sprayed each other at the fountains, and even shocked each other with cool handfuls of
water down the back of the neck! It was the perfect way to be refreshed after a day in the sun,
and we still got to appreciate the astounding innovations and engineering that created the villa
and its estate. Along with the water features, there was also lots of shade, a nice change from the wide open spaces of the Roman forums and the hills of the city.

 

Today we explored the ruins of an ancient Roman imperial villa, experienced local
cuisine next to an ancient temple, and saw the place that was home to the most powerful families in the region for hundreds of years. And yet, sitting by a fountain, surrounded by friends and fellow classical aficionados, finding time to relax and appreciate all that we had seen, was still my favorite part of the day.