Monday, January 25, 2016

Surprise Day in Milan!

Since we've had to spend extra time in Milan due to weather in the US we decided to have some fun in the city! Among the highlights, trying out the water fountains.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Selina's Post

Greetings family and friends, coworkers and peers, fangirls and fanboys, 

I hope you've enjoyed reading about the adventures and misadventures of the freshmen honors fellows in Italy so far. If you're trying to vicariously relive your sweet summers in the Italian  countryside or get some inside dirt on the most popular tourist attractions so you can plan your own trip here, you're in the wrong place. We aren't just a bunch of hooligans who thought it would be funny to wear boots in a country that looks like a boot, but scholars. We've been digging into the deeply rich, complicated, and intersting history of Italy, unearthing the common story of a people who collectively have gone through more identity crises than a freshly graduated college student.  Today it's me, Selina Guevara, telling you all about our excursion to the glorious lil city of Ravenna, which some call the "New Rome."  

Before we get to what Mike and Lynn would consider the "good stuff," I would like to take a moment to appreciate our bus rides. The bus is our main way of getting around, and not gonna lie it has probs been one of my favorite parts of the course. We don't really get a lot of down time, so riding the bus you get to sit there, relax, maybe sleep, maybe have a lifechat with a fellow student, all whilst the beautiful countryside of Italy whizzes by in your window. It's just one of those things that seems so trivial but is actually a huge part of my Italy experience, and people don't seem to take the time to appreciate the small things in life as much nowadays.  

So back to Ravenna. If you've never heard of it until this blog post, thats a shame, because it was a pretty big deal back in the day.  It's located on the north east part of the boot right on the Adriatic Sea but south of Venice, and was at the edge of Christian rule during the time of the Papal States. When we visited, our tour guide took us to see the Basilica San Vitale, a beautiful church in the center of town.  It was a perfect example of architectural "spolia," which is really just an academic way of saying recycling.  The Venetians reused pillars from the original Theodoric church when constructing the new one, because it was symbolic and sacred. You could tell they were legit because they had the crest and Latin inscriptions on the sides. 

The mosaics inside the church were an interesting example of a crossroad of cultures (in a case you haven't caught on yet, that's kind of the theme of our course) because they were created during the same time period, but by two different groups of people.  The Western (Greek and Roman) school uses more bright colors like green, and all of the people are depicted looking at each other, to the side, or gazing off into the distance.  On the other side of the ceiling, the Byzantines made their mark with mostly gold-plated tiles as a background and figures that are staring straight out into the church (and right into your soul. It's kind of intimidating, tbh).   The mosaics aren't just decorations, but a mechanism that helps people worship. There are biblical scenes for those who can't read or write, and  a lot of hidden symbolism in there too.  Like for example, there's a bunch of stuff in huge. Old Testament in threes, that is an allusion to the holy trinity.  In one of the pictures there are twenty seven stars, which is three to the third power. Trippyyyyy. 

Later on in Ravenna, we also went to a Mosileum, which is kind of like a grave for people who are either really important or have a reticule us amount of money (or both).   It was a big room with the tombs of a Byzantine ruler and their sons, along with some more mosaics, including a really schnazzy hallway with stars and the ancient Indian version of a swastika, which was Sanskrit for "all is well" before the Nazis ruined it. 

Last, we went to an Arian baptistery.  This one was different than most of the other ones we visited because the depiction of Jesus getting baptized was, let's just say a little more risqué than the ones we saw in Palermo.  The significance behind this "heroic nudity" comes from the artist wanting patrons of the baptistery to view Jesus as more human than god, so He could be #relatable. Besides, in the ancient days people had more of a public and general knowledge of the human body, and there wasn't this shameful stigma about nude.  That sets #freethenipple back just a few thousand years.  

Anyways, that concluded our little excursion in Ravenna as we finished our day bussing to Venice and (reluctantly) taking a water taxi to our hotel.  Mike keeps promising us freezing rain, but Siri says sun, so we will see who wins that bet (my money's on apple, but Mike already owes us gelato for mentioning Turkey over seventy times now). I hope you are staying warm or cool or dry or whatever weather preference floats your boat, and we will talk you upon our completion of the course in the states, or maybe sooner if ya wanna hit us up on Skype or FaceTime.  

Ciao for now, homies.

Selina Guevara, signing out. 

The Patient Work of Goddesses

Today we headed out bright and early to visit the town of Aquileia, which was founded in the 2nd century BCE as a military base for the Roman Empire. At its peak, because of its strategic location on a river that let out into the Adriatic Sea, Aquileia had over 200,000 residents and was a bustling port city that was vital to trade for the Roman Empire. Today, however, Aquileia is much smaller. It was raided by the Huns and all the surviving inhabitants fled. Some went North and founded Venice, but some came back and restarted their community after the Huns left. 

Our first stop today was the town's basilica, which was originally established in the fourth century and had to be rebuilt in the eleventh century after it was destroyed by the Huns. Although the church had been built upon several times, in the 20th century, archeologists discovered the original mosaic floor from the 4th century. It is the biggest early Christian mosaic in Europe. The floor is divided into sections, and each section and images have special meanings that were intended to teach the illiterate population the gospel. We learned that "mosaic" means "patient work of goddesses" and this certainly was, with roughly 20 million individual pieces making up the floor. We also went into the crypt of the basilica, where we saw frescos from the end of the 12th century. After that, we saw the room where services used to be performed in the original church. Before we left, we saw the baptistry, which has more amazing mosaics in the changing rooms. 

Our next stop was Aquileia's archeological museum. It used to be the villa of Austrians barons, who left it to be turned into a museum after their death. The ground floor has ancient statues from Aquileia's days as one of the golden cities of the Roman Empire, while the first and second floors (because in Europe the ground floor doesn't count) housed ancient and more modern artifacts made from gems, bronze, terra cotta, silver, gold, and amber. 

After our three course group lunch, we strolled (or shuffled) down what used to be the main river in Aquileia and saw the ruins of the Roman port. Then we went to the Sacraio Militare di Redipuglia, which is a Fascist era monument to Italian soldiers killed during World War I. The monument is huge. It has 22 platforms under which 40,000 soldiers are buried. Their names are listed on the walls of each platform. 60,000 more unnamed soldiers are resting under the chapel at the top of the monument. After climbing down the monument, we got to walk through a recreation of a WWI trench, and visit the small museum across the street. After our solemn reflection on the horrors of World War I, we cheered ourselves up again trying to figure out how to use the squat toilets on site, which are basically just holes in the floor. 

Our course in Italy has been jam packed with mind boggling historical sites, beautiful towns and cities, and awesome food. I'm sad to see it end, though I am ready to see my family, especially my sister who I hope is having an awesome time at her dance convention! Ciao, Italia! You've been too good to us! 


Much Venice. Very Wow.

"Venice is an impossible city. It shouldn't exist." This is how Mike introduced us to Venice this morning. While it's probable that he was making a commentary on how the city has survived despite all odds, I'd like to believe he was speaking figuratively; the morning light made this "gateway to the East" shimmer with an improbable kind of magic. 

We started the day by walking to Piazza San Marco. Much to our professors' disappointment, we arrived without getting lost in the labyrinthian Venetian streets. Piazza San Marco is home to Palazzo Ducale and Basilica San Marco, our first two stops for the day. 

Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge's Palace, was once home to Venice's rulers. Inside, we were taken through a series of rooms, some for the Doge and his family, and others for official meetings. The walls and ceilings were covered extensively in elaborate paintings and decorations, most of which are very expensive, imported materials. While the sumptuously decorated rooms boasted Venetian power and sophistication, the exterior was perhaps even more impressive; I felt as if I was being transported to the Arabic world through the architecture, and this raises an interesting question about the influence of the Islamic world on Venice. 

Our second stop of the day was a quick exploration of Basilica di San Marco, which is known for its beautiful synthesis of East and West architectural elements, as well as its striking mosaics depicting biblical scenes and Venetian traditions. One such tradition is the story of the body of St. Mark being smuggled from Alexandria to Venice in a barrel of pork, and this is portrayed on the facade. Unfortunately, many of the attractions of the basilica were closed to the public, but we had many treasures to study nevertheless. 

After a breathtaking vaporetto (water bus) ride down the Grand Canal, we stopped for a quick lunch before touring the Jewish Ghetto. The Ghetto, incidentally the first ghetto and the namesake for the English word "ghetto," was where Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic. In the Jewish Ghetto, where the "Old Ghetto" is, bemusedly, newer than the "New Ghetto," the Jews divided themselves on ethnic lines and established five separate synagogues. We had the opportunity to visit the German Synagogue and French Synagogue in the New Ghetto and the Spanish Synagogue in the Old Ghetto. The synagogues were immensely interesting, especially in their differences from one another. For example, the Spanish synagogue was home to the Sephardic Jews, who were much wealthier than the Ashkenazi Jews of the New Ghetto, and this wealth was reflected in the rich decorations. 

Tomorrow is our bittersweet last day of class before we have an independent day to explore Venice and then get on the plane to head home. I am excited to see all the good things our last two days will bring, and how the course as a whole will continue to impact us when we're home at Elon, and as we continue our world explorations in the future. 

Sogni d'oro,

Lindsey Jordan

Thursday, January 21, 2016

St. Peter's

January 19: Rome as a Religious and Political Center 

After many days in Rome it was time for the grand finale, St. Peter's Basilica, and it only took one smelly, claustrophobic metro ride to get there.

Our journey began in the Plazza San Pietro, the space right outside the Basilica where people often gather to hear the Pope speak. Lynn gave us the lowdown on the history of the Basilica including the importance of St. Peter in the Christian religion as the rock upon which God built his Church; Peter is often represented as the "Keeper of Keys" to the Kingdom of Heaven and is therefore often shown holding two large golden keys in his hands.  

Inside St. Peter's Basilica, we observed a mix of Renaissance and Baroque styles in the architecture and decor, and admired the works of many great artists. One of the most notable was Michelangelo's famous statue, the Pieta. We marveled at the design of the distinctive feature of the Basilica, the Dome of St. Peter - the 551 steps of the dome motivated some of us honors students to accept the challenge to climb to the top.

The rich history of the Basilica was evident as soon as we entered the Vatican Scavi, the necropolis buried underneath the Basilica. Inside we saw what are believed by many to be the remains of St. Peter. In 324 AD, Constantine built the Old Basilica over the tomb of St. Peter, while in the process burying all the other tombs surrounding it. Over the years the Basilica was reconstructed and altered, most drastically in 1506 when Pope Julius II destroyed and rebuilt it during the Reformation, when Catholicism was being threatened. During this process, the remains of an old man were found  in the wall surrounding the shrine of Saint Peter's tomb. There is still debate today as to whether these were actually St. Peter's remains, but regardless, the Basilica and Vatican Scavi remain a sacred place to Christians all over the world.  

Just up the street from the Basilica, we visited the Castel San Angelo, built in 139 AD as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian. This castle was later repurposed as a fortress for the protection of the Pope during times of struggle or invasion.  After getting lost within the many rooms of the castle, we eventually found our way to the very top, which offered what we voted to be the best view of Rome. 

After being motivated to continue with (free) Gelato from Mike and Lynn, we walked to our last destination of the day: the office of Nicole Winfield, a journalist for AP (Associated Press), which is a non-profit news corporation. Nicole spoke to us about her experience covering the news of the Vatican and answered our questions regarding journalism and the Pope. 

Overall today we focused on Rome as a Religious and Political Center, and through these various sites have further witnessed the endless influences and crossroads of Italy through the architecture, art, and history filling the streets of Rome. 

You've been good to us Rome. Now off to Ravenna. :) 

-Maya Aboutanos 


Hope is imprisoned in the Ducal Palace.

En route along the Grand Canal.

See, ferries aren't too bad.

On a tour of the Old Ghetto of Venice.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More Mike Pics

Hope really can't stop thinking about 1849

While the weather reminded us of Scandinavia,
we were actually at the Norwegian Institute in Rome 

Special view of St. Peter's and the Tiber

"Ciao, mi chiamo Joel"

Lindsey ponders Vatican correspondence,
or just wishes there was a chair. 

We may never know what was bothering Betsy

That's more like it.

Mike gets the evil eye from Maya.

Long bus rides produce zany moments like this.