Monday, January 30, 2012

Cooking Like the Italians

Tonight I took a cooking class where we learned how to make our own handmade pasta and then we cooked vegetables and fresh bacon to add to it. The chef made it look incredibly easy, and while it wasn't as challenging as I expected, my noodles came out with a rather inconsistent thickness. But I figure it just proves how "homemade" it really is. I'm now looking forward trying my own recipes with things I can find in my local supermarket. It looks like my dinner cereal days are over!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens

In addition to visiting museums and the Dome in Florence I also visited the Palazzo Pitti and it's 11 acres of gardens. The gardens were beautiful but I haven't been out of an urban setting in weeks so probably anything would have seemed nice to me. The center of the garden, built for the Medici family in 1550, is one of the best examples of 16th century Italian gardens and rightfully so. The heart of the garden is a large Roman amphitheater located near the palace with a reflecting pool dedicated to Neptune behind it.

I wandered around the gardens for hours discovering fun architectural follies, hedge mazes, sculptured flower beds, and even a garden villa overlooking the Tuscan countryside. The views were amazing from the top of the garden. We could see the setting sun to the west and the entire city of Florence to the east behind the Palazzo. It was a great stop on the trip since I got a chance to draw some quick sketches of fountains, and take a brief break from city life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Cars of Italia

Around Rome I have seen a variety of cars, but the vast majority are either Smart Cars or Fiat 500s. In the United States people purchase these vehicles because they are environmentally friendly but here they are purchased out of pure necessity. No other car is as functional because no other car would be able to fit down the narrow streets of Central Rome. Many people also drive mopeds and small motorcycles so they can park almost anywhere and don't have to wait in regular traffic. I have seen only a few very exciting cars, such as a Lamborghini, which I honestly expected to see everywhere in Italy. But I am told they are more common in the north around Milan. And as nice as these Italian luxury cars are most people drive German sedans, such as BMW, Audi, and Mercedes Benz instead of their Italian competitor Alfa Romeo. I can not imagine having to drive around Rome, due to the driving style and location. But if I had to choose a car I would be among the Fiat 500s squeezing under Aqueducts and down the medieval alley ways.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Capitoline Museum

I, along with the entire abroad program, visited the Capitoline Museums located in Palazzo Senatorio and Palazzo dei Conservatori, both designed by Michelangelo. We went to see a new exhibit featuring the sketches of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, in addition to the collections of ancient sculptures and relics. The sculptures are mostly Roman but there are also small Greek and Egyptian collections. The most amazing part of the museum is actually the rooms themselves, built and designed by Michelangelo with carved gilded ceilings and painted frescoes on the walls.

The featured exhibit, with the sketches of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, was truly inspiring. Most importantly it taught me that I can sketch all of my ideas without having to worry about how good the drawings are. As talented as Michelangelo and Leonardo obviously were, some of their sketches, as they thought through their pencil, were surprisingly average. An important skill that I hope to acquire while here in Rome.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Pantheon

Today I wandered once again in to the Piazza della Rotonda to check out the Pantheon, and to get some Gelato. This time, however, I ventured inside, which costs nothing. The entire façade is made of granite and the dome is made of concrete, and remains the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world. Inside, the carved squares in the domes interior exaggerate the already magnificent arches that meet at an open oculus at the top.

Marcus Agrippa first built a Pantheon on this site in 27 BC but the current building was not constructed, during the fourth and final attempt, until 126 AD by Emperor Hadrian. The interior floor is entirely marble and the walls hold a collection of old Christian and Italian artifacts, including a memorial to Victor Emmanuel II and the tomb of Raphael. An amazing building and one of the oldest remaining structures in Rome. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Trevi Fountain

After visiting a modern art exhibit featuring Piet Mondrian I ventured through the city until I discovered the Trevi Fountain, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Rome. The fountain is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the city and possibly one of the most famous fountains in the world. In 1730 Pope Clement XII held a competition to pick a design for a newly commissioned fountain. Nicola Salvi won the competition, with Oceanus, the God of all Water, featured in the center.

Although the surrounding area around the fountain is busy with tourists it is still easy to get down to the fountain, and even drink from some of the free running faucets on its flanks. Many people throw coins behind them in to the water because of an old superstition that this will result in your eventual return to Rome. As a result, the Trevi Fountain is estimated to collect an estimated 3,000 Euro a day, which is used to subsidize food pantries for the cities homeless.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Giuseppe Garibaldi Monument

The Janiculum Hill, or Gioncolo in Italian, is not one of the ancient seven hills of Rome as it sets on the west bank of the Tiber, but today has the best view of the city. Because of its distance from the center of the city the hill does not have the same rich ancient history as almost everywhere else, but instead made its claim to fame in 1849 as the site for the decisive battle between Giuseppe Garibaldi and the French forces defending the Papal state.

Garibaldi, who commanded the Italian forces against the French in the First Italian War of Independence, defended the hilltop from French forces but was eventually defeated which led to the siege of Rome in 1859. Garibaldi would go on to lead Italian forces in the Second and Third Italian Wars of Independence. His legacy lives on in that the entire city of Rome is a part of the nation of Italy and not a separate Catholic state, like the Vatican City across the Tiber from Rome. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


Senātus Populusque Rōmānus,” Latin for, "The Senate and People of Rome,” can be found on many things in the city and dates back to the Roman Republic. It has been used since this time to describe public works and today is engraved on many things in the city of Rome. The ancient Romans put this phrase on the shields of the Roman Legions, coins and monuments. It can still be found today on statues and monuments but on manhole covers, lampposts and public documents as well.

SPQR can also be seen in the movie Gladiator as a brand on Maximus’ arm, which he later tries to carve out of his skin with a knife. A subtle moment that I entirely missed the first time I saw the movie. Having watched it more recently, I have a much greater appreciation for the scenes in which the gladiators enter the city, awed by its scale. It must have been incredibly impressive to travel from the far reaches of the Roman Empire to Rome itself, seeing the Coliseum and Forum in all of its original glory. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Roman Forum

This morning the entire abroad group travelled on a guided tour to the Roman Forum. The Forum is located between the Palatine and Constantine hills, which we also explored. The ruins in the hills come from the former homes and palaces of many of Rome's past Emperors which sit above the Forum, which functioned as the commercial and government center of the Empire.

The ruins are mostly cleared but some areas, which I prefer, are covered by vegetation. We viewed digital recreations of the Forum but I am more interested in comparing the paintings of the ruins from the 18th and 19th Centuries to today. They are surprisingly similar. It's nice to know that one day I can come back and they will probably be just the same, although the Italians are taking more and more precautions to protect their landmarks, such as closing the area around the Colosseum and limiting the visitors to the Pantheon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Colosseum

Today the entire abroad program went on a guided tour of the Colosseum. We learned about the history of ancient Rome, the Emperors and the history of the games. Our Guide taught us about the Gladiators, naval battles, and wild animals that were all in the building. But apparently no Christians were ever killed in the building, they were executed elsewhere.

It was brutally cold and we rushed through some of the areas but still saw everything. We also got to see computer recreations of what the building looked like while it was still in use. The Romans extended the building even further with wooden supports to add an additional level above where the stone ended. They also suspended rocks on ropes from the exterior to cantilever canvas over the audience to protect them from the rain and sun. All very impressive considering they used no modern tools.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Vatican City

Today I went over to the Vatican to draw a dome for homework. The church and the Piazza San Pietro are both very beautiful and grand in scale. The whole area was pretty touristy, so much so that they even had a hamburger stand, the first I've seen. Lots of Americans in the Piazza but also people from everywhere in the world as well, mainly Asians.

The city itself is very interesting because as a free state they have their own police although its really no bigger than any other neighborhood in Rome. If you look at old maps of the city the Vatican fell on the outskirts, and today, even though the city grew around it, it still feels somewhat separate from Central Rome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Flea Market - Trastevere

Today I visited the largest flea market in Rome, and one of the largest in Europe. It happens here in Trastevere every Sunday. There were tents set up in Porto Portese for miles, selling a variety of goods from underwear to Roman antiques. Some great stands had hand carved wood dishes, ancient sculptures, and even oil paintings. My personal favorite stand had engraved whale tusks from Nantucket; a nice little taste of home!

The market can be a bit overwhelming, a lot going on and lots of people! The prices seemed good, but I'm still getting used to the Euro. Cheap sunglasses sold for around one euro and knockoff bags for around twenty. I'm not sure if that is a deal or not? Either way, lots to look at.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Monument to Victor Emmanuel II

Tonight I was wandering around Central Rome and I came across the most amazing building. It was in Piazza Venezia and was entirely lit up. At the bottom of the main stair case there is an eternal flame that burns the lost soldiers of WWI and is manned by two guards, much like the memorial in Washington D.C.

The building, although very similar to Ancient Roman work, was actually designed in 1885 but construction did not start until 1911 and ended in 1935. The monument is dedicated to Victor Emmanuel II who was the first king of modern united Italy. A very monumental and moving memorial. The building is also in a great location. It sits adjacent to the original Roman Forum and is in view of the Colosseum, an area I hope to explore more in the future, and during the day!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Basilica Di Santa Maria

Today I headed to a common square in Trastevere, only a few blocks from my apartment, to draw the Basilica Di Santa Maria for my sketchbook class. We were assigned two pages of sketches diagramming and drawing the fountain in front of the Santa Maria. I think the first drawing came out pretty good but a little bit of it got cut off in the photo.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Welcome to Trastevere, Italy

Today I want to show off my new apartment in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. We are just south of the  Tiber River and can get into the city and to most major landmarks in about 20 minutes by foot, only 5 minutes by Tram. The apartment has two bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, foyer and old courtyard in the center of the building. In the backyard is a ripe orange tree filled just out of reach of the kitchen window.