Truth be told, the Roman Empire didn’t fully collapse and disappear. We see traces of classical architecture in our every day life, whether when walking around a sporting arena (hello, Los Angeles Coliseum!) or walking through a residential building entrance with a subtle egg-and-dart decoration. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, there is always a little reminder of Rome that keeps the city, well, eternal.
With that in mind, we are asking you to show us Rome in your town with a call for photos. New York, Paris, Frankfurt, Seattle, London, Las Vegas, Bala Cynwyd, EUR…. we all know you have a little Rome in you, so show us what you’ve got. Friezes, gardens, markets, facades, rosettes, temples, train stations, and more. Does your Rome outside of Rome fit in with its surroundings or feel just a bit out of place? Is it reminiscent of the Pantheon, the Ara Pacis, the Roman Forum? And please let us know how you feel about it.
Rome away from Rome:Submit photos to info[at]romanculture.org with a description of what it is and where it is located. You can also submit directly to Facebookand Twitter. Make sure to include hashtag #romeawayfromrome, and any other info you’d like to share about the photo, as well as your blog, website, Twitter and other accounts. Upon receiving your photo(s), we will feature them on our blog, Facebook and Twitter. There is no deadline- just an ongoing photo project!
Photo of the New York Public Library by GreatBuildings
Looking back at our Unlisted 2013 conference, I am proud to say that this year’s conference was our most successful to date. As in years past, the Unlisted conference brought together academics and professionals in a forum to discuss cultural heritage, with this year’s theme “Conversation for Conservation”, i.e. the necessary dialogue in social media for cultural heritage and ongoing awareness.
Over the past few years, we have chosen to accompany and complement our mission to promote cultural heritage by investing time in social media and video production, as we feel these contemporary forums are integral to education, promotion and sharing messages. Our objective for Unlisted since the beginning was never to be a strictly academic conference for archaeologists and conservators but rather more out of the box and on the fringe of academia in the hopes of inspiring ideas and opening eyes/ears to a different kind of dialogue, and likewise expand the audience.
With that in mind, this year, we chose to investigate the overlap of cultural heritage and new media in many different and sometimes unfamiliar areas, leading us to encapsulate our (AIRC and Unlisted participants) interests, questions and potential solutions. This year’s conference was shorter than in prior years- a three-hour program that included presentations and roundtable with a filmmaker, a journalist, two photographers, two social media strategists, along with the AIRC itself.
Unlisted 2013 was like viewing cultural heritage through a contemporary and technological kaleidoscope. Journalist Stephan Faris related our theme to journalism and reportage, while MiBAC’s Giuseppe Ariano discussed the Ministry of Culture’s growing voice and online engagement. Photographer Sam Horine talked about instantaneous communication via photography and Instagram, citing his work during Hurricane Sandy. Photographer Nicolee Drake also discussed Instagram and the use of imagery in promoting cultural heritage. Erica Firpo presented AIRC’s social media progress and its focused methods for cultural heritage, whereas I discussed AIRC work in video and photography projects which include Fasti online (Palatine dig), Digging History (AIRC initiavie), MiBAC eduation, and Comune di Roma. Rose Bonello spoke about her success in engaging communities, finding corporate sponsorship and using technology as an aggregator fueled by passionate storytelling. Most poignant was Brent Huffman as he relayed the power of video film documentary to halt or at least for now retard the destruction of a precious heritage site in Afghanistan.
This year, Unlisted 2013 not only crossed genres - archaeology, film making and social media- but our dialogue also traversed a variety of platforms outside of the physicality of the conference hall. Thanks to Marconi University for live streaming, we had conversations via blogs and twitter, and even saw a brief Vine post [username: ThePlanet]. And in the days following the conference, Albert, Sam, Erica, Nicolee and I traveled around Rome and Naples to put this conversation into action through social media outlets and more specifically the hashtag #culturalheritage. We didn’t invent the tag- cultural heritage has been around forever, but we encourage you to use it when you tweet, tumblr, gram and Vine. Take a look out posts, feeds, galleries– yes, there is a lot going on but we can make it good.
We are very excited to announce the theme of our annual Unlisted Conference, “Cultural Heritage in Digital Media: Conversation for Conservation, Sustaining Global Storytelling Online”. As in our past Unlisted conferences, guest presenters include members from mainstream media and Italian heritage representatives and a dynamic group of “outsiders” who will discuss the role of social media in cultural heritage. We are proud to host two established photographers that are successfully using the Instagram platform- Sam Horine and Nicolee Drake. Along side of them will be journalist Stephan Faris and filmmaker Brent Huffman who attracted global attention through his heritage video The Buddhas of Mes Aynak, a threatened site in Afganistan. There will be an online screening of his film prior to the conference start.
AIRC will talk about our own Kickstarter video project, ongoing educational filming in Rome (sites, excavations in cooperation with several local entities), and social action platform ipetition for the endangered site of the “gladiator tomb.” There will also be a number of people speaking that have found success in multiple stakeholder collaborations, including Nexus Mundi Foundation, an organization that has created a roadmap to involve corporate sponsorship, universities, and local communities.
Our objective in bringing this diverse group together is to foster dialogue in the various methods of promoting of cultural heritage, whether directly related to archaeological heritage or not.
PLEASE JOIN US
In Rome: Join us April 18, 4 pm at the Sala Vittoria Colonna on Via Colonna, 11 of Marconi University. The conference will also be simultaneously translated in English and Italian.
Elsewhere: live stream, April 18 4pm Rome (10am EST).
If you mention Ostia Antica to most anyone, Italian or foreigner, you get only a blank stare and/or a shake of the head. Most modern Romans have never visited it, at least not in their adult lives; in fact, the majority of the roughly 300,000 people who visit the site every year are Italian schoolchildren and foreign tourists. This is a tiny fraction of the nearly five million people who visit the Colosseum every year. Yet there was a time—about 2000 years ago, admittedly—when, if you mentioned the word “Ostia” to anyone who travelled, whether Roman or foreigner, you would get an animated response fueled by mental images of Rome, the greatest metropolis of the ancient world, for which this unpretentious port city was the lifeline to the world. Millions of people from all walks of life embarked and disembarked at Ostia in the approximately 1000 years of its life, from slaves to emperors (Augustus, Claudius, Nero), from merchants to early Christian luminaries (St. Augustine). These people navigated the same streets, drank from the same fountains, and washed in the same bath complexes that we can see today, just 25 minutes by train from downtown Rome.
I first “landed” at Ostia Antica as a graduate student in the summer of 1998. My initial impression of the site then still corresponds perfectly to its appearance today: a beautiful, sleepy, largely empty park packed with an incredible array of structures that beg to be explored. It’s like having a theme park practically to yourself, except this theme park happens to be the closest experience to the look and feel of ancient Rome available anywhere in the world.
Several things struck me then, as now. Ostia is as big as Pompeii, but it offers a much better visitor experience by virtue of being entirely accessible (whereas most of Pompeii is barricaded to keep visitors away), well-shaded by big pine trees, and much less crowded. The one major disadvantage that I recall was having to leave at lunchtime to forage for food in the Medieval borgo next door, an episode that nevertheless had a silver lining in introducing me to a quaint 1000-year-old town.
The food problem at Ostia Antica was soon remedied by the construction of a pleasant glass-walled cafeteria next to the site museum, which allows the visitor to spend the entire day among the ruins. The visitor experience at Ostia Antica continues to improve gradually with every passing year. Recently a cement staircase and ramp were installed on the decumanus maximus (main east-west road) at the corner of Via dei Molini to smooth the abrupt (and dangerous) drop from the Late Antique to the Republican street level, the mosaics in the Piazzale delle Corporazioni were cleaned, and Wi-Fi was installed in the cafeteria.
But if it’s true that first impressions are the most important ones, then much more needs to be done to allow Ostia Antica to make the sensational first impression every visitor deserves. There are many dirty mosaics and frescoes that need to be cleaned and conserved, collapsing walls that need to be patched up, and trees and plants that need to be cut back more frequently. Many of the informational signs are so old as to be faded or peeling, and there are not enough signs to make up for the lack of a good guidebook in English.
We at the American Institute for Roman Culture are big fans of Ostia Antica, and we’re working hard to improve the visitor experience there through a variety of projects. In 2010 and 2011 we created a series of educational videos about the site that were recently cited by The New York Times as an authoritative source. In 2011 we brought much-needed attention to the site by making it a central theme of our first annual Unlisted conference on sustainable cultural heritage. In 2011 and 2012 we tested an innovative approach to documenting and conserving the standing remains. And in recent years our Summer Archaeological Field School has been based at Ostia Antica.
In 2013 the AIRC field school will be held in the Parco dei Ravennati, a practically unexplored public park located between Ostia Antica and the borgo. This three-year excavation will help finally unite the two areas, blending the romantic beauty of Ostia Antica, the imposing majesty of the castle of pope Julius II, and the relaxing small-town charm of the borgo into an unforgettable first impression. It’s also an opportunity to engage the local community and invite them to invest their tangible and intangible resources in the transformation of Ostia Antica into a world-class archaeological experience on a par with Pompeii and central Rome through preservation, education, and promotion, so that everyone will gain something.
We want your first impression of Ostia Antica to be a great one: please consider joining the excavation project, if a student, or just stopping by to say “hi” as you make your way from the train station to the archaeological site.
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology, albert[at]romanculture.org
Shortly before I left to study abroad here in Rome, I found myself having to constantly answer the same question over and over from my friends and family in the States: “Why are you going to Rome?” And then, all the rest: “Do you know anyone there?” “But it’s so chaotic!” “Do you speak the language?” The idea of going abroad to study in Rome can throw people into a sort of tailspin with its overwhelming mass of past and present, big and small. Loud, louder, and loudest.
Rome is a city that draws people in from all over the world most likely for its treasure trove of charming contradictions: ancient history and contemporary life, loud streets and quiet churches, urban chaos and green parks, and espresso-fueled days followed by afternoon naps and four-hour Sunday lunches. And it is a one-of-a-kind outdoor and living museum that is irresistible– whether for its amazing ancient history and cultural heritage, or its an intangible quality of life here where you are always offered to try just one more flavor of their gelato or stay just a few minutes longer to chat over your cappuccino at the bar. It is that very je ne sais quoi that makes those of us who come for a week, a summer and a semester want to stay a life time.
Fifteen non-stop weeks in Rome. Living in the city, making each neighborhood your classroom while studying with faculty at the top of their field who also eat, breathe and live what they teach ~these are what help to define our AIRC semester abroad program. And then Rome, the city eternal, colors and highlights the rest quite easily. Think of Rome as the background and stage for our program, which caters courses in history, art history, classics, communications and journalism, among others. In fact, long ago, a professor once told me that living in Rome is like being in a play and that the moment you leave your house, you step out onto the stage and take part in a never-ending act.
Are you ready for your role?
[Reconstructed imperial era tomb at the Museo Nazionale (Baths of Diocletian). Photo by Prof. Morel]
Every year, we eagerly await the announcement for Settimana della Cultura, Culture Week, a ten-day span which we’ve relished over the past several years as an opportunity not just to visit museums for free, but visit as many museums as possible. This year, news was sent out early and unfortunately it was not good. In an effort to cut costs and save money the Italian Ministry of Culture, MiBAC, has cancelled culture week.
Canceled? How could they do that? It’s easy. MiBAC’s Anna Maria Buzzi commented that “we [MiBAC] can no longer permit ourselves to renounce entry collections during those 7 days in spring, one of the periods of the year when more visitors come [to Italy]. We will, however, maintain open museums with free entry the last Sunday of each month to Italian families in true financial difficulty.”
For those looking to save money while visiting museums and cultural sites, please make sure to look into state and province-sponsored cards such as Roma Pass, a 3-day ticket which includes free entrance into two participating museums or archaeological sites, discounted entrance to subsequent sites and free public transport during the 72 hour time period. Cost: 30 euro. And our favorite Archeologia Card, a 7-day ticket which includes free [single] entrance to Colosseo, Palatino/For Romano, National Museums: Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo, Crypta Balbi, Terme di Diocleziano, Baths of Caracalla, Cecilia Metella and Villa dei Quintilli. Cost: 27.50 euro. Or the shorter term 4 Musei, a three-day ticket for single entry to Palazzo Altemps, Palazzo Massimo, Crypta Balbi and Terme di Diocleziano. Cost: 6.50 euro.
AIRC is pleased to announce the development of its partnership with California State University, Fresno (Fresno State), as official school of record for all academic program offerings. University academic credit for AIRC programs will now be offered by Fresno State. That includes our upcoming 15-week semester program:
- Fall 2013 Signature Semester Program September 2-December 12, 2013
as well as this summer’s program offerings:
- Living Latin, Living History A unique program in colloquial, spoken Latin language with Professor Nancy Llewellyn
- Layers of Rome, Track 1 History and Art History A comprehensive overview of the ancient Roman world
- Layers of Rome, Track 2 Media Studies A solid basis in ancient Roman studies for producing a real-world media project
- Archaeological Field School An intense hands-on excavation program, now in its 11th year
The partnership, which is administered through Fresno State’s Division of Continuing and Global Education in partnership with the College of Arts and Humanities, support’s the University’s internationalization vision as articulated in its Strategic Plan for Excellence. Russel Statham, Manager for Administration and Global Operations, said, “We are excited about this new partnership and are pleased to be able to expand Fresno State’s role in promoting global education. Our alignment with AIRC will offer hundreds of students the opportunity to receive academic credit for world-class educational programs in Rome, and we are pleased to be a leader supporting international education opportunities.”
AIRC is proud to have Fresno State as its official partner in offering university academic credit for AIRC’s high-quality, one-of-a-kind academic programs in Rome, and is looking forward to the opportunity to now enroll a much wider range of students who require college credit for their academic experience abroad.
For most people, the term “archaeologist” conjures up the image of a stubbly man wearing a button-down shirt with pockets, chinos, a leather jacket, a wide-brimmed hat, a saddle-bag, a bull-whip, and a holster with revolver.
I’ve been working as a field archaeologist in Italy for going on 20 years now, and my appearance has never corresponded to that image—except for the stubble, which I proudly wear most days, and not out of vanity, but because my facial hair grows very slowly. I confess to having a broad-brimmed hat, a gag gift from a friend, but it’s too heavy to wear in the Mediterranean heat. Forget about a leather jacket. The pistol and bull-whip, as instruments for maintaining discipline among the crew, have been replaced by the threat of a low grade and/or no letter of recommendation for grad school.
What does a typical contemporary field archaeologist working under the Mediterranean summer sun look like? My outfit, which is pretty typical, includes:
- A slightly tattered polo shirt, symbol of my tortured relationship with bourgeois social conventions, which I respect and despise simultaneously (an attitude I call “archaeo chic”)
- Cargo pants, which allow me to carry truly ridiculous amounts of stuff on my person
- Sandals, which keep my feet from smelling any worse than they really need to
- Reinforced work boots, which keep my toes from getting any more crushed than they really need to be
- A backpack, symbol of my lifelong dedication to scholarly pursuits (or my inability to grow up and get a real job, depending on one’s point of view)
Curious about the cargos?
- Loose change for buying coffee during the day (I don’t make brilliant discoveries without caffeine)
- Chewing gum with xylitol (I don’t make brilliant discoveries when distracted by food particles in my mouth or bad breath)
- A packet of heavy-duty tissues (I don’t make brilliant discoveries with a stuffed up nose)
- Polarized Ray-Ban sunglasses (I don’t make brilliant discoveries in blinding sunlight)
- The key to the lock on the equipment shed (no one makes brilliant discoveries—or any discoveries, period—without access to tools)
- Two cell phones: an iPhone 3GS that keeps me connected to the world (and my sanity), and a bare-bones model that keeps me connected to colleagues and students (and rings continuously…)
- A mini Swiss Army Knife, for defense against irate colleagues and students
Double-strapping the backpack:
- Clipboard with pen
- Water bottle
- Baseball cap
- Cut-proof work gloves
- Reserve pen
- Bottle of non-aspirin painkillers
- Asthma inhaler
- Hand-sanitizing lotion
- Reserve packet of heavy-duty tissues
- Digital camera for capturing what used to be known as “Kodak moments”
- Pocket flashlight for exploring the many underground spaces of Ostia Antica
Possible addition to next year’s gear list: a hip-flask. I suspect that I might make more brilliant discoveries with one. At the least, I won’t notice the phone ringing so much…
We are pleased to announce that we are now accepting applications for our 2013 field school, an intensive six-week educational program in Roman archaeology led by AIRC faculty and affiliated expert archaeologists. Following two successful digs in Ostia Antica, we continue in our investigations in the harbor city of ancient Rome. And just as in past years, our field school offers both a synchronic (single-period) and a diachronic (multi-period) approach to the study of Roman culture to provide a comprehensive historical and cultural appreciation of Rome and Roman civilization, from its rise to power to its decline, understanding how it set a standard of cultural values that continues to exert influence over the entire Western world to this day.
From June 10 through July 21, students will live in Rome’s historic center as they experience the unique combination of (1) one week of specialized academic instruction on the topography and development of Rome, including visits to major museums and open-air sites to augment field studies and provide participants with a broader context of what life was like in the ancient city, and (2) five weeks of hands-on fieldwork at Ostia Antica. Students can expect hands-on experience and learning in techniques and methodologies of modern archaeological research, archaeological recording and record-keeping, identifying variety of Roman artifacts and building techniques/materials and practice “reading” art, architecture, and other traces of this civilization’s material culture to reconstruct the wider cultural framework, principles of conservation and in depth familiarity with the city of Rome, its port at Ostia and their rich archaeological record.
For more information about our field school, please visit the 2013 Field School information page, review the application/general information, and read Popular Archaeology’s article about our excavation program. We remain available to you via email info[at]romanculture.org and are happy to speak with
From June 10 through July 21, 2013, students will live in Rome’s historic center as they experience the unique combination of (1) one week of specialized academic instruction on the topography and development of Rome, including visits to major museums and open-air sites to augment field studies and provide participants with a broader context of what life was like in the ancient city, and (2) five weeks of hands-on fieldwork at an important archaeological site in the city and environs (including laser scanning and total station workshops). Students can expect hands-on experience and learning in techniques and methodologies of modern archaeological research, archaeological record-keeping, identifying variety of Roman artifacts and building techniques/materials and practice “reading” art, architecture, and other traces of this civilization’s material culture to reconstruct the wider cultural framework, principles of conservation and in depth familiarity with the city of Rome, its port at Ostia and their rich archaeological record.
For more information about our field school, please visit the 2013 Field School information page, review the application/general information, and read Popular Archaeology‘s article about our excavation program. We remain available to you via email info[at]romanculture.org and are happy to speak with you to set up a phone conversation to discuss your academic and logistical needs.
Happy New Year! 2013 has already started to ring in fierce! With forty-eight hours left in our Kickstarter campaign “Digging History”, we are proud to share the news that we have 63 backers and have surpassed our target goal. In fact, we are more than pleased (does “jumping up and down” give you a good idea?) with the amount of support we have had over the past four weeks- donations from every level and inspiring group of people spreading the word about our Kickstarter campaign on the streets and through the airwaves. Reaching our goal of $10,000 in three weeks, and then surpassing it (we have now raised over $12,000), is a wonderful feeling! Our feeling is that making history happens by the community, and as we move forward to outlining and organizing the production of Digging History, we look forward to acknowledging you- our supporters and donors.
What comes next? Well, before we can really roll up our sleeves, we have a couple of days left to continue to raise funds. We are pushing hard and reaching out (and asking readers those of you who have already donated) to do the same. More funding will allow us to produce more (and that’s the true goal), to create a fun, accessible hub online that will truly serve to excite and teach K-12, colllege, professional, and the public at large about Rome. Along with donating, another way to support our projects is also by spreading the word about what we do– in particular, our ipetition: Save the Gladiator Tomb– the quick update is that we have over 3000 signatures as we steadfastly approach our goal of 5000. Please keep get your friends, friends of friends and acquaintances to sign. Thank you to the following for their great mentions of these two projects: Katie Parla of Parla Food, Unamericanaaroma.com, Italiannotebook.com, CNN and Ben Wedeman, Fathom Away and Russell Crowe.
~Darius Arya, Executive Director
The American Institute has just embarked on our first Kickstarter project with a target of $10,000 to fund production of a one-hour documentary, Digging History. Digging History will be the first of what we hope to lead to many documentaries that will be available as free, online educational resource for use to students and schools/universities, as well as anyone with an interest in learning more. Digging History is hosted and created by the AIRC team along with historians, archaeologists, videographers, historical and cultural experts and will bring viewers behind the scenes and learn about topics in art, archaeology, history, architecture, sustainability, conservation, religion and politics, from experts as they conduct their work, giving fun, accessible insights on the city and the people and events that shaped it, and continue to shape it.
As we have mentioned in other posts, we have already created several free, educational video podcasts in Rome and throughout Italy, made possible by partnerships with the Italian Ministry of Culture, and archaeological organizations AIAC and Fastionline. With this Kickstarter project, our long-term goal is to produce a huge amount of engaging content to become an online hub and focus for learning about all aspects of Roman culture. Please join us in our Kickstarted campaign– every contribution helps and each pledge is gratefully acknowledged and rewarded. All contributions are tax deductible.
Please join our Digging History Kickstarter Campaign.
Reblogged from Executive Director Darius Arya’s blog DariusAryaDigs:
Please join me in voicing your concern for saving the Gladiator’s Tomb, a unique cultural heritage site that runs the risk of being reburied permanently for lack of funding. Together with the AIRC, I am hoping to get 5,000 signatures on the iPetition to save the Gladiator’s Tomb.
In 2008, on the Via Flaminia in the northern part of contemporary Rome, archaeologist found an impressive marble mausoleum, among other noteworthy tombs, along a well-preserved section of ancient road. The press was quick to call this particular tomb “Tomb of the Gladiator” since the tomb itself was comissioned by and for Marcus Nonius Macrinus, an prominent general under the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Macrinus’ life was paralleled in the Oscar-winning film Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott) with the general-then-gladiator character Maximus magnificently played by Russell Crowe. Upon its discovery and nickname, the world responded enthusiastically because of its relationship with the larger-than-life Maximus, who represented so much of Rome and created such enthusiasm for ancient Roman culture, as well as the overwhelmingly important historic, architectural, and epigraphical qualities of the site itself.
Over the past decade and a half of living and working in Rome, I have been fortunate to visit the site on numerous occasions, and I am constantly struck by the enormity of the site-13,000 square meters in area, almost three American football fields. It is beautiful– both historically and physically. I think anyone that comes to the site cannot help but have an immediate connection to the past. I am also in awe of the amount of mud that buried site thus preserving it (45 feet in height)- it gives you an idea of both what the archaeologists had to overcome but also how much lucky they were to even find it.
The superintendency’s recent (and almost abrupt) decision to rebury the site for preservation is laudable in that they want to preserve the site. However, the historical importance of the site merits further attention and excavation, not simply covering up. We have too much to lose here. If we have to pick and choose, this is one worth fighting for. Please join me in signing and sharing this iPetition now.
Any time an ancient site opens, or better yet, reopens, it is a cause for celebration. Once again, we are permitted to literally step into history and equally watch as history makes itself thanks to continued cultural heritage endeavors and financial support. This is especially the case with the recent opening of the Mithraeum of the Baths of Caracalla. Originally discovered in 1912, this mithraeum is considered the largest documented gathering space for the worshippers of Mithras. (Mithras was a Persian god in vogue with the military and mostly lower class men, in the second and third centuries AD.) The mithraeum, approximately 23 meters long and 10 meters wide with a soaring cross-vaulted ceiling, can be only roughly dated by the two main events associated with the bath complex: the mithraeum was certainly created after the complex was completed in AD 217, and it was probably no longer in use when the aqueduct supplying the complex was cut during the Greco-Gothic Wars in 537. In reality, it probably went out of use long before 537, since most scholars hold that Christianity had supplanted Mithraism as a “religion for the masses” by the early 4th century.
Today, a visit to the mithraeum can be considered a brief one, as what is available to us are primarily two chambers: a small square ante-chamber and the main rectangular meeting hall. Apart from a recently-restored fresco of the god (missing the face, unfortunately – presumably hacked away by Christians), there is very little left of the decoration, which was probably very lavish. The well-preserved podium structures on either long side, on which the worshippers reclined during ritual meals, give an excellent idea of the context and purpose of the shrine. Certainly the most intriguing feature is the small tunnel that runs under the center of the main hall into an adjoining room, where there is an entrance/exit with staircase; this has been identified with some controversy as the fossa sanguinis, the ritual pit over which the bull at the center of the Mithraic mythology was slaughtered, bathing one or more initiates in its blood.
Its location, off a dirt road adjacent to the main entrance, is part of a subterranean area of the Baths of Caracalla. The mithraeum space is just one part of the massive, sprawling system of underground corridors that honeycombs the large artificial platform supporting the Baths of Caracalla. Beneath the thermae complex lies a warren of tunnels with furnaces, stoked by slaves, and storage areas for supplies, including wood. Though access to these tunnels is today only partial, there are confirmed plans to extend the conservation and restoration work to make more of these areas accessible, including a substantial area dedicated to grinding grain using the water that passed through the baths.
It is important to note that Rome and its port city Ostia Antica have the largest number of preserved mithraea of any city in the Roman empire—scholars estimate that Rome once had 700 Mithraic shrines, while Ostia boasts 17 confirmed shrines—but only a small percentage of these are accessible to the public. More money and more investment will only benefit conservation and access for tourists who are increasingly willing to explore the more remote corners of the ancient city.
Visiting the Mithraeum is also an excellent excuse to head into the Baths of Caracalla to walk among the monumental structure and also enjoy a contemporary art installation by Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto. Three interlocking circles made up of fragrments of ancient marble and stone, Terzo Paradiso is the new symbol of infinity created by Pistoletto originally for the 2005 Venice Biennale, and an ongoing, collaborative project in varying venues and media. The new infinity symbol is all to action for the active and conscious need to create a “third paradise” to combat and transplant the artificial world we are celebrating today. Too deep? Too artsy? In any case, the site specific installation (through January 6, 2013) is a beautiful juxtaposition of contemporary and ancient, especially with the backdrop of the majestic pines and Baths of Caracalla.
How to visit: advance reservation for a guided tour to Mithraeum at the Baths of Caracalla will cost 16.50 euro and does not include entrance to the Baths. Here’s a tip- try the unguided visits at 10:00, 10:30, and 1:00, which are practically empty on weekdays. How? Buy the regular ticket (6.00 euros) at the ticket booth and pay a 1.50 euro supplement to visit the Mithraeum at one of those three times.
“What a city is for its own limits and territory, today Rome is for the inhabited Earth, as though it had proclaimed the common homeland of the whole world.” –from Eulogy of Rome by the Greek orator Aelius Aristides
Take a moment to imagine what it must have been like to live in a context in which one city dominated the world, as Aristides says, “under the rule of a single man . . . and everyone united as if in a common forum, with each man receiving that which suits him.” The sheer scope of such an existence is mind-boggling. Nothing comes close to it in modern-day terms. The Roman Empire stands alone in its depth and breadth.
And so begins “Caput Mundi: a city between domination and integration,” exhibition at Rome’s Colosseum. Caput Mundi elucidates the balancing act that the Empire faced by both conquering and eventually integrating those it came to dominate. A precarious endeavor where the aggressive actions of the Empire perhaps produced civilization’s first and quintessential “melting pot.” The Roman Empire mixed and matched various peoples (Latins, Samnites, Etruscans, Ligurians, Greeks) while also offering up a unique Roman culture, one that the Romans viewed as both encompassing, yet superior, to all others.
The exhibition boasts an impressive and carefully chosen selection of works from various museums both in Italy and abroad. The artifacts on display, like the bronze sentatoconsultum on the Bacchanalia, (an inscription of a law passed by the Roman senate that outlawed the Bacchanalia), serve to highlight the stark contrasts among opposing influences during the time of the Roman Empire: the intensity of its wars and conquests, the difficulties inherent in its diversity and wide-ranging geographic/cultural scope, and the complexity of its political and social make-up.
Though my academic background may not be strictly classics, I appreciated this exhibit for how it plainly revealed, both in words and artifacts, the complexities inherent both in governing and managing day-to-day affairs in such a unique political and social environment. As I read through the historical descriptions and admired the works of art dating back thousands of years, I continually found myself making ties and connections with modern-day Rome.
So much of ancient Rome continues on in today’s chaotic city. The tenacious, aggressive personality is equally complemented by the creative and light-hearted spirit of the Romans and their approach to daily life in Rome. The arrogance and superiority shown by a culture with such history – clearly revealed in this exhibition- were felt even at the time it was being made. While Rome continues to embrace people from all parts of the globe, it is still facing the internal conflict of acceptance versus dominance.
Caput Mundi runs through March 10, 2013- perfect timing.
~Shelley Ruelle, is AIRC Director of Programming. When we want to know what’s going on in Rome, we ask her. shelley.ruelle[at]romanculture.org
Photo above by Shelley Ruelle: Maximinus Thrax, the “Thracian” AD 235-238, 27th emperor of the Roman Empire and the first to have never actually set foot in Rome
It’s been over a month since Rome’s anti-bivacco law, a citywide ordinance forbidding eating and drinking in areas of “particular historic, artistic, architectonic and cultural value” in Rome’s center was put into effect. The idea may have been conceived as lending a helpful hand to help the areas around the Colosseum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, et al, in maintaining a modicum of cleanliness and lessening the accumulating debris that is inadvertently (or deliberately) dropped. However, instead raising hands to the nearest trashcan, it has raised polemic.
People do not see the logic in fines for eating while standing around, especially when the ground beneath their feet is carpeted in cigarette remnants. They definitely don’t appreciate a monument-centric ordinance when the monuments themselves are in debatable states of preservation. If anything, the ordinance seems a bit Baby-Bathwater syndrome- while trying to encourage cultural heritage, it is effectively discouraging respect, growth and (potentially) tourism.
Let’s get historic. Rome has a history of trash. Littering laws (for trash, bodies, dung, whatever) have literally been set in stone since Ancient Rome. Check out the 1st century BCE sepulcher pillar at Centrale Montemartini. More likely, you’ve seen the 18th century mondezzari plaques but as quaint detail to Rome’s picturesque sidestreets. For centuries, Rome has been asking its visitors and residents alike to be kind to their city. Adding ordinances to existing laws seems slightly excessive when perhaps we need to focus on changing attitudes about cultural heritage, civic pride and just plain littering.
Will the anti-bivacco ordinance help the city’s plea to take of her and her patrimony? We’ll let you know if there is a significant change on January 1, 2013, when the ordinance expires.
For more information, please check out Elisabetta Povoledo’s Buon Appetito but not next to monuments (New York Times), Anti Bivaco è ordinanza per tutelare monumenti (Il Livello), and food blogger Katie Parla’s thoughts on the ordinance.
Man-eating dolphins, crazy cow heads, scary skeletors, fake saints and a drainage mask- it seems like Rome has always been ready for Halloween. . . .
Over the past year, we’ve had our ear to the ground and one eye on the open, academic road as we are very interested in navigating the trails of online educational sites. They are hot topics with even hotter names like Coursera, Udacity, Stanford and MIT. Add Smarthistory/KhanAcademy to the list and you’ll find us literally digging through time with Smarthistory.org’s executive editors Steven Zucker and Beth Harris.
Smarthistory is a “not-for-profit, multi-media web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement for the traditional art history textbook”. Are we looking to replace print? No, just increase the volume of discussion. Or as John Berger once said, “the ways of seeing.” Enjoy our first collaboration: Digging through Time, and keep an eye out for more!
For those of you in the US, please watch History Channel’s Caligula: 1400 Days of Terror,
airing tomorrow, aired October 9 at 9pm. We’re pleased to see a great team including our own Darius Arya, Katie Parla and Amanda Ruggieri. Here’s a sneak peek. If you are in Italy, Caligula: 1400 Giorni di Terrore airs on October 28 on History Italia, on Sky.
One of our favorite sites to visit in the Roman Forum is the church of Santa Maria Antiqua, which up until this week had been closed to public viewing. Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest church in the Roman Forum and a key monument in the transformation of the Forum from pagan to Christian space: constructed in the 6th century inside a 1st-century structure with courtyard attached to the Imperial palace on the Palatine hill above. Santa Maria Antiqua was abruptly abandoned in the 9th century after a devastating earthquake and resulting landslide. The church was rediscovered at the turn of the 20th century, partly restored, and made accessible to visitors until 1980, when it was permanently closed due to damage caused by rising damp. Since 2006, Santa Maria Antiqua has been a World Monuments Fund project, led by mural conservators Werner Schmid and Giuseppe Morganti, who have been working with the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome to restore the frescoes and permanently resolve the damp problem.
Thanks to centuries of sealing off, Santa Maria Antiqua can be considered a veritable Pompeii-like site- somewhat untouched postcards of an era that was written over. Its walls showcase a cycle of beautiful frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, popes, saints, and martyrs, thus forming one of the largest and most important collections of pre-Iconoclastic Roman and Byzantine art in the world. These frescoes date to a period of iconoclasm when in East figures in churches were destroyed. The AIRC has a special connection with Santa Maria Antiqua. In years past, we have excavated in front of the site and we have also done our best to help WMF, Schmid, Morganti and team. Over these past six years, we’ve had given special entry and behind-the-scenes access to Santa Maria Antiqua thanks to professors Morganti and Schmid, who’ve also taken the time to speak with our students.
From now through November 4, Santa Maria Antiqua is available for public visits. A maximum of 25 persons can visit the site for approximately 45 minutes. Reserve via coopculture.it , 06 39967700. Cost: €12+ €9 (Foro romano entrance ticket + guided visit)
September 23, 63 BC . . . and here’s how we celebrated . . .
In its approximately 1980 years the Colosseum has seen a lot of action: gladiatorial spectacles (through the 5th century AD), wild animal hunts (through the 6th century AD), skirmishes and sieges for control of central Rome (11th-14th centuries AD). After several centuries of comparative leisure, the Colosseum is once again the scene of epic and historic events, although this time it’s not just the scene of the action – it’s the protagonist. And it faces the fight of its life.
The new third (C) metro line, crossing Rome and its periphery roughly from east to west and due to become fully operational in 2017, will have a stop at the Colosseum. Preliminary work on the station – an extension of the existing B line station – has been going on for a couple of years already, with modest results in terms of archaeological finds. In the next few months construction of the station will commence; the work area will extend into Via dei Fori Imperiali, the broad parade street built by Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, causing local authorities to close half of the street and force both directions of traffic (reduced to one lane each way) onto the other half, right against the Colosseum. Conservation experts are concerned about the vibrations caused by the extra traffic in close proximity, augmented by the rumbling of heavy machinery in the Metro C work area.
At more or less the same time, the three-year, 25-million euro restoration project financed by luxury accessories brand Tod’s is supposed to begin – a starting date in December (the latest in a seemingly infinite series) was announced just last month by mayor Gianni Alemanno. The restoration will have three phases: (1) consolidation of the north and south faces and replacement of the fencing in the arches; (2) construction of a new visitors’ center with bathrooms, café, bookshop, and ticket office in the surrounding piazza near the Arch of Constantine; and (3) conservation and cleaning of the main structure, from the hypogeum (underground) up to the crown. The Colosseum will remain open to the public continuously.
The Colosseum’s imminent makeover has caused a lot of collateral controversy: there is increasing awareness of not only the monument’s precarious condition, but also its image around the world. In the spring, under heavy pressure from the Special Archaeological Superintendency for Rome, an agency of the national Ministry of Culture, the municipal authorities created a “zone of respect” around the Colosseum where the quaintly dressed “gladiators” and “centurions” who pose for photographs with tourists can no longer ply their trade. The city is also under pressure to remove the numerous trinket stands and mobile snack bars that dot the entire length of Via dei Fori Imperiali; these businesses are viewed with great suspicion by Romans because the vast majority of them are owned and operated by a single family, named Tredicine, which has amassed a fortune over the decades more from a laissez-faire attitude than from any legal authorization to occupy public soil. The Tredicine family has gone so far as to file suit against the authorities over the construction of the new café, branding it state-sponsored competition to their questionable “business.”
As if these tussles were not enough, a troubling discovery was made in the past year during a detailed study of the Colosseum’s physical fabric ahead of the restoration: the entire structure has tilted about 40 cm out of horizontal, with the north side rising and the south side dipping down, perhaps the consequence of a fissure in the 40-ft deep cement foundation. The experts put most of the blame on the constant vibrations caused by the traffic that whizzes around the monument’s perimeter, although a fair share of the blame must also go to the metro (B) line that runs just a few feet beneath the surface of the piazza, between the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. (To judge for yourself, you can stand at the edge of the earth embankment between these two monuments and wait for a train to pass.) The tilt is aggravated by the fact that the foundations of the south side rest on relatively unstable alluvial sediments, whereas the north side is founded on volcanic stone. Comparisons of the Colosseum’s situation to that of the leaning tower of Pisa are amusing but exaggerated.
Thankfully, not all the news about the Colosseum is gloomy. Legambiente, a leading Italian conservation organization, has submitted to the municipal authorities a proposal to close the entire length of Via dei Fori Imperiali to vehicle traffic in stages, starting with weekends (at the moment, the street is closed only on Sundays during the daylight hours), extending to weekdays within certain blocks of time, and culminating in complete closure of the street and removal of the asphalt around the Colosseum. Legambiente has begun to collect the 5000 citizen signatures necessary to have the proposal inserted into the city council’s agenda for formal consideration. With so many wild beasts encircling it, the Colosseum needs allies like Legambiente to watch its back.
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology, albert[at]romanculture.org
Calling All AIRC alums: When in Rome… Come Say “Hi”!
Over the past 10 years of its existence the American Institute for Roman Culture has provided instruction to over 1000 students from more than 80 universities and colleges spread throughout the world. We enjoy staying in touch with our alumni, following and promoting their budding careers, and catching up with them over gelato or espresso here in Rome.
Just in the past six months we’ve had the pleasure of catching up with Bill Johnson, alumnus of our 2010 spring semester program, about to embark on a career in the U.S. Army; Alison Kidd, alumna of our 2007 Summer Archaeological Field School at the Villa delle Vignacce in Rome, currently working in the Study Abroad office of Clemson University and bound for New York University’s graduate program in Classics in the fall; Andrea Samz-Pustol, Kristin Macauley, and Kenny Carosi, alumni of our 2009 SAFS program at Vignacce (Andrea is heading to the University of Kansas in the fall to pursue a Masters in Classics, while Kristin and Kenny spent quality time improving their Italian); Alexandra Zigrang, alumna of our 2010 SAFS program at Ostia Antica; Sam Treviño and Grant Dixon, alumni of our 2011 SAFS program co-sponsored with the Universities of Michigan and Calabria at the important site of Sant’Omobono in Rome (Grant returned for a second excavation season, and Sam was passing through town on vacation).
So, alumni of any and all AIRC programs, the next time you pass through the Eternal City, give us a shout. We’ll roll out the red carpet. Or at least a good gelato.
This is the last week of the Summer Field School at Ostia Antica Tor Boacciana. We can’t believe how fast time has flown as we document the past. Here is a sampling of beautiful amazing photos taken on site by Selma Amzi, 2012 Field School Photography Intern. Please take a look at our Flickr collection while on site, as well Facebook.
It’s hard to enjoy Rome when the mercury hits 40 and your flip flops are melting into the sampietrini. To be honest, walking around the Coliseum, Forum or any site under the Roman sun can be infernal. However, Rome is used to a little complaining and a lot of city flight. In the summer months, the city doesn’t want us to sweat it out. Lungo il Tevere and Estate Romana light up the evenings with social events once the sun goes down. And many of Rome’s sites are collaborating as cultural stages.
Sure you can catch a bit of Caracalla with your opera ticket, enjoy the Teatro di Marcello as backdrop to a musical series, and even browse Ostia Antica in a summer performance series but we’re always on the look out for an evening history adventure. This summer, Rome is extraordinary in the evenings with extended hours and special openings for several museums and cultural sites. Our top favorite history lessons to be held when the sun goes down are:Moon over the Coliseum: Thursdays and Saturday evenings you can catch an Italian or English language group tour to the hypogeum (underground) and second tier. Quiet and informative, our favorite way to experience the Coliseum.
- Nights at Castel Sant’Angelo: Hadrian’s tomb is always something we look forward to once we’ve past the solstice. (And you know we love Following Hadrian!) Walking through the labyrinth at night is amazing, but even better is a stroll along the Passetto. Tuesdays through Sundays.
- Ara Pacis: There is nothing quite like admiring the Ara Pacis in front of a dark, cerulean blue sky. But we’ve been limited to window shopping only. Now, Saturday evenings, the Ara Pacis museum is open until midnight.
- Vatican Night Openings: A no brainer. The Vatican Museums in the evening are quiet, calm and cool. It’s like being a Borgia. [UPDATE: Vatican evenings are on break until September]
- Astrosummer: Another no brainer. evening hours at the Planetarium in EUR.