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
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.
I came to Rome for the first time in June 2001, as a quite naive 24-year old who had never traveled to Europe before. To say that I was a deer in the headlights would be an understatement. I didn’t even know on which side of the street I was supposed to wait for the bus. And nearly two full years of Italian lessons left me feeling totally unprepared when I was faced with my first rapid-fire exchange in an Italian bar, trying to order a simple sandwich. I ended up panicking and pointing. I think that could easily describe a lot of my first few days in Italy.
And then, suddenly, I started to open up to the “Roman way” of doing things. There were a couple of phrases I quickly learned from the always-helpful Romans, when I would nervously try out my Italian, hanging my head in embarrassment.
“Piano, piano…” they’d say to me, reassuringly. Literally it means ‘slowly, slowly,’ a sort of equivalent of our “little by little” … and yet I began to understand that ‘slowly, slowly’ reflects so much of life here in Rome, from public transport (no laughing matter) to taking life as it comes.
Work? “Piano, piano…” — there’s always time for another coffee break. Did you know that 80 million cups of espresso are consumed daily at coffee bars throughout Italy?
Learning Italian? “Piano, piano…” — start with the swear words, and work your way up from there.
Eating? “Piano, piano…” — there’s always room for a little more.
Coming from my hectic lifestyle in the United States, where the theory of “piano, piano” would have gotten me nowhere in my fast-paced work environment or my over-achieving brain, I found this advice highly irritating and uncomfortable at first, and then… “piano, piano...” — I started to appreciate its great wisdom.
What else would you expect from a people who have been raised among stunning monuments and archaeological testaments to a civilization that still speaks to us from over 2,000 years in the past?
I could regale you with tales of wonderful meals, colorful exchanges in Italian, harried experiences with transport strikes and elbowing people in crowded non-lines, but frankly, in retrospect, if I had to give one piece of advice to anyone coming to Rome for the first time, I don’t see why I should reinvent the wheel. I’ll take it from the Romans: “piano, piano…” Savor each moment, because each moment in this city is unique and has something different to offer to everyone.
~Shelley Ruelle, is AIRC Director of Programming. Though she still lives by “piano, piano,” she’s always in 5th gear. shelley.ruelle[at]romanculture.org
We are proud to publish Professor Bernard Frischer‘s op-ed piece on Protecting Hadrian’s Villa, an i-petition created by Frischer and sponsored by the American Institute for Roman Culture. In less than a week, we have generated more than 2000 signatures, and are at 3650 signatures and counting.
Rome has long used a garbage dump at a place called Malagrotta. In June 2011, the EU Commission ordered Malagrotta closed because of various violations of EU environmental regulations. Since then the Region of Lazio (the governmental unit in charge of Rome’s waste disposal) has been trying to find a new site. In September 2011, just two months before it fell from power, the Berlusconi government appointed Prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro to be Extraordinary Commissioner of Waste Disposal for Lazio with special powers to confront the emergency situation. In October 2011 Pecoraro announced a plan to install a new 400-acre garbage dump at a locality called Corcolle, which is less than one mile from the site of Hadrian’s Villa. Needless to say, the prospect of bringing Rome’s daily garbage to the very doorstep of a precious World Heritage Site was greeted with alarm and opposition. The Italian Ministry of Culture and the Province of Rome are on record in opposition to the proposal as are various nearby cities (including Tivoli) and citizen groups.
“GARBAGE EMERGENCY, A ‘YES’ OF THE TECHNICAL EXPERTS PUTS CORCOLLE AT RISK
by Maruro Evangelisti
“March 17, 2012, ROME – Among the documents which the collaborators of the Commissioner for Waste Disposal, Prefect Giuseppe Pecoraro, are examining in meetings with the Director of the Ministry of the Environment and representatives of the Province of Rome, City of Rome, and Region of Lazio, there is a site plan. It shows the area of Corcolle (selected to be one of the new temporary garbage dumps) at a distance of 2 kilometers from Hadrian’s Villa. The land parcel belongs to the corporation Pozzalana srl.
“In another site plan the boundaries of the UNESCO site of Hadrian’s Villa are only 1200 meters away. And in the dossier of the staff of the Commissioner there is also a document dated 15 June 2010 from the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome in response to a request to install a rubbish dump in which the Superintendency affirms that the land is ‘archaeologically sterile.’ And the Superintendency expressed its approval.
“In contrast, in the course of the meeting of specialists which blocked the choice of Corcolle [i.e., several days ago--BF], the Cultural Ministry vetoed the choice of Corcolle.
“In a nutshell: for Pecoraro the candidacy of Corcolle has NOT been discarded. It is the only site among the seven under consideration that permits creation of the garbage dump by this autumn, if Corrado Clini, Minister of the Environment, gives his approval.
“Let’s be clear: suppose that on March 22, 2012 the government says ‘yes’ to the areas chosen by Pecoraro (Corcolle and Riano). For Corcolle there is already a preliminary plan of action. Land expropriation and a call for bids will be set in motion. The winner will have to present a final proposal. An environmental impact report will have to be filed.
“Before October-November 2012 the new garbage dump [at Corcolle- Hadrian's Villa--BF] will not be ready. For that to happen, an additional month will be needed. If the options of Corcolle and Riano are rejected and if a different site is chosen, then the whole process starts over from the beginning and much more time is needed [to get Rome's new garbage dump up and running]. In that case, even an extension until December 2012 of the use of the current dump site at Malagrotta would not be enough.”
Time is short. You can help by signing an internationally sponsored online petition appealing to Pecoraro and Clini to abandon the ill-conceived plan to put a huge garbage dump so close to Hadrian’s Villa. Over 3,600 people from all over the world have already added their names, including such notable figures as Architect Richard Meier; Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, former Director of the British School in Rome and Master of Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge; and Salvatore Settis, former Director of the Getty Research Center and Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. Sign today.
Photo from Wikipedia.