promoting cultural heritage and conservation

Posts tagged “Colosseum

Life in the Trenches: Week 4, 11 Things I’ve learned on the Dig

Parco Ravennati

  1. Count the buckets: When brushing away a mound of dirt with the equivalent of a glorified toothbrush and an oversized spork, it can be discouraging to look at your area after several hours of work and feel you haven’t made a dint in it.  In order to prevent dismay, learn to count the buckets of dirt that you fill instead.  Nothing says progress more than being able to climb up a pile of dirt and say, “Look, Ma!  I spent 5 weeks moving all this dirt from over there to over here!”
  2.  Remember all your hard work will eventually pay off* : Excavation needs to be a slow process


Life in the Trenches: Week 3 at the Dig

week 3 3
Though this past week was only four days to accommodate a (well-deserved) three-day weekend, we jumped into work, comfortable with our designated roles and team coordination. We also welcomed a new team member, Julia Elsey, AIRC archaeology field school veteran and an unofficial Finds Coordinator. As an artifact intern, I work with Julia to clean, document, and organize our finds from this and the past dig seasons. Julia provided our team with a valuable lesson on marble types, (more…)

Studying Abroad in Rome

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?


For more information please visit our semester program information page here.  And contact Shelley Ruelle, Programs Director, at

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Culture Week Canceled


[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.

Study Abroad with AIRC: Cal State Fresno offers School of Record to AIRC Programs


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:

as well as this summer’s program offerings:

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.

Now Enrolling! Click here to view AIRC Study Abroad Programs

Make History with us: Kickstarter and Gladiator Tomb iPetition Update

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,,, CNN and Ben Wedeman, Fathom Away and Russell Crowe.

~Darius Arya, Executive Director



Caput Mundi: A city between domination and integration

“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]

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

Sanguis et harena: Fighting around (and over) the Colosseum

Fig. 3

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]



When the Sun Goes Down in Rome, Stay Eternal: Top 5 Sites


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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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]
  4. Astrosummer: Another no brainer. evening hours at the Planetarium in EUR.
Photos by Darius Arya, Castel Sant’Angelo, Alessio Molteni

Autobus Zen


“I can be moving or I can be still
But still is still moving to me”.
-Willie Nelson, The Tao of Willie

The upside of having to take the bus is that you have plenty of time, every day, to retreat to the sanctuary of your mind. Of course, it’s really great to have a car to drive because you have much more control over your schedule and movements around town. It’s fun to blast whatever music you want to hear—a different listening experience than when you’re using headphones. The downside to having that control, however, is the acceptance of responsibility that driving entails, whereas you could just climb on the bus and drift into the wonderful world of your imaginings. Leave the driving to Mr. or Ms. Driver, and enjoy your responsibility-free transportation experience! (As long as you have a validated ticket.)

Many people read on the bus but I can only read on trains or the metro without getting seasick. Whatever! You can read later. Use bus time as ZEN time. Countless societies value the practice of meditation, prayer, contemplation, the emptying of oneself, etc. Call it what you will, but it is GREAT to space out and it is GREAT to really give your life and relationships a good ponder. The bus is the perfect place for this, especially if you snagged a seat. Autobus zen is excellent because you are profoundly multitasking…you are physically getting where you need to go. You are doing your part to reduce Rome’s street congestion and carbon emissions. You are ALSO advancing yourself mentally by contemplating your life-path, daydreaming to give your brain a break, thinking positive thoughts about your friends and family, listening to music, inventing plausible business ventures, listing what you need from the grocery store, and admiring the beauty of what you’re seeing outside the window. As the wise and beloved Willie wrote in reference to making the most of bus-travelin’ time, don’t forget the options of contemplation and meditation as you are racking up the miles.

Bus-taking will indeed strengthen you as a person, if you so let it. As a pedestrian in Rome, you cannot depend on a system of efficiency and reliability. No, ATAC (Rome’s public trans) will bestow upon you a gift far greater: that of learning to accept and even embrace chaos. One you’re accustomed to transportation mishaps, you will find yourself taking a more serene approach to addressing unanticipated annoyances and problems. Slogging along on the bus in heavy traffic after waiting 30 minutes for it to arrive will help you recognize when it is worthwhile to fret, and when you just need to throw your hands up to the heavens and let it all go. Imagine that you’ve put all your anger and frustration into a red balloon, and release it into the sky. Spin in a circle and toss imaginary stardust over your right shoulder. It’s all good.

(Just don’t be late for class, or they’ll cane you.)


~Julia Elsey, three-peat field school participant, former AIRC intern and programs assistant, voice of Saverome blog in Spring and Summer 2011, and transport philosopher.

Freeze Frame: The Spanish Steps

The first post in the Freeze Frame series where Rome is captured through the lens of our students.
The Spanish Steps are truly a sight to see when visiting Rome.  Italians, as well as visitors of all nationalities, can be found lounging there, but not eating as this is (not so strictly) prohibited. The steps look down on the Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Square), home to the Fontana della Barcaccia, an excellent place for people watching.  On a Saturday afternoon crowds gather to watch the street performers and meander along Via Condotti, the adjacent street lined with designer shops and the famous Babington’s Tea Room. It has become an iconic destination and a necessity for any visit to Rome.

Visitors seem completely unaware of the Steps’ rich history and their original purpose. The steps were constructed in the 1720s to connect the Spanish Embassy to the Trinita dei Monti church. The steps were built with the intent of creating a link between the church and Rome, but has since become a tourist attraction instead of a religious destination. As stated earlier the area around the steps, which was originally built to showcase the church, has now been transformed into a major metropolitan area of Rome.Much like the rest of the Europe, the Steps have adapted to the contemporary times.

As one walks through Rome, you stumble upon iconic sites from ancient civilizations. Several of these sites have been repurposed for modern use.  In some cases, you can go see what is left of the glorious Roman Empire. But in the case of the Scalinata, you can go to see the Rome of today. Though the Spanish Steps are not ancient, they have molded themselves into Italy’s rich cultural history.
~by Stepanie Stoops, Northeastern University, NEURome12
Can’t get enough? Follow our students through Rome via Twitter hashtag #NEURome12 and the occasional #NEURome2012.

Living History in Rome day by day

Take a peek into the mind blog of AIRC Executive Director Darius Arya  as he writes about
Living History in Rome day by day.

Happy Birthday, Rome!


Here’s an all-too-familiar scenario: you’ve got a friend with a birthday coming up. It’s an important one, too, a really big deal—but, then again, at her age, every birthday is a big deal. You’ve known her for a long time—most of your life, in fact—but you’re having a hard time figuring out what to get her this year. She’s like a second mother to you, and therefore the gift has to be awesome. So what do you get her? Definitely not the same thing you got her last year, since she’d remember it, even at her advanced age, and she’d hold it against you for the rest of your (and her) life. Oh, and she’s going to outlive you by a long shot.

So what do you get for someone on her 2765th birthday? Don’t panic: a lot of people have put a lot of thought into it, maybe even too much.

Today, tomorrow, and Sunday the City of Rome is marking the traditional “birthday” of Rome, commemorating the founding of the city by Romulus on April 21, 753 BC. The whole centro storico will be the scene of one big party.

Among the things not to miss:

  • Reduced entry to the Capitoline Museums (coinciding with Culture Week), where you can pay homage to Romulus’ adoptive mom, the Lupa Capitolina, who is basically responsible for the last 2765 years
  • The Gruppo Storico Romano’s re-enactments of the foundation myth (the plowing of the pomerium) and the ancient Parilia festival
  • A series of itineraries around the Trevi fountain exploring the complex culture and history of Rome from antiquity to today
  • Free guided tours of the Palazzo Senatorio (City Hall)

Among the things you could probably live without:

  • Various military bands playing really loud music that only your grandparents could enjoy
  • Various official ceremonies involving lots of very well-dressed but bored-looking people in stiff poses carrying wreaths and medallions that no one will care about after this weekend
  • Various shows about artists and historical figures you’ve never heard of
  • Various tours of Rome’s monumental Verano cemetery, just to rub in the fact that Rome is going to outlive you by a long shot
  • A big, gawdy concert on the Via dei Fori Imperiali featuring a bunch of actors, musicians, and artists you’ve never heard of

So get a party hat and a kazoo and join in the collective fun. The old lady will really appreciate it. Just don’t sing the “Happy Birthday” song—the word on the street is that she hates it.


Settimana della Cultura: Play the Culture Week Game

Good morning, Rome! Set your alarms early for Saturday April 14th because you’re about to play Culture Week, 8 interactive days of free cultural sites, monuments and museums through out the Italian peninsula and islands.  Okay, it’s not really a game, more an incentive by the Ministry of Culture to get people– whether locals or tourists– off the caffe chair and into a museum.  However, a few years back, I invented a little healthy competition with some culturally enhanced friends where Culture Week meant we would voraciously visit every museum we’ve ever desired, yet not necessarily had the wallet to finance.  At the end of the week, we’d throw down our free entry tickets much as much intensity as Patrick Bateman in the infamous business card scene (at 1:29), and winner literally took all.

So as not to confuse, Culture Week is primarily for  state-run cultural sites and also includes events such as organized concerts and performances.  Yes, there is a bit of a groan because the Colosseum/Roman Forum ticket is deliberately excluded from the free entrances this year.  However, that double-header ticket seems a reasonable price to pay if everything else is free and Italy is trying to save some pennies culturally.  For Lazio and Rome Culture Week info:  take a look at this list of free sites/events in the Region of Lazio .  In addition, Comune di Roma (City of Rome) organizes events (other local governments do as well).  For information about civic museums participating in Culture Week, visit  Musei In Comune, and also click  here for event listings.

Are you ready to play the Culture Week game? Though the only rule is to get yourself into as many museums as possible, here are some guidelines to racking up as many points as possible:

  • Accumulate points by . . . Visiting as many sites as possible and document– photos, instagram, twitter, who cares
  • Get Bonus lives by . . . visiting off-beat, unknown and out-of-zone sites like a trip changing visit to Caserta, or listening to a concert at the Casa del Jazz.
  • Lose a Life by . . . not paying attention.  Some cultural attractions are privately financed and not subject to the free entrances as deigned by the Ministry of Culture.

My plans? Well, life isn’t always about the ancient so expect to find me traipsing about the Museo Napoleonico, enjoying some modern sculpture at the Museo Manzu, investigating Teatro Argentina, or finally figuring out what the Museo Pietro Canonica is all about.

#DigRome Part 2: Field school tweet up


With our upcoming Summer Archaeological Field School (June 18 to July 29), we hosted an excavation/life in Rome tweet last Wednesday March 28th AIRC, so that past and present SAFS participants could talk about what goes on a dig, what to expect and what not to expect.   For those who were unable to meet up, we will be hosting a second #DigRome tweet-up on Wednesday, April 4, at 5pm EST/ 2pm PCT.   Here’s your opportunity to ask questions about our excavations and learn what’s its like to live in Rome for the summer

When:  Wednesday, April 4 at 5-6 PM EST (2-3 PM PST, 11-12 AM in Rome, 8-9 AM in Sydney)

Host:  American Institute for Roman Culture

Where:   Twitter: Search for hashtag #digrome

How:   Check out our customized TweetGrid to send tweets. (You will need to bookmark the  tweetgrid page and login with your Twitter account when ready to tweet.) Follow the #digrome hashtag,  guest host Julia Elsey on @AIRC_Guest and @AIRomanculture. Or load your Twitter page and search for #DigRome for the 60 minutes of the event.

Participate:  Send us questions/comments in advance so that we can feature them. During the tweetup, get chatty and make sure to use the hashtag #DigRome in your tweets so everyone can see your question, answer, contribution, etc.

Not on Twitter?: You can still use the TweetGrid to follow the conversation. Though you will not be able to contribute to the discussion, you can follow all commentary.

For more information, please contact:  @AIRomanculture, email:

Photo by mashable, and yes, everyone on the dig looks like that.

Life in the Trenches: Top tips when in Rome…


AIRC 2011 alum Dustin Thomas offers his tips on how to have the best time in and out of the trenches:

  1. Explore! How often is it that you get to roam (no pun intended!) outside of your home country, much less in the Eternal City of Rome itself? There was certainly a lot that I got to see, learn, taste, and smell just by walking up the street, and I can definitely say that even after six whole weeks of “exploring” I am by no means done.
  2. When you’re digging, roll up your sleeves! A farmer’s tan is no joke, and it certainly is not sexy when you might decide to spend a Saturday afternoon at the beach. That being said, use sunscreen!!! I have a dark complexion, but I got burnt at least two times because I missed a spot or two with the sunscreen.
  3. Don’t pass up the opportunity for a late night experiencing some Roman nightlife…BUT don’t complain too loudly when early the next morning you’re struggling to get to the bus heading to the dig site. Balance is key, and there is a lot to experience with your classmates, especially since you should take the opportunity to better acquaint yourselves with people you might not be trench mates with. We used the weekends or even just the afternoons after a long hot day to grab a gelato and a gin and tonic at the local bar-tabacchi or a sultry smoke at the hookah bar later in the evening.
  4. Get your fitness on! Some of you out there who will be heading to field school this summer are undoubtedly very conscientious of your fitness. Digging is a very physically demanding activity, but sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting a balanced enough workout, and who can forget the days in finds lab? My solution, like many of my classmates, was either to go for a run or just do some daily calisthenics. They got me energized to embrace the rest of the afternoon and evening, when I would otherwise be exhausted and sleep the day away.

Photos from Big Old Goofy WorldCoach G LifeChangingFitness, EventsinRome, Erica Firpo

Archaeology, Academics and Social Media

AIRC social media shot

Last week, I woke up to find that AIRC’s twitter account @AIRomanculture has surpassed 500 followers.  In an era where celebutantes, actors, sports heroes and gun-toting-fathers rack in thousands a day, 500 followers (in a few months) is merely a blink of the eye.  It’s not really even a number.  But for us, its a big deal.  Why?  Aren’t  archaeologists, classicists, latinists and any book-toting academics stereotypically nose-deep in text all the time?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Take a glimpse at my archaeo-academic desktop on any  morning.

Facebook, twitter, wordpress blog, Dr. Arya’s instagram.  These are a few of my favorite things.

My mornings mean connecting and researching in a world that used to be a bit hard enter into, if you aren’t on campus or at a conference. Reaching 500 followers means we are doing our our job to promote cultural heritage–  in other words, getting the word out there, keeping up a continuous dialog and searching out/collaborating with/introducing new people.  My world of colleagues and better yet friends has exploded out of Rome and into your computer. I may not know what you look like, but I know what you like and I like what you’re talking about.

Social Media is an incredible and relentless asset for the AIRC.  We’ve connected with former students, professors and professionals to find out what they are doing and where they are going, we help in keeping issues current (protecting Greece’s cultural heritage) and we’ve connected with people interested in many of our interests from our academic projects in archaeology, communications and Latin (just take a look at “Latin Tweet Ups”, Pipiatio Latina: aka a lot of people “speaking” Latin on twitter)– to our personal interests such as sustainability in Rome, how Ancient Rome appears in pop culture, gastrotourism, sci-fi literature and art crimes.

So yes, we’ve jumped head first into a kind of contemporary archaeology where history is happening instantaneously.  To be honest, I can’t keep up with everything we are “supposed” to be doing or not doing.  @Airomanculture has committed the twitter faux pas of following more than our number of followers, but I am pretty sure that we are truly reading everyone we are following– and that their tweets are great.  And yes, we do enjoy retweeting information because there are a lot of great people out there on Twitter and Facebook (and I guess Pinterest now) who are sharing great information? Does that make us less personable? I don’t know and I hope not.    What I do know is that all of this is good for us, for any academic who may be shy (like me) or not have the time, money, resources, connections, patience to stumble across something new, useful and otherwise mind-blowing.   And here’s an update: thanks to Twitter, signatures to stop the proposed landfill next to Villa Adriana,aka Protect Hadrian’s Villa petition, will hopefully surpass 2000 as of March 12, 2012.  Sign if you haven’t!

What do you think?

Engaging History in Rome, Summer Study Abroad

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For the past few weeks, we’ve really been talking up a storm about our summer excavation at Ostia Antica and Latin programs.  Why? Because we want you to come to Rome and we know you want to.  But we realize that getting dirty or speaking colloquial Latin all day may not be your bag.   And for the record, those are not the only options if you want to study abroad this summer with us in the Eternal City.

So we’ve ripped off the plastic and are launching the brand new Engaging History: Ancient Rome and Roman Culture, a four-week academic program for undergraduate students with interests in Classics/Classical Civilization, (Ancient) History, Art History, Archaeology/Anthropology, and Religious Studies.

The idea is that the classroom is Rome (and central Italy), living, breathing, outdoor program which examines the origins, development, and material culture of the Eternal City and Roman culture from before Romulus through the present day, concentrating on the roughly 1000 years between the city’s foundation and the Christianization of the empire.  Get it? It’s history by grabbing you by the collar and getting you outside and involved. . . engaging.

Sounds intense?  Think of it more as interactive.  Under expert guidance of instructors with more than 40 years of combined experience in and around Rome, the program focuses on explorative mornings investigating significant areas of the historic, monumental center, including well-known sites such as the Roman Forum, Capitoline and Palatine hills,et al, as well as a series of rarely visited sites such as the Testaccio neighborhood, the Porta Maggiore, and the Sessorium palace.

We turn the tables in the afternoons where individual exploration sessions are based on direct assisgnments requiring personal investigation of the city itself to learn about the transformation of Rome between the Middle Ages and today.  With Rome as just the first stepping stone, Engaging History walks out of the city and into the Empire with important and amazing sites outside of Rome including Ostia Antica, Palestrina, and the villa of the emperor Hadrian at Tivoli.

If you would like to learn more, we’d love to hear from you info[at]  And more importantly, we’d love you to join us this summer.  To apply to Engaging History: Ancient Rome and Roman Culture, click here.

What’s Wrong with the Colosseum? Part II


What is being done to conserve the Colosseum? The measures vary in scale. A small-scale, but nevertheless crucial, one is the newly-imposed limit of 6000 visitors at a time. The electronic turnstiles at the entrance and the exit are now programmed to read the numbers of people entering and exiting. The entrance turnstiles stay locked when 6000 visitors are inside the structure; as visitors leave, the same number of new visitors is allowed to enter.

At the large end of the scale is the other aspect which has put the Colosseum squarely in the public eye for the past 2 years: a 3-year, 25 million euro restoration project that will bring the structure into the 21st century. The masonry will be cleaned and consolidated, the long-promised restoration of the hypogeum (underground) will finally be completed, and the service spaces (display area, bookstore, ticket office, bathrooms) will be transferred to a new structure in the piazza outside, near the Arch of Constantine, which will also house a café.

Sound too good to be true? Almost, as often happens in Italy. An international tender was offered; companies were invited to pool their resources to come up with the necessary funds in return for exclusive rights to the Colosseum logo and use of the monument itself for publicity. But in the end only one company made a viable proposal, Tod’s, an Italian luxury footwear company owned by Diego Della Valle, who promised to finance the entire project single-handedly. The contract was duly awarded to Tod’s.

It didn’t take long for Italy’s own white knight to be transformed into a blackguard. A labor union launched a legal complaint, alleging that proper tender procedures were not followed in the awarding of the contract (the complaint was withdrawn after several months due to negative press coverage). The Italian consumer protection association filed a complaint with the state anti-trust office over the apparent lack of competition in the tender and the contract’s terms (allegedly too favorable to Tod’s), even accusing Tod’s of seeking to exploit the project for free publicity despite Della Valle’s public rejection of the provision in the contract that allows for advertisement on the Colosseum. This complaint eventually drew in the State Prosecutor’s Office in Rome and the State Audit Court, causing irritation and embarrassment for Della Valle and Rome’s embattled mayor Gianni Alemanno. Professional conservators accused Della Valle of passing them over for employment in favor of mere “masons”; Della Valle countered that his employees will be specialists in stone restoration, rather than fresco or statue restoration.

Meanwhile pieces of masonry have continued to fall, almost as if the Colosseum itself were sending a message: the longer you dither, the more I decay. A few weeks ago Della Valle, impatient and frustrated, publicly threatened to withdraw the sponsorship of Tod’s. Public opinion appears to be on the side of the archaeological and municipal authorities and Della Valle, arguing that it ultimately doesn’t matter who sponsors the project and whether or not the terms are the fairest possible – the work can’t wait any longer. A few days ago Italy’s Authority for the Supervision of Public Contracts approved the contract between the state and Tod’s, apparently clearing the way for the first scaffolding to go up next month.

When discussing the Colosseum, everyone likes to cite the famous quotation attributed to the 8th-century English prelate Bede: “As long as the Colossus stands, Rome stands; when the Colossus falls, Rome too will fall; and when Rome falls, the world too will fall.” The author actually does not refer to the Colosseum, but instead to the Colossus, the 120-foot tall gilt bronze statue of the emperor Nero that was placed next to the Colosseum in AD 124 and refashioned to resemble the Sun. (It would not make sense for a Christian to equate the Colosseum – scene of the deaths of martyrs – with civilization!) By Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the Sun was venerated almost as a creator divinity, the light of the civilized world, and in fact the cult was assimilated into Christianity and other current religions like Mithraism. Over the course of time the statue’s name rubbed off on the amphitheater next to it by association. The Colossus disappeared at some point in the Middle Ages, and so technically Rome has fallen and the world should have ended. But that should not stop us from reviving the old prophecy and applying it, with slight modifications, to the Colosseum in our own time: as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome and Italy stand. If the Colosseum falls, Rome and Italy will have to answer to the world. Mark Twain would be proud.

– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology


What’s Wrong with the Colosseum?


The Colosseum, the quintessential symbol of Rome and Roman culture, has been a fixture in the international news for the past several months, mostly because of a series of incidents involving small pieces of stone, cement, and plaster that have detached and fallen, usually without causing injury. Is the Colosseum falling down? Yes and no.

In its 1930 years the Flavian Amphitheater (to use its formal name) has endured every conceivable form of structural stress and degradation: floods, fires, lightning strikes, earthquakes, invasive occupation by animals and humans (for settlement, commerce, and burial), deliberate attack (to remove the metal clamps holding together the blocks, creating the current Swiss-cheese appearance), and the slow, steady decay that every structure experiences due to seasonal changes in temperature and atmospheric moisture and pressure.

The most spectacular event in its history was undoubtedly the collapse of the southern section of the outer ring in the mid-14th century after a particularly violent earthquake shook the loose sediments underpinning the south side, where the lake of Nero’s Golden House had been (and, before that, a swampy basin fed by a small stream). The Colosseum was left in a particularly vulnerable state until the early 19th century, when an enlightened papal government sealed the exposed and buckling edges of the outer ring with the enormous brick buttresses visible today.

Fast-forward 200 years. What has changed in the Colosseum’s condition since then? Very little, if anything: fragments small and large have continued to detach, mostly because of the weather and age, and the general wear has accelerated due to tourist activity. But there is more awareness of the problems, mostly because of their economic effects. The Colosseum alone rakes in 35 million euros in ticket sales per year. Closing it to the public, as happened twice this month because of the extraordinary snow events in Rome, costs Italy hundreds of thousands of euros.

What is being done to conserve the Colosseum?

Please return for Part 2 of What is Wrong with the Colosseum?

– by Albert Prieto, AIRC  Associate Director of Archaeology


Of Snow and Snowmen


Snowboarding the Circus Maximus? Skiing the via dei Fori Imperiali?  Yesterday, the rare snowstorm covered Rome with a beautiful white blanket of fun.  Our own Darius Arya set out in search of snow and snowmen.  Last time Rome had such a snowfall, everyone had big hair and shoulder pads… February 1985 and 1986.

To see all of  Darius’s adventures in winter wonderland-, follow the link for the full adventures.

Ski Rome from La Stampa

Dig Rome: Palatine Hill

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Want to know how we ring in a Happy New Year 2012?  We get our hands dirty in history and want you to help!  For the first time ever, AIRC is offering a second Summer Archaeological Field School to complement its new project at Ostia Antica.   We will be teaming up with Rome’s oldest and most prestigious university La Sapienza to offer the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dig in one of the most historic spots in the city, the Palatine Hill.

Location:  NE Corner overlooking the Colosseum, along via Sacra between the arches of Titus and Constantine.

History soundbite:  The Palatine is where the Romans thought their city was founded, way back in 753 BC. (more…)


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