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.
Not necessarily the protagonist of most coffee table conversations, the International Association for Classical Archeology (Associazione Internazionale di Archeologia Classica or AIAC) is the classical archaeologist’s best friend. A prestigious organization for promoting archaeological activities throughout Italy, AIAC is located right behind the tourist hub of Rome’s Piazza Venezia and the Vittoriano in the former papal residence of Palazzo Venezia. This unique historical setting speaks to the academic and institutional importance of AIAC as large scale research organization, benefiting members and scholars worldwide.
Founded in the aftermath the Second World War in 1946, AIAC was originally created with the aim to provide an international forum for archeologists and researchers to discuss classical archaeology across national, economic, or even political borders. AIAC’s roots, however, date back to 1823, when a small group of four northern European intellectuals would reunite periodically in Rome in order to explore the city’s architectural and artistic treasures as well as to read and discuss classical texts. This camaraderie resulted in the formation of the group entitled the “Circle of Hyperborean Romans” (Il “Circolo degli Iperborei Romani), in reference to the natives of Hyperborea, a mythical region supposedly located to the north of Thrace according to the ancient Greeks. In 1928, E. Gerhard, a member of this small knit community, launched the first archeological journal on Rome, under the newly inaugurated Institute of Archeological Correspondence.
Gerhard’s commitment to consolidate classical archaeological knowledge remains primordial to AIAC today. Starting in the 1950’s the association has hosted and organized a series of quinquennial conferences in large metropolises across the globe, such as Rome, Ankara and Izmir, Paris and Berlin. In 2008, AIAC marked its fifty years of conference organizing with its 10th meeting in Rome, entitled “Meetings between Cultures in the Ancient Mediterranean”.
In 2000, AIAC began publishing FASTI online, a website dedicated to consolidate news and updates on ongoing preservation and excavation projects worldwide. By the end of 2012, the organization hopes to provide each project with appropriate visuals, which American Institute for Roman Culture is proud to participate in doing. Since Spring 2011, we have been producing a series of short, documentary videos on excavation and conservation projects for FASTI/AIAC and with the generous help of the Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBAC). Our partnership has deepened this past summer as we are now sharing as office space in Palazzo Venezia and just down the hall from the AIAC center.
Please enjoy a look at our FASTI mini-documentaries.
by Michelle Al-Ferzly, Wellesley College Summer 2012 intern
They have arrived! Ostia Antica Summer 2012 Excavation group is ready to get dirty! This week, we will be visiting several sites and monuments in Rome so please take a look at our twitter feeds: @AIRomanculture and @SaveRome (as well as instagram), and hashtags: #digrome #ostiaantica12.
Half of our OstiaAntica 12 students taking a stroll in the Roman Forum.
Welcome to Rome in the summer. One word: hot. And imagine working in the dirt eight hours a day every day under a full sun. Since we’re always thinking about the well-being of our students, we’ve come up with five fool-proof tips to cooling down during the urban heat. If you think you (or anyone you know) will break from Rome’s rising mercury, here’s how we do it:
- This is Italian shaved ice– aka the real deal. Literally shaved by hand on the spot from a big block of ice, grattachecca is a Roman summer tradition where you get to pick the fruit syrups and fresh fruit to pour into the hand-shaven ice. Grattacheccha stands are street-side kiosks, and sometimes are near the summer sliced watermelon pop-ups. Our favorites include:
- Ostia Beach
- Since our excavation is at Ostia Antica, instead of saying “take a hike”, we tell our students to hit the beach. A half-hour local train from Rome (on the same line as heading to our dig site), is Ostia beach- a public beach with restaurants, activities and social life. For your €1.50 ATAC ticket, hop on Roma-Lido “trenino” (little train) found at the local station adjacent to the Piramide (Metro B) metro. Destination: Lido Centro.
- Use a big nose
- That’s right, those fountains you see on the streets that are constantly running are called “nasoni,” big noses, and they are a really great way to keep cool and hydrated as you explore the city. The water is cold, clean and delicious, coming from a deep underground spring. According to the Comune di Roma, the nasoni run constantly in order to keep the system clean and flushed out. Our tip to taking a sip? Put your finger over the main spigot to block it and water will arc out of the small hole on top. Or, you can use them to fill your water bottle without paying outrageous tourist prices for water bottles at the coffee bars! Newsflash: the Comune di Roma is offering re-useable water bottles sold for €2 at local tourist information points (PIT).
- Villa Borghese
- Rome’s second largest park with over 140 acres of greenery is the perfect respite from a hot day in the sun. You can walk up from the stairs off of Piazza del Popolo, take a paddleboat, peddle around on a group bike, rollerblade or run under the sprinklers.
- Saving the best for last, don’t forget to sample Roman gelato, which is definitely NOT ice cream. Gelato uses more whole milk and less cream, so it has a lower fat content, and it contains less air so it’s denser which provides a more intense flavor. Some of our favorite gelato shops are*:
Monday kicked off our inaugural Living Latin, Living History in Rome program led by the amazing Nancy Llewellyn. Everyday we will be going places in Latin so we welcome you to follow us as walk the streets of Rome in Latin. Look for #LTNL #Rome tags and peek @AIRomanculture, @NancyELlewellyn and of course @SaveRome. Please tweet us your thoughts– in Latin or any other language– and we’ll get back to you on site!
Latin students with Nancy Llewellyn at Villa Giulia (Etruscan Museum)
Here’s what we have in store this summer…
Throughout our journey here in Rome, we’ve seen some of the most valuable pieces of art in the world, and because we had an amazing guide, we were able to not only view them, but to appreciate their stories and structures as well. It’s interesting that many question the financial background of the Catholic Church when, as our guide stated, the most invaluable piece owned by the Church could be sold for millions of dollars. This post will mainly focus on the artists that influenced some of Rome’s greatest pieces, all of which had a religious undertaking.
One area of Rome that our group thought was particularly amazing was the Piazza Navona, which features sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. We found Bernini’s work mind-blowing due to his ability to capture a narrative moment in marble. He had four major pieces in the Borghese Gallery; our favorite was Apollo e Dafne, which depicts the god Apollo chasing his love, the wood nymph Daphne, and her subsequent metamorphosis into a tree. Bernini flawlessly captures the love that Apollo feels for Daphne through his gentle touch around Daphne’s waist, while also perfectly portraying Daphne’s anguish through her expression—a distinctly Baroque style of showing emotion. As we stated, Bernini is known for capturing moments at their physical and emotional heights, and Daphne’s transformation is no exception, with leaves sprouting from her fingers, roots growing from her toes and roughly polished marble bark wrapping around her body.
When we made our way through the Borghese Gallery, one artist stuck out to us among the rest: Caravaggio. Learning about how different Caravaggio was compared to the other artists of his time sparked our interest. Caravaggio had a different feel, a darker, more realistic approach to his paintings that all of us had a great appreciation for.
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael, is responsible for many works of art, most notably School of Athens, which now hangs in the Vatican Museums. School of Athens shows different philosophers expressing their philosophies, including Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Socrates and even Raphael himself. We also found it interesting that Michelangelo is painted into the scene.
Speaking of Michelangelo, he created the Sistine Chapel! Nearly everyone knows about the Sistine Chapel, and, upon discovering that our itinerary included a visit to the Chapel, we were so excited to be able to say that we had seen it in the flesh. Like many galleries, no pictures were allowed in the Chapel (although we spotted many tourists taking pictures anyway). Michelangelo was simply a genius and it was great to see a work that is widely considered the epitome of his career.
Our time in Rome has been filled with tons of memories and life lessons. We’ve learned so much about the art history behind Rome, as well as other aspects of the city’s rich history. This has been a trip of a lifetime, and the galleries and artists mentioned above have helped to make our time educational and worthwhile.
-Lauren Sears, NEURome12
Interdisciplinary Affective Science Lab Northeastern University
Want to know what else these NEU students are doing? Take a peek on Twitter: #neurome12
“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.
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.
Potential student excavators beware! If you go with AIRC to dig in Ostia, you WILL feel “Romesick” as soon as you leave!
I participated in AIRC’s Ostia field school two summers ago, and my time in Rome still affects who I am today. I now conduct my discipline of art history/archaeology as well as my life differently because of having learned and lived in this unique environment.
Ostia Antica is a fantastic site to excavate. It seems like it is always a work in progress, with other field schools and preservation projects occurring at the same time as AIRC’s dig. As an excavator, you are part of the process that creates and shapes how tourists and historians will perceive Ostia. Every time you sink your pickaxe or shovel into the ground, you are technically determining how the future will understand the ancient past!! Every day it felt so satisfying to walk back to the train station with everyone, covered in dirt from a hard day’s work and thinking about what laid in store for us tomorrow.
By the end of the six weeks, I loved all of the amazing friendships I made and how much I learned about myself. I still keep in touch with the other USC students who went on the dig with me, as well as many of the non-USC students too. I got to know and learn from Professor John Pollini and the AIRC staffers, and they all have been incredible mentors and teachers to me. I loved the independence and confidence I gained from living in Rome, being able to wander around on the weekends and late afternoons casually exploring the city. I really felt that I knew Rome like a local, like it had always been my home.
Even after two years, my time in Ostia with AIRC continues to aid my eagerness to learn. I went on another dig this past summer, and it was great to already have some excavation knowledge (and impress the field school’s staff with it!!). I could immediately participate in more complicated activities like field surveying and artifact conservation because AIRC gave me a great foundation in proper excavating, preserving, and cataloging techniques. They provided a well-rounded introduction to field archaeology that expanded my future opportunities.
If you aren’t scared of getting dirty, actively shaping Roman history, and living abroad for a summer, then AIRC’s Ostia field school will be a fantastic experience! My time in Rome changed me, and since then I have truly looked at life and the ancient past in a different and exciting way.
What would Rome be without its meandering gladiators (not to mention their creative centurion cousins) and thought-provoking graffiti? In April, the Comune di Rome tried to answer at least part of the question with a city-sponsored clean up. What followed was war.
Just like the gladiators, Pipiatio Latina wants a free-for-all dialogue on Rome’s gladiators and graffiti . . . in Latin, of course!
When: Wednesday, May 9 at 6 pm EST
Where: Twitter – Search for hashtag #LTNL (primary) and #LatinTweetUp
How: Check out our customized TweetGrid to send tweets (You will need to bookmark LTNL tweet grid page and login with your twitter account when ready to tweet.) Follow the aforementioned hashtags and @AIRomanculture. (You can also put your acount name in place of @AIRomanculture). Or load your Twitter page and search for #TweetLatin and #LatinTweetup for the 60 minutes of the event.
Participate: Send us questions/comments in advance so we can feature them in the #LatinTweetup. During the tweet up, get chatty and make sure to use hashtags #LatinTweetup or #tweetlatin within your Tweet 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.
Graffiti photo: Mr.Jennings
~Nadia Pucci SAFS ’11 (Sant’Omobono) shares with us her top five things you really need to know when working on an excavation in Rome:
- Sun screen, water, and gloves: Sun protection is essential, especially in the more intense Italian heat. Water is also important for staying hydrated. Lastly, gloves are a must to prevent blisters from all the troweling.
- Whatever you do, don’t bring: any valuable possessions, leave them at home! You don’t want to risk possible damage or loss of the items(s). Try not to bring your entire house with you to Italy, just bring the essentials since you will end up acquiring several items during your stay that you will have to haul back.
- The good and bad about working/living in Rome: Living in Rome means easy accessibility to various sites – mostly within walking distance – as well as the endless amount of pizzerias and gelaterias. The people and culture can be experienced even while taking a simple stroll to the piazza. There aren’t many words that can be used to accurately describe the endless possibilities that Rome has to offer, but “priceless” will suffice. One not-so-good aspect is transit. The buses can be a little unpredictable! Their bus stops are different from what we know and understand, and there are strikes which shut down most transport mechanisms for a few hours.
- What to do in your spare time: With free time, I loved to venture and explore. From visiting Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican to walking along the Tiber at night under the moon and lights from the busy night markets. Of course, going to beach and swimming is a splendid way to beat the heat
- Who are you- aka Dig Personality: It’s hard to state one dig personality, because I feel that I experienced several at any given time. I definitely think that I was a cheerleader, encouraging my peers to continue troweling. And I do think that over time I became a wheelbarrow warrior! At first I was slightly afraid of the dreaded task of unloading the wheelbarrow, but by the end of the dig I was able to unload it with little or no help! Lastly, dirt magnet is an obvious personality for most people, especially myself, since no matter what the day’s tasks were I seemed to always be covered in dirt from head to toe. It was a challenge to stay clean during the dig!
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
If my summer digging with AIRC in Ostia were a Roman Emperor, it would have to be Augustus. Not only was it the best summer ever, but it was also a time of personal and academic growth, development, and expansion.
I had worked for a few seasons on a dig near my hometown in New England, and, as an archaeology major, had always dreamed of working in Rome and gaining experience in Mediterranean field archaeology. In terms of skill building, I couldn’t have asked for more. While we spent most of our time digging, there was plenty of time spent getting acquainted with the ins and outs of artifact washing and cataloging, archaeological drawing, wall profiles, and surveying with a Total Station. In short, it was a complete field experience. My favorite times were spent swinging a pickaxe like I had a vendetta against the topsoil, but I am grateful for getting to develop my skills in other areas of fieldwork.
There’s nowhere else to dig quite like Ostia.
While still part of Rome, it’s quiet and idyllic; like digging in your neighborhood park (if your neighborhood were 2,000 years old and had a forum built by Tiberius). Since Ostia is often overlooked by tourists, it will feel like it’s your own. For all that, it’s only a 25 minute train ride from the center of Rome. Living right in the centro storico was an unbelievable experience, and I would happily spend my evenings and weekends exploring the little stone-paved streets and parks, or even traveling further afield throughout Lazio. To live in such a city, even for a summer, will challenge and excite you every day.
Ultimately, a field school is only as a good as the people who are part of it. There is so much to learn from the combined knowledge and years of experience of the AIRC staff—even if that means being repeatedly told “No Jonathan, that’s just another pretty rock.” I was surprised to find that many of the other students were not Archaeology or Classics majors, but quickly saw that just about everyone shared my enthusiasm for the subject matter and the work we were doing. We bonded right away, cooking together in our apartments and trying to figure out who was the sweatiest and filthiest on the train ride home. My trenchmates and I are still in touch.
When you sign up for the AIRC’s field school in Ostia, , you are signing up for more than archaeological skills and experience. You will leave with new friends and a unique experience under your belt that will give you a new way of looking at the world. I certainly came out the better for it. As Augustus himself said:
Ostia archaeologatorem marmoreum relinquit, quem geekum latericium accepit.
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.
At the site of Sant’Omobono, located beside the Tiber in downtown Rome, lie the massive stone remains of a Roman sacred area with twin temples and altars from the 6th century BC dedicated to Fortuna and Mater Matuta.
For five epic weeks it was my home, a place where I wielded pick-axe, shovel, trowel and dirt-filled wheelbarrow on a daily basis, sifted through dirt, washed pottery, heaved massive stone blocks of the site’s ancient Roman wall, and learned about archaeology.
Though every day I came home covered in dirt, and on one funny day even with my pants ripped in the crotch area (if you shovel with too wide of a stance in pants that are even slightly tight, the pants will stretch and rip and your boxers will be revealed to gazing tourists, as mine were!), with the work I got to carry out on this dig, the great amount learned (and discovered) in so short a time, as well the great bonds of friendship I forged, I am extremely grateful to the AIRC and University of Michigan Prof. Nicola Terrenato for this experience, especially as it was my first experience in the field.
Things to brace yourself for:
- Hard physical labor, every day for weeks! Some days you will find yourself so fatigued that you come home and just pass out.
- Getting up early, five days a week (but if you get to the site early, you can have a quick cappuccino, making the process easier).
- Filling out database forms
Things to look forward to:
- Hard physical labor, every day for weeks! You’re going to use a pick-axe regularly, and honestly nothing feels better than having the power to smash your way through walls of dirt and rock. Wheelbarrowing heaps of dirt regularly, heaving broken stone bits, and using a shovel will have you in excellent physical shape when you get home.
- Having the opportunity to live and furthermore, work, in the center of Rome! You can check out great sights and restaurants during your free time at night (or perhaps in the morning if, like me, you like to go running).
- Making some really good friends with the people at your dig site. By spending hours beside these people day after day, the bonds will strengthen enough that you will find yourself spending your free time hanging out with the same people after hours, playing soccer, hitting bars, playing guitar, or having fine meals.
- Getting the chance to discover some really cool Roman stuff and excavate at a phenomenal site. Since I relished smashing apart dirt and walls with a pick-axe (so much so that Professor John Pollini nicknamed me “Demetrius Poliorcetes,” Demetrius the wall-destroyer), heaving wheelbarrows, and carrying massive pieces of stone from one side of the site to the other, I can definitely say my dig personality was BEAST OF BURDEN.
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)
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.
Photo by mashable, and yes, everyone on the dig looks like that.
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
AIRC 2011 alum Dustin Thomas offers his tips on how to have the best time in and out of the trenches:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.