promoting cultural heritage and conservation

Archive for 2012

Give us a kick! Support our Kickstarter campaign!

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The American Institute has just embarked on our first Kickstarter project with a target of $10,000 to fund production of a one-hour documentary, Digging History.  Digging History will be the first of what we hope to lead to many documentaries that will be available as free, online educational resource for use to students and schools/universities, as well as anyone with an interest in learning more.   Digging History is hosted and created by the AIRC team along with historians, archaeologists, videographers, historical and cultural experts and will bring viewers behind the scenes and learn about topics in art, archaeology, history, architecture, sustainability, conservation, religion and politics, from experts  as they conduct their work, giving fun, accessible insights on the city and the people and events that shaped it, and continue to shape it.

As we have mentioned in other posts, we have already created several free, educational video podcasts in Rome and throughout Italy, made possible by partnerships with the Italian Ministry of Culture, and archaeological organizations AIAC and Fastionline. With this Kickstarter project,  our long-term goal is to produce a huge amount of engaging content to become an online hub and focus for learning about all aspects of Roman culture.  Please join us in our Kickstarted campaign– every contribution helps and each pledge is gratefully acknowledged and rewarded.  All contributions are tax deductible.

Please join our Digging History Kickstarter Campaign.

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Save the Gladiator Tomb, Sign the iPetition

Reblogged from Executive Director Darius Arya’s blog DariusAryaDigs:

Please join me in voic­ing your con­cern for sav­ing the Gladiator’s Tomb, a unique cul­tural her­itage site that runs the risk of being reburied per­ma­nently for lack of fund­ing. Together with the AIRC, I am hop­ing to get 5,000 sig­na­tures on the iPe­ti­tion to save the Gladiator’s Tomb.

In 2008, on the Via Flaminia in the north­ern part of con­tem­po­rary Rome, archae­ol­o­gist found an impres­sive mar­ble mau­soleum, among other note­wor­thy tombs, along a well-preserved sec­tion of ancient road. The press was quick to call this par­tic­u­lar tomb “Tomb of the Glad­i­a­tor” since the tomb itself was comis­sioned by and for Mar­cus Non­ius Macri­nus, an prominent gen­eral under the reign of Mar­cus Aure­lius. Macri­nus’ life was par­al­leled in the Oscar-winning film Glad­i­a­tor (2000, Rid­ley Scott) with the general-then-gladiator char­ac­ter Max­imus mag­nif­i­cently played by Rus­sell Crowe. Upon its dis­cov­ery and nick­name, the world responded enthu­si­as­ti­cally because of its rela­tion­ship with the larger-than-life Max­imus, who rep­re­sented so much of Rome and cre­ated such enthu­si­asm for ancient Roman cul­ture, as well as the over­whelm­ingly impor­tant his­toric, archi­tec­tural, and epi­graph­i­cal qual­i­ties of the site itself.

Over the past decade and a half of liv­ing and work­ing in Rome, I have been for­tu­nate to visit the site on numer­ous occa­sions, and I am con­stantly struck by the enor­mity of the site-13,000 square meters in area, almost three American football fields. It is beau­ti­ful– both his­tor­i­cally and phys­i­cally. I think any­one that comes to the site can­not help but have an imme­di­ate con­nec­tion to the past. I am also in awe of the amount of mud that buried site thus pre­serv­ing it (45 feet in height)- it gives you an idea of both what the archae­ol­o­gists had to over­come but also how much lucky they were to even find it.

The superintendency’s recent (and almost abrupt) deci­sion to rebury the site for preser­va­tion is laud­able in that they want to pre­serve the site. How­ever, the his­tor­i­cal impor­tance of the site mer­its fur­ther atten­tion and exca­va­tion, not sim­ply cov­er­ing up. We have too much to lose here. If we have to pick and choose, this is one worth fight­ing for. Please join me in sign­ing and shar­ing this iPe­ti­tion now.


Habemus @Pontifex! Pipiatio Latina: What will you tweet the Pope #LTNL

Shortly after  Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi announced on twitter and in Latin the Pontifical Academy for Latin Studies,  the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI will begin tweeting on December 12 as @Pontifex, perhaps the best handle to appear on Twitter in years.  We are excited that @Pontifex will be flexing the papal fingers to comment in no less than eight languages: English, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, Polish, Arabic and Spanish (each under language-specific Twitter accounts).

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Since only a few tweets will be hand-picked and then responded to by @Pontifex,  our upcoming Latin tweet up will focus on Quid pipies Romano Pontifici?  So for the next few days think about what you would tweet the Pope and then join in to Pipiatio Latina #LTNL Tuesday, December 11 at 3 pm Pacific/ 6pm Eastern Standard.

Pipiatio Latina is led by Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, Associate Professor of Latin at Wyoming Catholic College.  To participate, submit tweets to Nancy @RomeontheRange and @AIRomanculture, or send us questions/comments in advance  to info@romanculture.org.  Whether simply following or ready to engage in some chatter, look for hash tags: #LTNL and #LatinTweetUp and remember to add either or both of them to your tweets. We’ve also customized a TweetGrid so that you can follow the hashtags and our account at the same time.

Thanks for helping to promote Latin in the real and virtual worlds!

For a glimpse into Latin in action, please take a look at our Summer 2012 “Living Latin, Living History in Rome” program videos.


Mithraeum at the Baths of Caracalla

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.


Cultural Heritage and Instagram

Over the past year, we’ve fallen in love with Instagram– and not just because it enables all our I-spy fantasies, but because Instagram photos help to spread the word about cultural heritage.  Whether professional photographers or accidental tourists, IGers (as we’ve been told they are called) are capturing culture in an instant.  Deliberate or not, ancient or contemporary, culture and history are being documented with the press of a thumb and a tap on “share”.   Next to “share”, the “explore” button is our favorite vehicle for traveling the world in search of whatever we want–and we’re not just looking for archaeology!

Protecting, saving and sharing cultural heritage is part of our mission which we strive for in a variety of media- from classrooms and dig sites to our smart phones. Please join in by tagging your photos #culturalheritage.  And if you find something great about Rome, any where in its ancient empire or its contemporary culture, tag it #digrome as well.

Have an IG account?  Follow us at SaveRome.  No account, no worries: you can still see our photos at Instgram.com/SaveRome and all photos tagged #culturalheritage.

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From professional to happenstance, here’s who we are spying:  Darius Arya (Roman Forum, Rome), Allison Roberts (Matrigny house in New Orleans, USA), Benten Tangen (Petra, Jordan), Jerome Foster (El Djem, Tunisa),  Stefdw (lego Ankor Wat), Guilherme Abuchahla (Machu Pichu, Peru), Javiera O’Ryan (Easter Island), Fatihkon (St. Petersburg, Russia), Zanjeer (Balbek, Lebanon), Taylor Murray (Route 66 sign), Agnes Crawford (Last Supper, Taddeo Gaddi)


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]romanculture.org

Photo above by Shelley Ruelle:  Maximinus Thrax, the “Thracian” AD 235-238, 27th emperor of the Roman Empire and the first to have never actually set foot in Rome


No time for snack time: Rome’s anti-eating ordinance

It’s been over a month since Rome’s anti-bivacco law, a citywide ordinance forbidding eating and drinking in areas of “particular historic, artistic, architectonic and cultural value” in Rome’s center was put into effect. The idea may have been conceived as lending a helpful hand to help the areas around the Colosseum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, et al, in maintaining a modicum of cleanliness and lessening the accumulating debris that is inadvertently (or deliberately) dropped. However, instead raising hands to the nearest trashcan, it has raised polemic.

People do not see the logic in fines for eating while standing around, especially when the ground beneath their feet is carpeted in cigarette remnants.  They definitely don’t appreciate a monument-centric ordinance when the monuments themselves are in debatable states of preservation.  If anything, the ordinance seems a bit Baby-Bathwater syndrome- while trying to encourage cultural heritage, it is effectively discouraging respect, growth and (potentially) tourism.

Let’s get historic. Rome has a history of trash. Littering laws (for trash, bodies, dung, whatever) have literally been set in stone since Ancient Rome. Check out the 1st century BCE sepulcher pillar at Centrale Montemartini.  More likely, you’ve seen the 18th century mondezzari plaques but as quaint detail to Rome’s picturesque sidestreets. For centuries, Rome has been asking its visitors and residents alike to be kind to their city. Adding ordinances to existing laws seems slightly excessive when perhaps we need to focus on changing attitudes about cultural heritage, civic pride and just plain littering.

Will the anti-bivacco ordinance help the city’s plea to take of her and her patrimony? We’ll let you know if there is a significant change on January 1, 2013, when the ordinance expires.

For more information, please check out Elisabetta Povoledo’s Buon Appetito but not next to monuments (New York Times), Anti Bivaco è ordinanza per tutelare monumenti (Il Livello), and food blogger Katie Parla’s thoughts on the ordinance.