Well, first of all, let me tell you that most of my spare time is spent at cafes around Rome. I sit and drink, and then creativity fills up my glass (after having finished work of course….say what!?). And most of the time, I always meet people who have something to interesting to share. The other day I was hanging out at one of my favorite bars in Rome- Bar del Fico– where I met a couple from France. The woman, Nadia, was a professor of medieval philosophy but I prefer to call her my new French-Algerian encyclopedia. She was modest and didn’t reveal her academic credentials until well into the evening and when she did, oh my goodness, did she know everything about, well…many things! What stood out the most though was the mannerism in which she spoke about the country of her forefathers: Algeria.
Nadia’s eyes almost filled up with tears when she described to me how, unfortunately, many Algerians do not know the history of their country, their nation, and their identity. As history is very important to me, I was nostalgic but yet not surprised to learn that there is a huge lack of awareness of historical identity in Algeria. Nadia continued to tell me that the preservation of archeological sites and monuments is in absolute miserable condition in Algeria. Ancient Roman columns are used as ashtrays, marble statues are covered with graffiti, historically significant sites are in disarray, and in general, citizens are not aware of the rich cultures that make up Algeria’s dense and mosaicked history. In fact, those casually castaway artifacts represent millennia of Algerian culture: Carthaginian, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Caspian and Arab Umayyad cultures.
My conversation with Nadia that evening made me realize that though I am working to promote preservation of archeological sites in Rome and trying my best to emphasize the importance of cultural heritage, there is so much work to be done around the world. Rome is the eternal city but not the only one in need of dedicated people who try to teach history for sake of understanding our contemporary society.
~Saman Tehrani, AIRC intern, Summer/Fall 2013
- 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!”
- Remember all your hard work will eventually pay off* : Excavation needs to be a slow process
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.
It’s been over a month since Rome’s anti-bivacco law, a citywide ordinance forbidding eating and drinking in areas of “particular historic, artistic, architectonic and cultural value” in Rome’s center was put into effect. The idea may have been conceived as lending a helpful hand to help the areas around the Colosseum, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, et al, in maintaining a modicum of cleanliness and lessening the accumulating debris that is inadvertently (or deliberately) dropped. However, instead raising hands to the nearest trashcan, it has raised polemic.
People do not see the logic in fines for eating while standing around, especially when the ground beneath their feet is carpeted in cigarette remnants. They definitely don’t appreciate a monument-centric ordinance when the monuments themselves are in debatable states of preservation. If anything, the ordinance seems a bit Baby-Bathwater syndrome- while trying to encourage cultural heritage, it is effectively discouraging respect, growth and (potentially) tourism.
Let’s get historic. Rome has a history of trash. Littering laws (for trash, bodies, dung, whatever) have literally been set in stone since Ancient Rome. Check out the 1st century BCE sepulcher pillar at Centrale Montemartini. More likely, you’ve seen the 18th century mondezzari plaques but as quaint detail to Rome’s picturesque sidestreets. For centuries, Rome has been asking its visitors and residents alike to be kind to their city. Adding ordinances to existing laws seems slightly excessive when perhaps we need to focus on changing attitudes about cultural heritage, civic pride and just plain littering.
Will the anti-bivacco ordinance help the city’s plea to take of her and her patrimony? We’ll let you know if there is a significant change on January 1, 2013, when the ordinance expires.
For more information, please check out Elisabetta Povoledo’s Buon Appetito but not next to monuments (New York Times), Anti Bivaco è ordinanza per tutelare monumenti (Il Livello), and food blogger Katie Parla’s thoughts on the ordinance.
Man-eating dolphins, crazy cow heads, scary skeletors, fake saints and a drainage mask- it seems like Rome has always been ready for Halloween. . . .
Over the past year, we’ve had our ear to the ground and one eye on the open, academic road as we are very interested in navigating the trails of online educational sites. They are hot topics with even hotter names like Coursera, Udacity, Stanford and MIT. Add Smarthistory/KhanAcademy to the list and you’ll find us literally digging through time with Smarthistory.org’s executive editors Steven Zucker and Beth Harris.
Smarthistory is a “not-for-profit, multi-media web-book designed as a dynamic enhancement for the traditional art history textbook”. Are we looking to replace print? No, just increase the volume of discussion. Or as John Berger once said, “the ways of seeing.” Enjoy our first collaboration: Digging through Time, and keep an eye out for more!
One of our favorite sites to visit in the Roman Forum is the church of Santa Maria Antiqua, which up until this week had been closed to public viewing. Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest church in the Roman Forum and a key monument in the transformation of the Forum from pagan to Christian space: constructed in the 6th century inside a 1st-century structure with courtyard attached to the Imperial palace on the Palatine hill above. Santa Maria Antiqua was abruptly abandoned in the 9th century after a devastating earthquake and resulting landslide. The church was rediscovered at the turn of the 20th century, partly restored, and made accessible to visitors until 1980, when it was permanently closed due to damage caused by rising damp. Since 2006, Santa Maria Antiqua has been a World Monuments Fund project, led by mural conservators Werner Schmid and Giuseppe Morganti, who have been working with the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome to restore the frescoes and permanently resolve the damp problem.
Thanks to centuries of sealing off, Santa Maria Antiqua can be considered a veritable Pompeii-like site- somewhat untouched postcards of an era that was written over. Its walls showcase a cycle of beautiful frescoes depicting the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, popes, saints, and martyrs, thus forming one of the largest and most important collections of pre-Iconoclastic Roman and Byzantine art in the world. These frescoes date to a period of iconoclasm when in East figures in churches were destroyed. The AIRC has a special connection with Santa Maria Antiqua. In years past, we have excavated in front of the site and we have also done our best to help WMF, Schmid, Morganti and team. Over these past six years, we’ve had given special entry and behind-the-scenes access to Santa Maria Antiqua thanks to professors Morganti and Schmid, who’ve also taken the time to speak with our students.
From now through November 4, Santa Maria Antiqua is available for public visits. A maximum of 25 persons can visit the site for approximately 45 minutes. Reserve via coopculture.it , 06 39967700. Cost: €12+ €9 (Foro romano entrance ticket + guided visit)