The party’s over…but only for now!

We’ll I’m sad to say that the 2022 Rome Study Tour is over. Everyone went in their different directions, some for the comforts of home and others extending their classical adventures to other parts of Italy and Greece. We had an absolutely amazing year and the group will never forget the adventures. Despite being stuck at home for the past two years, everyone jumped in feet first and did the very best they could, and we have a lot to show for it! We learned about so many ancient sites and monuments, while exploring a modern culture different from our own and appreciating life outside Canada. Pretty impressive for two weeks! Thanks to everyone who made this trip possible for students and to those who made the trip great at every turn!

Some of our early risers had a morning flight home (Haley, Marja, Matt and Jillian) and others were off to the train station to explore Italy further (Julia, Jack and Sydney). Everyone else woke up to wish them goodbye and take pictures from their windows in the Centro.
Urooj, Kaley, Kyoko, Nancy, Isabel and Julianna left early for Fiumicino to fit in some duty-free shopping before heading back to Canada.
Maggie rolled away to get lost in Rome for another few days. The dropped glove in the foreground is rather poignant, don’t you think?
Areej expresses how she feels about leaving Rome while she and Abby leave for the airport. We all agreed the trip needs to be longer!

Finally, the last group to leave, Myana, Kiara, Cashel, Kariane, Natasha and Rachel, enjoyed their last day in Rome before an evening flight to Athens. We’re all appropriately jealous. Good luck everyone! Enjoy home and the ongoing adventure. We miss everyone already!

A fitting final day out

Say it isn’t so! I hate to report that we’ve reached our final day of adventures here in Italy. We saved a big one for the finale—the Vatican Museums! There are some things that every classicist needs to see at the Vatican, but we also need to be savvy navigating the maze of hallways and different spaces that make up this place. Luckily, some of the most famous (well, famous to classics folks anyway!) statues and monuments are behind the ropes of the Gregoriano Profano wing, for which we had a special permit. In other words, we had the entire space to ourselves! Here we found quite a list of stars: the Cancelleria Reliefs, the Haterii tomb, the altar of the Vicomagistri, the Mosaic of the Unswept floor…the list goes on. We’ll talk about all these things and more below as our day unfolds!

This is the mosaic of the unswept floor (aka, the Heraklides mosaic, named because of the inscription included). Look closely and you can see crab legs, snail shells, chicken bones and all sorts of other ‘remains’ of a lavish banquet. It’s title suits it perfectly! It was found in a well-appointed residence on the Aventine Hill in Rome and was apparently part of a long tradition of such designs that came from the Hellenistic world. Even the author and naturalist, Pliny the Elder, discussed this artistic phenomenon in his book, the Historia Naturalis.
Everyone’s favourite pastime—reading inscriptions with Alex! Sydney, Cashel, Abby and Kiara work out the names and other info given on this burial stone. The key to reading inscriptions is to practice, practice, practice, and the payoff will be rewarding!
Marja found a piece that she would like to recreate and hang at home! The little figure stands there enjoying the feasts and fun happening around him.
One final reenactment of a sculptural scene! Kyoko photographed Nancy and Kaley striking a pose in front of some old boxers. This piece is curious; once thought to be Roman, it is now understood to have been carved during the Renaissance by an unknown sculptor copying common ancient boxing scenes. It might even have been the work of Raphael!
The beautiful Braccio Nuovo (new wing) is an amazing backdrop for any picture. It’s a rare state to see it so empty, so we took the opportunity to get a few photos.
Natasha, Kiara, Cashel, Myana (photo cred), Abby and Jillian had a great theme going through the museum—point the camera up and stare down! Some fabulous shots like the two here resulted (with some added friends below!). One should never forget to look up in the Vatican!

It’s bitter sweet—this is our last group photo! It’s not a bad background for it though, eh?? We spent the day at the Vatican and our timing in the Braccio Nuovo gallery was perfect, had it all to ourselves!

We’ll update you all later on our final night together. No one wants to say goodbye!

A bit of poetry for you

The Palazzo Massimo museum is a real gem. It’s hard to know what to focus on because everything is so exceptional, from the bronze boxer to the surviving Fasti (Roman calendars). But we also wondered how to view all the mundane, ordinary things that we’ve now seen in every museum visit from the Bay of Naples to Rome. Don’t they also deserve attention? So, we chose one thing to really have a serious look at in this blog post—a regular ol’ bust of Caracalla.

Alex is a big fan of Haiku, so all the students came up with a Haiku about the bust and we decided to share them with you all. You need a few points of reference to appreciate these: 1) Caracalla committed fratricide, perpetrated upon his brother Geta in 211 CE so he could be sole ruler of the empire. What a guy, eh?; 2) He often wore an odd beard in his portraits that is difficult to not comment upon; 3) He always has a grimace on his face. Here is the bust in question:

The fun thing about photographing ancient sculpture is that you can play with light and shadows to get a desired effect. Caracalla looks particularly grimacing here with the angle and shadows.

Okay, here goes with our poetry…

Kyoko went for a metaphorical piece, subtle yet poignant in its simplicity:

Stern his gaze looked / Brow framed by beehive curls / nose a craggy rock

Abby landed upon an unconventional line breaking system to great poetic effect:

Why do you have a / soul patch? Maybe Geta said / you should shave it off

Kaley’s simplicity pays off with a clear precise message: what’s wrong, mate?:

He looked so angry / What about we do not know / Why he looked like so

Rachel went for a peppier theme seeing a glimmer under that furrowed brow we all can’t help but comment upon:

Bright eyes tilted right / Looking out with furrowed brow / Watching passers-by

I think Sydney’s face says it all while she contemplates the contradiction of an “imperial frown”

Oh, slayer of bros / With your imperial frown / You have been disowned

And one last output from Nancy, who is going incognito on this authorship:

Why you mad, broski? / Killed me in a dirty way / Hope you go down dweeb

So, there are other things at the Palazzo Massimo (other than fabulous poetry, that is) and we highly recommend a visit when you find yourself in Rome. Even if your just passing through, it’s directly across from Termini, the main train station in Rome. Drop your things in “Left luggage” (which still exists despite the many changes the pandemic has brought to travel) and walk 5 minutes to this fabulous museum!

Kariane, Nancy and Alex contemplate some wall painting. You might be thinking that the black background looks unusual—the Roman architect and writer, Vitruvius, dictated that winter dining rooms should have black walls because they would get stained with smoke from the braziers (portable fireplaces) anyway. Very practical thinking!
Kiara, Natasha, Myana and Cashel are catching on—we have now seen examples of these marble panels decorated with personifications of the Roman provinces in three different museums. A bunch are in the Naples Archaeological Museum, many are located in the Capitoline Museum, and these two are here at the Palazzo Massimo. They all adorned the Hadrianeum—that temple we visited and told you about yesterday—and then they were spread far and wide upon discovery during the Renaissance. Go check out the pics of the temple to bring it all together in your mind. Here are some close up shots of these lovely sculptures!

Okay, that’s our day at Palazzo Massimo! Join us tomorrow for our final day together. It’s a big one—the Vatican Museums!

A day in the Campus Martius, aka the obelisk tour

Today was our big trek around the Campus Martius, where tons of the most famous monuments from antiquity are located. It is also the home to a bunch of the obelisks that the Romans stole from Egypt. From temple facades to giant carved columns, the Campus Martius delivers an amazing (and busy!) day out for a bunch of classicists!

A great day always starts at the Pantheon! This iconic building stands tall in Piazza delle Rotonda with one of those obelisks adorning the center of the piazza. The inscription on the front announces its construction by Agrippa, even though the building itself is actually the work of emperor Hadrian in the second century CE. Hadrian gave credit to the original patron, Agrippa, who built a Pantheon here during the time of Augustus. What a humble guy! (not really)
This cute little thing stands just behind the Pantheon in the piazza in front of Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. The obelisk is a tiny little one (5.47m) that originally stood at the Temple of Ra at Heliopolis in the time of Pharaoh Apries (around 580 BCE). We think it was brought to Rome to adorn the temple to Isis. Now it sits here on top of a statue of an elephant carved by Bernini in 1667. Quite a life this thing has had!
We quickly moved east a bit to Piazza di Monte Citorio to view a much larger obelisk (21.79m) that was brought to Rome by Augustus (from Heliopolis) to act as the gnomon of his giant horologium (sun dial) in the Campus Martius. It’s now standing a bit further from its original Rome location after it was re-erected in the piazza in 1792.
Next stop: Hadrianeum. This incredible facade of the Hadrianic temple is hidden away on a side street and is often missed even though it is mere steps from other major monuments. The students were excited because we’ve seen the decorative elements of this temple in two museums now—the Naples Archaeological Museum and the Capitoline Museum—so the whole picture started to come together when we saw the actual temple. The panels that adorned this building, called “the provinces reliefs” usually, are very recognizable and interesting.
We think this is a pretty good backdrop (Hadrianeum again) for teaching a course!
Not an obelisk but yet another giant monument spiralling into the sky! The Column of Marcus Aurelius was constructed during his reign (161-180 CE) to commemorate the wars with the Marcomanni in Germany. He took a page out of Trajan’s book with a carved victory column that displayed the war and defeat of their enemies. The column remains in its original spot on the via Flaminia, now the shopping capital of Rome, the Via del Corso.
A trip to Rome is not complete without lunch in Piazza Navona, aka the Stadium of Domitian. The piazza still keeps the long oval shape of the stadium built by emperor Domitian at the end of the first century CE. There is yet another obelisk in the center of the piazza built into stunning Renaissance fountains. At the north end you can see the remains of the actual Roman stadium, which you can see here behind Maggie, Rachel and Jillian.
One of the best long inscriptions anywhere in the Roman Empire, the Res Gestae, was composed by emperor Augustus and was meant to be displayed at his tomb after he died. It relayed all of his fabulous deeds and what a great guy he was (big surprise!). It ended up being displayed in different parts of the empire in addition to the burial in Rome, in both Latin and Greek languages, so we have a really good idea what the text says. Here Western students pose in front of the reconstruction of that inscription that is now on the building holding the Ara Pacis and facing the Mausoleum of Augustus.
Speaking of the Ara Pacis, Urooj stands in front of it awaiting her presentation giving us some scale to understand how enormous this monument actually is. You can see the ornate scroll work on the frieze of this magnificent monument of Augustus promoting peace and prosperity in Rome.
Last stop: the Mausoleum of Augustus. If you’re thinking “wait, you can go into the Mausoleum of Augustus??” Yes, you can now! For the first time in a very long time the mausoleum is open for visitors. They’ve done an amazing job with the site and we got to walk through the inner sanctum where the urns were held, as well as all through the tunnels and corridors of this maze. It was fabulous!
And finally a suitable picture for the end of this long day. Students are silhouetted in one of the arches of the mausoleum, getting ready for the end of our monumental day of walking and visiting the sites of the Campus Martius.

Join us again for our final two days together (how does time fly?!) in some of the iconic museums of Rome. Next stop: Palazzo Massimo!

Nothing quite like a port city…

Ostia! For anyone who knows and loves Ostia, that exclamation mark is for you. Ostia, the port of Rome, was the hub of international trade and travel in its heyday. There’s lots of evidence in the city for the presence of traders and others hailing from all over the Mediterranean and beyond. The city was important from the Republican period onward because of its strategic location protecting the Tiber and ultimately the city of Rome itself. Our Western group had the day to explore the back alleys and hidden corners of this fabulous site. Check out some of the highlights!

The theatre at Ostia stands tall at the end of the Piazalle delle Corporazione, where the mosaics announce who the merchants were and what business they’re in. You can see some of the mosaics below offering up this info.
This is the stall operated by the Sabrathans from North Africa (located in modern Libya) who probably traded in wild animals that were part of the games in the colosseum in Rome. Their business is advertised in mosaic so everyone knows what this office does.
Another amazing thing about Ostia is all the Mithraea (those places where the mystery cult of Mithras was practiced). This is one of the coolest with the mosaic preserving the stages of initiation and status within the cult. Abby gave a great presentation here before we explored the rest of the site.
There are also a bunch of second stories preserved, so the opportunities to get above it all and enjoy the view are many! Here Maggie looks down on some of the stone yards holding the architectural fragments and other cool things from around site.
Jack checks out the stunningly well preserved marble floor in the House of Cupid and Psyche. This style is called Opus Sectile, where they use shaped and coloured pieces of marble to create geometric and other patterns.
Julianna, Syd, and Julia stand like statues in this ornate facade between courtyards. This is just another one of those amazing places that you stumble upon as you wander through the back streets of ancient Ostia.
The Baths of the Seven Sages is another highlight over in Region III of the city. This complete mosaic is a stunner with its many figural representations and intricate detail.

Stick with us for a long hot day tomorrow exploring the Campus Martius in Rome. We’ll bring you through hundreds of years of Roman history in this one area!

A churchy kind of day

So, lots of churches in Rome are built from old Roman buildings and stuff that was lying around disused. You can often tell, especially when a church has totally different columns down the nave, that it has been built from other buildings. I mean, why not? I’d probably do the same. Very early churches in Rome were also built directly over other buildings like pagan temples or inside and over older Roman houses. So, when we visit these sites we can often go below the church to see the original Roman structures, sometimes in really good states of preservation. That’s what today was all about, with visits to San Clemente and its Mithraeum several meters below the current church, and San Giovanni in Laterano, which has the doors from the original Curia (where the Roman senate met) standing proudly on the front of the church. We ended the day at the Baths of Caracalla, which is another site in Rome not to be missed.

The underground portion of San Clemente is full of tunnels, twists and turns that are sometimes connected by small windows and passages. Abby, Nancy and Jillian (and Alex photo bombing!) peek through one of them into another room. This was in the part of the structure that was probably once a house. There’s also a very well preserved Mithraeum down here under San Clemente but, as you might imagine, it’s cave-like atmosphere is not terribly photogenic!
The Romans also enjoyed taking things from other people and displaying them in Rome. This obelisk is the largest in the world and is around 3500 years old! This one was stolen from Egypt, where it was originally displayed in Karnak, and was re-erected to adorn the spina of the Circus Maximus (the central bit down the middle of the track) in Rome. It ended up by San Giovanni when Pope Sextus the fifth decided it ought to be part of a church complex. So many stories come with spolia!
Here are those crazy doors we mentioned above. From the Curia to the church. Somehow this makes sense!
Last stop of the day: Baths of Caracalla. These are the largest of the imperial baths up to this point, rivalled later only by those of Diocletian built in the late third century. The mosaics in here are stunning throughout and give only the slightest glimpse of what this place must’ve looked like in antiquity. We’ve already seen much of the sculpture that once adorned this bath in its current resting place in Naples. Why Naples? The stunning sculptures were part of the Farnese collection collected in the 16th century and when political power in Italy shifted the whole collection was transferred to Naples with the remaining Farnese family.
There’s some pretty decent VR in the Baths of Caracalla that allow us to visualize the decadence the space once portrayed. Urooj was entrepreneurial and rented an oculus, and here you see Jack and Areej having a proper look around. Look below for the before and after shots of the walls as they stand today, followed by the virtual reconstruction.
Not a bad transformation!

Our next stop is the Roman port of Ostia. This site is incredible and not to be missed, so join us for those adventures soon!

Museum Day

As nice as the weather is here in Rome, it’s also nice to have some indoor days to beat the heat. We did that with a day exploring two very different museums—the Museum of the Imperial Fora and the Capitoline Museum. The imperial fora were the public spaces built by emperors where they could advertise their power with statuary, friezes, and temples to their patron deities.

We started in the forum and markets of Trajan where the museum holds all the sculptural fragments and other cool things from these spaces. The markets have at least four floors and the students you see here were on the very lowest road of the market.
As you can imagine, there was some serious monumental sculpture in these imperial fora. You get a really good idea of their size here with Syd and Julia standing next to a colossal statue with only the torso and upper legs surviving. Impressive!
This is the most obligatory picture in all of Rome! The courtyard of the Capitoline Museum holds the remains of a colossal statue of Constantine (among other amazing things) that came from the basilica. It’s super big, super impressive and very photogenic!
And someone inevitably has to imitate the finger pointing up! Cashel got the job this year!
From the Tabularium—the ancient building that now connects the two sides of the Capitoline Museum—one stumbles upon the most amazing view onto the Forum Romanum. A secret gem!
It’s hard not to stand with this view forever! The perfect view onto the Arch of Septimius Severus (just to left out of shot) gave us the best opportunity for this student presentation, so we got to enjoy the view a bit longer.
We always have a lot of fun reenacting the ancient statues and paintings. Maggie came very close to getting this guy’s grimace just right. I mean, look at those eye brows!
The Dying Gaul. This guy is everyone’s favourite every year. The moustache and torque set him out as thoroughly non-Roman, but the hair is also a real crowd pleaser since he looks a bit like Burt Reynolds in the 1970s!

A good old fashioned wander

Some of our days in Rome are spent ticking a bunch of sites off our to-do list. This was one of those days. Things seem a little chaotic but there’s a logical path around this quarter of the city that takes in the Porticus Octaviae, Theatre of Marcellus, Temple of Apollo Sosianus, San Nicola in Carcere, the temples in the Forum Boarium, the Arch of the Argentarii, the Circus Maximus and the Ludus Magnus. That’s quite a mouthful! We had a theme going that covered the Republican victory temples, but that gave way to places with a sporting events theme…or something…well, it’s all in Rome anyway!

First stop: the Porticus Octaviae. Built originally as the Porticus Metelli in the 2nd century by Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, the complex was taken over and aggrandized by Augustus and named for his sister Octavia. Students try to make sense of the inscription here, which actually relates a renovation of the space by the Severan dynasty in the 3rd century
Next stop: the Theatre of Marcellus and the Temple of Apollo Sosianus. A terrific presentation kicked the morning into gear where we learned how so many sites are connected by Augustan patronage. This site is one of them where we learned about the first of many ill-fated heirs to Augustus and the emperor ship in Rome.
A short wander closer to the Tiber River had us in awe of the complete round temple on the Tiber (aka, temple of Hercules Victor). Next door is the temple of Portunus. They’re both incredibly well preserved because they were turned into churches at some point and well kept. The round temple seen here has many Greek connections and may have been built to commemorate conquests in Greece.
We found the shade of the one single tree inside the Circus Maximus where we could hear about the history of this fascinating space from the earliest days of Rome to the late antique period. Most of it has now disappeared into the later buildings of Rome but it’s still easy to imagine the incredible decadence of everything here.
There’s not much to photograph at the Ludus Magnus, but this lonely little column capital needed some attention. This was the living quarters and practice space for the gladiators who fought in the colosseum next door. Even though it’s just a small piece of the story it was really cool to see this bit of everyday life.

Join us next for two of Rome’s best museums: the Museum of the Imperial Fora and the Capitoline Museum. Lots of obligatory and iconic pictures that we’ve taken many times over the years!

Jumping feet first into Rome

Where to start? On the very hottest day of the trip (32 Celsius/89.6 Fahrenheit) we were scheduled to see the beating heart of Rome—the Forum Magnum and the Colosseum. It’s difficult to exaggerate how important the forum was to the ancient city of Rome (and to modern tourism today). Buildings like the temples of Saturn, Castor and Pollux, and the divine Julius Caesar still stand proud (in various states) and the key to Roman politics, the Curia, looms over it all. The arches of Titus and Septimius Severus are practically complete and still a wonder to inspect up close. Check out our adventures below as we plod through the heat to explore the heart of Rome!

One of the best views of the colosseum is from the platform of the temple of Venus and Roma. The Western group started with a tour of the colosseum and then headed over here for this view.
It was seriously so hot! Nancy and Kaley chill out in different ways after walking the whole colosseum. There’s much more to come though!
We had a bit of a surprise on the Palatine Hill where they’ve really fancied up the fountains of the Flavian Palace (aka, Domus Augustana). They were even playing classical music for everyone’s enjoyment!
The platform on the Palatine overlooking the Forum is the best spot to wind down the day. The bird’s eye view onto the forum is really eye opening to understand how everything works together. As you can see, we’re seriously chilling, melting in the heat!
Last stop! Some of us who stuck it out and walked home had the great luck to find the best route home through the imperial fora. We found ourselves face to face with the base of Trajan’s Column, where Rachel gave us a preview of her presentation on the column. The armour and trophies show the brutality of Roman conquest and how they depicted their empire. Join us again when the heat goes all the way down to 28 degrees!

We’re heading to Roma!

Yesterday was a travel day and we’re heading north to Roma!! But there’s so much to see in Italy and lots to do along the way, so we’ve got a few great places to tell you about first. From Roman colonies to famous amphitheatres, this trip does not disappoint!!

The day started at the scenic amphitheatre of Capua where Spartacus started his famous slave revolt. This is the second largest amphitheatre in Italy (behind the colosseum, of course) and held about 40,000 people or so.
The best part about the site is exploring the underground tunnels below the amphitheatre and seeing where the behind-the-scenes action took place with gladiators and beasts. Urooj and Areej find a different route here in the tunnels.
Next stop: the Roman colony of Minturnae. Founded in 296 BCE by the Romans, this site was located strategically between the regions of Campania and Latium. We started with a fabulous presentation by Myana while seeking shelter from the sun in the small strip of shade provided by the colonnade of the macellum (market place) in the center of town.
Minturnae has a fabulously preserved public toilet where privacy is a bit different from what we expect today!
No trip to a Roman theatre is complete without the obligatory group picture! Western students show their school spirit here in the Minturnae theatre even though we forgot our stalwart purple flag.
There’s no better place to end the day than on the breezy cliff overlooking the sea where the Temple of Jupiter Anxur was located. In Terracina, an important seaside town that was directly on the via Appia and was the site of several important episodes through history, this sanctuary looms over everything. Areej enjoys a minute out of the sun in the impressive arches supporting this huge complex.
And speaking of, here are those supporting arches that always make for fabulous photos. Maggie and Alex peek through the many arched doorways of the site.
The seaside views never fail to impress here. I’d put my sanctuary up here too if I had the choice!