This page strictly contains historical information I retained while traveling throughout Europe this semester. It was created for my Layers of Rome history class as an assignment. I had to relate each entry to a topic discussed in class. I tried to present the most interesting facts about tourist sites here.
May 1, 2011: Venice
I just got home from Venice. It was a lot different than I anticipated. Everyone who has been tells me it is like nothing you have ever seen before. I did not realize how right they were. Literally everything is on water. Upon arrival I took a boat from Marco Polo airport down the Grand Canal and saw much of the layers of Venice.
On the way to St. Marc’s square not only was I in awe that the city was on water, but I could not believe how old the city was. We passed by the constitution bridge, which was designed by Santiago Calatrava—a famous architect from Spain. It was built from glass, steel, and stone. Following, we passed Fonetgo dei Turchi. Although it was reconstructed in the 19th century its 12-13th century Venetian façade remains. Next, we saw Palazzo Vendramin Calergi. This palace was built during the Renaissance and dates back to the 13th century. We then came across the Rialto Bridge. It use to be made out of wood, but is not anymore. Today it’s made of stone. Back in the day you had to pay to cross the bridge. I learned in a guidebook that in 1551, Sansavino and Palladino (two famous architects of the time) were part of a competition to rebuild the bridge after burning down. Antonio da Ponte got the job. This competition sort of reminded me of the competition of the fountain in Piazza Nevona. It is quite a view from the bridge, if I do say so myself. You feel like you are in postcard. Gondolas are everywhere and beautiful buildings line both sides of the canal. Our gondola driver told us that his family has lived in Venice for 400 years! He pointed out some of the oldest buildings in Venice including the old prison, city hall, and post office. Each building was between 400-600 years old.
I got off at the St. Marc’s stop and immediately saw the basilica. St. Mark’s Basilica was stunning. I loved the mosaics on the domes leading into the church. The basilica has been built three times. It was recently rebuilt… in 1063. It was first discovered in 829. I learned that the mosaic in the portal to the far left shows what the basilica looked like in the 13th century. The other four portals are 16th and 17th re-workings. I didn’t get to go inside due to long lines and a condense schedule but the view from the outside was incredible. It was very rich looking with the gold and marble. The sculptures and mosaics added to the decor, too.
Lastly, the island I stayed on, Lido, has been around since ancient times. However, today it’s a vacation destination for Venetian families.
April 25, 2011: Croatia
I ventured across the Adriatic Sea to Split, Croatia. Split’s roughly 2,000 years old. We stayed in the walls of the palace, which is the old part of town. The stoned walls are stained with black. They’ve weathered many years of weather. I didn’t realize Split had an affiliation with Rome until reading up on it. In 305 AD, Roman Emperor, Diocletian, voluntarily stepped down from his throne and moved into this palace that was built for him in Split. Much like the Roman Forum, the walls of the palace occupied thousands of people. Stores, markets, gardens, and churches resided within the walls. Today, walls of the palace remain but it’s a big tourist area with nice restaurants and hostels like the one I stayed in.
There’s a church though, Cathedral of St. Duje, that you can’t miss while walking through the palace. It was exceptionally obvious because it was Easter weekend and bells were ringing all day long. It’s a 4th century church. Similar to San Clemente, this church has different centuries worth of work inside. The wooden doors leading into the church is worth noting because you can see pictures of Jesus’ life depicted in different scenes. Next to the church was a life size sculpture of the last supper scene that is brought in during Easter week.
April 12, 2011: Piazza Navona
I walk by Piazza Navona everyday on my way to class. It’s a shame I didn’t learn its history until so late in the semester. I should have read up on it. My dad did before he came to visit me. He gave me the history of it two weeks before our class lesson. I got a more thorough explanation of it after class, though. I make sure to share the information I’ve acquired with all my visitors now.
In the handout we received about the history of the Colosseum I remember reading that in 86 AD games took place in Piazza Navona while the Colosseum was being rebuilt. A lightening bolt struck the Colosseum and the wood burned, causing significant damage to the infrastructure.
Aesthetically speaking it makes sense that Piazza Nevona use to be a racetrack, the Stadium of Domitian. I could see it once it was pointed out. The buildings surrounding Piazza Nevona use to be seating area for the spectacles. The racetrack is similarly shaped to Circus Maximus, which I walked by after our class visit to Colosseum earlier this semester.
Learning about the obelisk in Piazza Navona was interesting, as well as the fountains. I now notice the plethora of obelisks around the city. Each obelisk is in recognition of a victory. I’ve also noticed all the fountains in Rome. No other city I’ve been to have as many. We learned that the water supply was scarce when the fountain was built in the 17th century. Throwing around water for public display at a time when people had to pay for water or didn’t have water at all was an indication of wealth and showing off. On a side note, I think it’s ridiculous today how you have to pay for water in restaurants yet there is an abundant supply of fresh running water in the streets of Rome.
There are three fountains in Piazza Navona. The largest one, and the one that attracts the most tourists is in the center, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers). Artists in the 17th century were asked to submit drawings as part of a competition for the design of this fountain. Bernini walked away with the victory.
The obelisk in the middle of the fountain is an Egyptian sculpture that the Romans brought over. The hyroglifics on the obelisk were done by the Romans and have no significant meaning. You can see a dove in the middle, which is said to symbolize Noah. A dove also the universal symbol of peace. Four sea gods are present in the fountain with water running out of them. They represent the four rivers of the four continents (NileàAfrica, Plate àAmericas, Ganges à Asia, and Danube à Europe) that the papel’s message spread to. Each sea god has animals associated with them, too.
The two smaller fountains were also designed by Bernini. The fountain of Moor, located in the southern part of the Piazza, was made for his favorite African slave. It’s supposed to be more of a fun fountain. From the back it looks like the central figure is peeing in the fountain.
April 11, 2011: Barcelona
I just got off a three-day weekend! I went to Barcelona. I’ve been taking Spanish since the second grade so it was surreal being in a country where I’ve studied the language and architecture for nine years. I considered studying in Spain, however, I decided that I wanted to study and live in a country in which I knew very little about. And that was Italy.
I stopped by the beach on my first day. The 1992 Olympics took place in Barcelona and the current beach is man-made. There is only one public beach. The others are still industrialized. I noticed that much of Barcelona is what it is today because of the Olympics. The whole city was more modern than I thought. It was during my time in Barcelona that I appreciated the history of Rome and realized how, aesthetically speaking, Rome isn’t like any other country. The city was very clean and it was weird being in a city with so many high rises… and having Starbuck as coffee shops.
Like Rome, soccer is big…if not bigger in Barcelona. So, I attended a soccer game! Barcelona’s best player is Messi. The atmosphere inside the stadium was more relaxed than any sporting event I’ve attended in Chicago. Inside the stadium we saw a lot of grandparents and little kids with their parents. Not many teenagers. I was always under the impression that football games were really roudy. I didn’t experience that. Maybe it was the section I was in. But physically being at the game was incredible. It’s no Colosseum but the stadium is enormous and serves as modern enterainment!!! I think it might be the biggest in the world. The way the players were able to move the ball around the field was very impressive. They are sooo quick!
I also went to Park Guell designed by Antonio Gaudi. We saw the two fairytale houses that reminded me a lot of Dr. Suess. The longest bench in the world was also in this park. Everything was mosaic. The park was uphill and provided a great view of the city. It reminded me of Palatine Hill. Much like Palatine Hill where you can see the forum (ancient Rome) you could see the Sagrade Familia from a distance as well as the whole city of Barcelona. Obviously, this park isn’t the same as Palatine Hill but being uphill overlooking the city reminded me of our class trip there.
Additionally, I saw the Gaudi houses and Olympic stadium. The Gaudi houses blended in to department stores on a famous shopping street. I wasn’t expecting that. They were different looking. He lived in one of the houses until his death in 1926.
The Olympic stadium was gigantic. I took chair lifts up the mountain and saw all of Barcelona from the Montjuïc Castle. It used to hold prisoners (mostly politicians) and executions occurred there during the Spanish Civil war.
Finally, I saw Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately I didn’t go in because of time constraint but the outside was breathtaking. There were two things I didn’t like though. First, the church was in the middle of a neighborhood right up on the street. There was a small sidewalk separating the street from the church. Unlike St. Peter’s where there is a whole square leading up to the church, Sagrada Familia wasn’t like that, which made it hard to actually see the church as a whole. Imagine sitting in the first row of a movie theatre and having to watch the movie from there. Your neck is strained back and it’s hard to really see the picture as a whole. That’s what I felt like at Sagrada Familia. Also, the church is under construction. It wasn’t until later that I learned Gaudi never got to complete this masterpiece because he was killed in an accident. The church has been under construction for years and is estimated to be under further construction for another decade or so.
April 6, 2011: Capri
I traveled to Capri with my family while they were visiting. I heard the blue grotto was a must-see attraction so we went. I looked up pictures before going but nothing more. Once inside the grotto the driver mentioned how recent discoveries had been made. He was hard to understand so rather than ask him to repeat himself I enjoyed the experience and looked up the facts later. I read in an article published by Discovery News in September 2009 that ancient statues were found in the blue grotto underwater. In 1964, archaeologists found three statues underwater in the grotto. They were of Triton (a Greek God) and Neptune (a Sea God). The archaeologists who discovered these statues said, “the position of the Tritons’ shoulders (the arms are missing) would suggest that the marine creatures were blowing into large seashells as if they were trumpets. Triton was known to carry a twisted conch shell, on which he blew to calm or raise the waves” (discovery news, Rossella Lorenzi). For further reading here’s the article: http://news.discovery.com/history/blue-grotto-statues.html
A little background about the island of Capri: from 27 to 37 A.D Capri was the capital of the Roman Empire. Emperor Tiberius lived here and swam in the grotto (it was his bath). This is why it’d make sense for these statues to be of Triton and Neptune. Baths were a big deal during that time period. I saw extravagant baths in Pompeii, too, with statues and décor.
March 28, 2011: London
While in London I went to the Tate museum of modern art. I’m not going to lie, the work I saw was pretty out there. I have some appreciation for modern art. Some of it, to be honest, I think is a bunch of crap. I feel like I could reproduce the work in the basement of my house. Or, I could have done the same artwork in art class in elementary school. Some of the art at the museum was literally two drops of paint. After studying famous artists in Rome like Raphael, Bernini, and Caravaggio my appreciation for modern art has significantly decreased. Especially after seeing Michaelangelos work in the Sistine Chapel and the David in Florence. I don’t think these modern artists should be famous. I guess there’s a difference, though, between having your work hung in a museum and being a legion. Maybe some day contemporary art will grow on me. It’s hard to imagine that some day, hundreds of years from now, people could be analyzing these contemporary pieces like I’ve been analyzing art in Rome. As for now, I have a much deeper appreciation for the art I’m seeing in Italy. Especially in the churches we’ve gone to in class.
I also went to Westminster Abbey. I took a tour and spent about 3 hours inside. It’s quite a remarkable place. There’s quite a lot of history at Westminster Abbey. Princess Diana’s funeral took place here, the royal wedding will occur here on the 29th of April, and famous authors and poets have memorials and tombs inside (Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, John Milton, Dr. Samuel Johnson…to name a few). Several tombs of kings and queens also reside here. Similar to Rome, the Pantheon also commemorates memorials and tombs to kings (Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I) and artists (Raphael).
March 14, 2011: Raphael’s room & the Sistine Chapel
I went to the Vatican museum with my parents. Raphael’s rooms were amazing. I listened to the Rick Steve’s podcast and he interpreted the paintings for us. The difference between his work and Michaelangelo’s, like in the Sistine chapel, are becoming more noticeable to me. It’s incredible that it only took him 4 years to create that masterpiece—while lying on his back the whole time! Earlier in the semester we learned how frescos are created. Apparently you can only do small pieces at a time because the plaster dries. It’s incredible the patience and dedication he had. The Creation of Adam in the center of the room was incredible. He paid so much attention to details. Something I learned on my tour that I found interesting was towards the end of creating this ceiling he made the drawings larger with less people. If you look carefully you can see it.
March 1, 2011: Paris
Besides seeing the Mona Lisa, which was a lot smaller than I thought I also saw the Borghese Gladiator sculpture in the Louvre. It looked just like the one we saw in Rome at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. It’s a good example of contrapposto. In class we paid close attention to the detail in the fingers. Carving life-like fingers was thought highly upon because of the difficultness. Although the name of this sculpture has “gladiator” in it, we learned that this was a warrior. It’s from the Hellenistic period.
February 21, 2011: St. Peter’s: The Pity
In a previous entry I mentioned seeing the David in Florence. In St. Peter’s another one of Michaelangelo’s sculptures, The Pity, is displayed. Much like the David you can see emotion in the faces of the sculptures. Mary is looking down at Jesus, while he’s sprawled across her lap. Her lips are pierced and she bows her head in sorrow. The palm of he left hand by his knee is faced up, almost like she is asking, “why?” A lot of my attention went to Jesus’ legs and torso. They were very muscular and real looking.
February 14: Julius Caesar
I went to a seafood restaurant called, il Sanlorenzo, with my Food class today. The owner showed us how to check different types of fish to make sure they’re fresh and of high quality. He sliced the fish open so we could see the color of its inside. He touched the eyeballs to make sure they were elastic and poked the skin to make sure it was firm. The owner went into great detail about the supply of fish they get on any given day. When the weather is bad they have less variety of fish on the menu. But, when he goes to the market he only buys the best quality fish. So, when people call to make reservations he can only allow a certain amount of people to eat. It’s a very expensive restaurant.
After the demonstration we ventured to the basement. The basement had a wine cellar with a back room where you could have wine tasting seminars. The walls were made of brick.
The brick we saw was the original brick from ancient Roman times. They have specific lights and air conditioners to keep the room at the appropriate level to preserve the bricks. But, what made this room even more unique was that Julius Caesar was allegedly stabbed in the corner of this room. The archway made of bricks along the wall is supposedly the area where he was stabbed. The archway is in the middle of the wall. In ancient roman days that was the ceiling. While we were currently in the basement of a restaurant, in ancient roman days the ground level was below us. It was incredible standing next to original ancient roman walls and imagining the original streets of Rome being LAYERS beneath us!!! There was also a door with a secret passageway. It connected the restaurant to other places in Rome like Largo di Torre Argentina where Caesar fled once stabbed and eventually died. It was the Pope Empire that raised the level of Rome and so these secret passages were used during those times to get from one side of town to another.
February 7, 2011: Florence
The architecture in Florence is much different than Rome. First, there aren’t random ruins around town. Florence is full of Renaissance architecture, which was evident when looking at the Duomo. Pink, Green, and white Tuscan marble is what the outside of Duomo is made of.
Florence was very easy to navigate. Anytime I got turned around I found the Duomo and I got my bearings. Much like Rome I see what major monument is nearby and I can find me way around.
One of the highlights of Florence was climbing the Duomo. This was a big deal for me. I am terrified of heights. I never knew exactly how afraid of heights I was until climbing the Duomo. We started on ground level and climbed our way up. Apparently climbing to the top is like doing 463 Stairmaster steps. The stairs were very steep and the halls extremely narrow. At some points you had to turn your shoulders so that you could fit. Half way up you could walk around the circumference of the inside of the Duomo and look up at the dome. It’s the sister dome to St. Peter’s in Rome.
Later, I saw the David. I downloaded Rick Steve’s podcast about the David before going to the museum so he could give me a tour and information while in there. It was actually very educational and helpful. I’m going to start downloading more of his podcasts. He analyzed the David and gave me a better understanding of what I was looking at. My friends saw a Michaelangelo statue while I felt like I was looking at a masterpiece. Rick Steve told me to look at specific things on David that I would have easily glanced over. For example, he explained how in 1501 Michaelangelo, a Florentine, was set to carve a large-scale work for the roof of Duomo. The story of David comes from a bible story about the victory over Goliath. There is much debate if this sculpture shows David before or after his victory. If you take a close look at David’s right hand it’s over developed. This was supposed to represent how he had the hand of man powered by the strength of God. Also, his left arm is chipped from a man who tried to destroy David during a riot. David use to stand outside in front of the city hall but was placed inside after the riot. Today, there’s a replica of the David outside the city hall where the real David once stood. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in this museum, but you can see professional pictures of David by Googling him.
I also went to the Uffizi Gallery, which was full of old paintings and I saw the Portrait of a Young Man there. I instantly recognized the painting because I read Portrait of a Young Man, by James Joyce my junior year of high school. It’s my all-time favorite book. Walking around the art museum was very cool. I have a much greater appreciation for art now that I’m older. I use to hate going to art museums because I never understood the point of them. I could look at a painting for a couple of seconds and then move on. Now, I could stand in front of some paintings for a solid five minutes analyzing the paint colors that were used, symmetry or asymmetry, placement of people, details, and shadows, etc. It was mind boggling that I was viewing some of the oldest works in the western world. It’s home to world-renown pieces created by Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Titian, Sandro Botticelli, and Giotto (to name a few).
January 31, 2011: Prague
I traveled to Prague with 29/32 people on my program. I didn’t really know much about Prague before going except that some fairy tails were based in Prague. I also thought it was the only city not bombed during World War II. We took a taxi from the airport to our hostel. On the way to the hostel we drove through windy roads. I felt like I was in a movie. The houses were set back high in the hills and the city was lit up in the horizon. The houses were enormous and reminded me of English-style houses, much like in the movie, The Holiday. I instantly fell in love with Prague after our short drive to the hostel.
I felt like I was in a foreign country. The language was completely different than anything I’ve ever been exposed to. The architecture, food, money, and overall culture was very different than Italy. It’s much smaller and less congested. I wasn’t constantly checking my back to make sure a taxi wasn’t going to run me over. They don’t use Euros in Prague, either. They use Crowns.
The next morning we went on a three-hour walking tour of Prague. Our tour guide was a stitch. He was very enthusiastic and made the tour worthwhile. He said it was the coldest tour he’d ever given, but he was so engaging that at points I forgot about the weather. Some interesting facts we learned on the tour:
a) Prague was bombed during the last weeks of WWII.
b) Before putting numbers on the outside of buildings different statues distinguished houses & buildings.
c) There is a Hugo Boss store in the Jewish ghetto. Hugo Boss made the soviets uniforms.
d) The buildings in the Jewish Ghetto were once occupied by Jewish families who were moved to concentration camps. The apartments were not destroyed because Hitler wanted to preserve each house so it could later be turned into a museum to showcase an extinct specie: Jews. (Sickening…).
e) There are so many churches in Prague that some of them have been turned into bed and breakfasts’, bars, and restaurants. Statues were placed in front of every building serving as addresses.
f) A homeless person allegedly broke into St. James church and tried to steal a gold necklace off Mary. The story goes that as the robber reached out to grab the necklace Mary came to life and grabbed his arm like the tour guide is grabbing mine. Mary froze once grabbing the robber’s arm and he was locked in the position that I’m standing in. When the priests found this robber they chopped his arm off and when he fell to the floor (the story goes that) Mary released the rest of his arm that was in her hand. The arm that Mary dropped now remains in the church and hangs above the door to scare away future robbers. I went in a saw it. The church was very dark because the lights were turned off but you could see the hanging limb illuminated next to a tiny window.