When I woke up on the final day of touring, it immediately hit me that we were going to be leaving Italy and heading home soon. This thought brought sadness to be leaving such a beautiful place and saying goodbye to so many wonderful people but also brought happiness that I would be seeing my family soon. Our day started out with a walking tour of Rome, and this tour brought into focus that same reflection of opposites. “Rome is a little bit of a complicated city,” said our tour guide as we stood below an ancient Roman wall. Someone pointed out the caper bushes growing out of the cracks in the wall. These plants are at the same time beautiful and symbolic of life, and destructive to the integrity of the ancient wall. We walked through the historic center of Rome and examined the small details of newer buildings using recycled ancient building materials. We noticed many more stumbling stones on our path – small, shiny brass tributes to individual tragedies of the Holocaust. We also viewed many grand Renaissance buildings such as the Palazzo della Cancelleria and the Palazzo Farnese, which is now the location of the French Embassy. Standing in the Piazza Farnese, we saw two fountains with ancient stone basins that were recycled from Roman baths from the 2nd or 3rd century, one of the best examples of a Renaissance palace built in the 16th century, and a 21st century art exhibit: a trompe l’oeil installation that beautifully covers the scaffolding used for renovations. So many layers of history, so much ruin, repurposing and renovation, and memorials from the tiny stumbling stones to the enormous monuments are seen here in Rome!
Contrasts of a “complicated city” were no clearer than in Campo de’ Fiori. We learned about the dark history of the square called “field of flowers” – the burning of the Talmud (for which there is a small brass plaque on the ground that is similar to the stumbling stones) and the execution of the free-thinking monk Giordano Bruno by burning at the stake. Being present in the square, we saw colorful displays of flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables and souvenirs under the shadow of the ominous-looking statue of Bruno. While we rested our feet and took a break from the sun in the Campo de’ Fiori, Paul spoke for a while about the history of the square and idea of history versus memory: What do we see looking through the lens of critical history versus through the lens of memory? How do they differ and where do they intersect? How can we think about memory as a way to personally connect to history? As a teacher of Roman history, I am interested in reading more about these ideas and finding ways to apply them in my classroom.
Afterwards, we experienced the magnitude and architectural marvel of the Pantheon, both inside and outside before dividing into two groups. My group raced to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before coming together for our final (delicious) Italian lunch. Our final day of touring ended in Vatican City and the incredible Vatican Museum. The monumental scale of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum’s collection of art and artifacts is difficult to understand until you see them in person!
Finally, we had one last group meeting and enjoyed a farewell dinner in the garden of our hotel. Great food and great company in an unbelievably beautiful city and country is where we said good-bye for now!