Maria Carla Robaina: Italia as Text 2019

By Maria Carla Robaina of FIU

Tivoli as Text

Maritime Theatre in Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

Located in the small town of Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa is any architect’s dream. Incorporating architectural styles from all around the world, this construction from the 2nd century A.D. takes the best of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and creates a classical city that spans 200 acres. One of the most captivating buildings in the property is the Maritime Theatre. This structure consists of a round central porch supported by numerous ionic columns, and surrounded by a circumcentric pool, creating a perfectly balanced,  Greek-inspired retreat. The combination of land and water is evident throughout the historical landmark property but it is never as purposeful as it is in the Maritime Theatre. Water mixes with land to create an isolated space in the midst of all the chaos, much like the villa itself separates Hadrian from the city of Rome. The Maritime Theatre can then be thought of as an oasis within an oasis, only accessible by two wooden drawbridges that when closed, disconnect its occupant(s) from the outside world. As a Spanish-born emperor, Hadrian often felt out of place in Rome, which would explain his thirst for isolation, and the thought process behind the architectural features of both the villa and the theatre. Furthermore, governing an empire like Rome, with more than 1 million inhabitants, was a challenging feat. So, in a sense, the villa was a sacred ground for the emperor to go and relax while observing his empire from above. The Maritime Theatre then was an even more intimate experience, which provides an air of spirituality. Its circular pattern mimics that of the Pantheon (an all-inclusive religious ground) which Hadrian redesigned after its destruction. Considering this then, it’s easy to see why the circle would be the chosen shape for both the Pantheon and the Maritime Theatre. The circle symbolizes wholeness, perfection, and the cyclic nature of the universe, all of which resonate with Hadrian’s own beliefs of religious acceptance, and self exploration.

Rome as Text

The Pantheon

Rome is flooded with narrow streets and alleys; crowded with passionate tourists in search of the next cultural adventure. I was one of them, and walking through Via Giustiniani, I had no idea what was coming. Then I saw it. I felt its immenseness take over me. So majestic, so imposing, that you both fear and feel pulled in by it: the Pantheon. Rebuilt in 118 CE by the emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon was created to serve as an inclusive religious ground at a time when the Romans were worshipping non-Roman Gods. While Hadrian was a well travelled and culturally aware intellectual, the need to unify Rome was the motive behind the Pantheon’s design, rather than mere religious consciousness. Rome had a lot of immigration, so it would have been difficult to unify all Romans under one, or a select group of Gods. It was much easier then, to make them feel secure in their faith by allowing all kinds of worship. The Pantheon provided the perfect platform for that, and ensured public support. This idea is evident in its classical Roman design, which features and immense portico, supported by massive, solid marble Corinthian columns, and followed by the circular interior called the rotunda, which contains representations of different Gods. The circle is a perfect shape that represents the idea of wholeness, and inclusiveness which mirrors Hadrian’s intention. It is also present in the oculus, which is an opening right in the middle of the Pantheon meant to take down any barriers that may sit between us mortals and the heavens, thereby enhancing the religious experience. It is truly magical to see the sunlight shining from the oculus onto the marble interior, creating a thread of energy that connects us to the divine. That is the magic of the Pantheon. Sure it was a political move, but it represents a shift in the history of Rome and the world, a transition into religious freedom. The concept of the Pantheon is one that should be copied in today’s world. As a whole, we need to become more accepting of everyone’s beliefs in order to preserve peace. Maybe that’s why I was so touched by the Pantheon; it is architecturally divine, and an embodiment of human unison, as if the whole world stood as one, under the light of the oculus.

Pompei as Text

“The stiff tell stories too”

Once there were 20,000,

then there were none.

Seventeen thousand fled to live

Three thousand fled with the smoke.

This is Pompei, a once anonymous city now infamous thanks to tragedy, and the whole world seems to oblige. People from all nations come to witness with their eyes what many tales have lead the young and old to cry. Ashy figures look alive, no longer human, but their humanity is still intact, and very present throughout the town. The stiff tell stories about themselves. They tell us how they lived and how they died. So we, in our shared humanity, get transported to their time. We see their streets, their bakeries, with the ovens that are still used in Italian pizzerias to this day. We see their brothels, and their restaurants. We see their pain in the stiff faces of the dead. We see the fear that hunted them ‘till their last breath. We look around, and we see that we’re all just the same. And we feel the connection. To many, it’s just another city with ruins. To the observant, it’s the story of life itself. We’re born into this world without any expectations. Then we grow, and we build things of our own, we create a community, and we are part of something greater than ourselves. We become more social as time passes by, and collectively, we progress. Some rich, some poor, some women, some men. We have kids of our own to love and protect. And then of course, there’s the unexpected end. The stiff lived just like we did. They went hungry, and thirsty, and had our same needs. They worked, and talked, and loved, and feared in the same way we would have feared the deadly showers. So here’s what I would tell tourists: take it all in, because one day, none of us will be here, just like they aren’t. But at least their city remains, so they have something to be remembered for: a legacy. We better make sure we all have something then.



Pisa as Text

“The Leaning Tower”

by Maria Carla Robaina of FIU at Pisa

  When something important happens in my life (be it seemingly good or bad) I try to evaluate it carefully so I don’t miss a thing. And even then, I can never truly predict what kind of impact ir will have. Truth is, it is impossible to tell with certainty what will happen next, but I am certain that what happens today will affect our tomorrow. As I play with this idea my mind wanders back to Pisa. As odd as it sounds, everything connects.

   Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa is a unique place to visit. There is a beautiful cathedral, along with a baptistry, a cemetery, and of course a bell tower, all built in Pisan-Romanesque style. The bell tower is know around the world as the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”, and many tourists (myself included) are oblivious to the fact that it’s part of this four-structure religious design. The tower is famous because it leans without completely crumbling to the ground, something that seems like an almost impossible architectural feat. However, the true challenge was making it straight. The foundation stones were laid in 1173, and soon after the third (out of the eight stories that it has) was finished, the builders began to notice that the weak foundation was causing the tower to fall on one side. As a result, the focus turned to making sure it didn’t fall all the way, and the next stories were made uneven (smaller on the short side) to compensate for the initial error. It is speculated that its architect was Bonanno Pisano, and as any serious architect, a mistake of this magnitude would not be something to be proud of. So initially, I can see how it would be negative to have a tower that leans. However, we can never tell how things are going to turn out, which is why the most amazing outcomes can emerge from negative experiences, and vice versa. The leaning tower made Pisa what it is today, a vigorous city that awaits tourists with open arms, and without it, Pisa would just be another forgotten small Italian town that only truly adventurous and curious tourists care to visit. Every action has a reaction, we just don’t know what it will be. The leaning tower of pisa would not be a tourist destination if it was not leaning, and it would not bring money into the city, and make it world famous. At the same time, the tower would not even be standing if it weren’t for all the interruptions that slowed down the building process such as war, debt, and the obvious engineering feat of attempting to put an end to its progressive descent. So ultimately, we are able to enjoy its beauty today thanks to a mistake of the past. Personally, this teaches me a vital lesson: patience. Only time can tell what’s next, and in the meantime, we should all learn to enjoy the ride, the view, and trust our individual journey.

Firenze as Text

Ceiling of Baptistery of San Giovanni

The renaissance was born in Florence, and the city will forever be its proud home. As such, there is evidence of the renaissance in almost every corner, with many statues featuring contrapposto, and an exquisite level of compositional, and humanistic complexity. However, walking through Florence one can see both the gothic and the renaissance era merge, and it is truly an enlightening experience to see the smooth and swift transition from medieval gothic to high renaissance art. The most shocking example, at least in my opinion, can be found in the Baptistery of San Giovanni. As one of Florence’s most important religious buildings, it is no surprise that it would be the home of some of the most important religious artwork of its time, and a melting pot of artistic movements. The interior of the baptistery is undeniably gothic in nature. The high ceiling is decorated with religious images, some of which include a fear-inspiring, unapologetically condescending God that’s looking down on you with judging, warning eyes, and the image of the devil himself, a three-headed monster ready to devour sinners in the afterlife. These two images are a trademark of the gothic era, a period when the church maintained power by feeding off people’s fear of eternal damnation. Contrasting this, the baptistery is also the original home of the “Doors of Paradise” by Ghiberti, which mark the beginning of the renaissance. The three doors of the baptistery were originally right there, and now there are replicas in their place. The first set of doors is from the 1330s by Andrea Pisano, and while a great work of art by themselves, they fall short relative to Ghiberti’s second and third sets which were finished in 1424 and 1452 respectively. It is a truly unique experience to see the artistic progression in time, and from one person to another. Ghiberti’s doors are far more complex than Andrea Pisano’s set, and this transition occurred in less than 100 years. What’s even more jaw dropping is Ghiberti’s evolution into a renaissance master when we compare the second and third sets of doors. In fact, I had a hard time believing they were made by the same person in the span of 50 years. The doors are so majestic that Michelangelo himself nicknamed them the “Doors of Paradise”, and there’s no doubt that the gilded panels of intricate miniature relieve sculptures deserve the praise. Therefore, the Baptistery of San Giovanni is without a doubt a melting pot of medieval gothic and renaissance art, highlighting the transition from one into the other, and featuring both the terrifying God in its interior, and the more humanistic God on the Doors of Paradise.

Cinque Terre as Text

Cinque Terre white wine

      Cinque Terre: Cinco Tierras, Five Lands, four culinary specialties, one heart. On a physical level, the five towns of Cinque Terre are connected by hiking trails and train tracks, making it immensely difficult to travel by car from one to the next. Each of them has something special to offer: Vernazza has amazing seafood since it’s a fishing town; Monterosso has the best beaches, etc. The one common thread is deeply rooted in the traditional gastronomy of the area. The four specialties include lemons, seafood, pesto, and of course white one. The latter is especially interesting in my opinion, not only because of its distinct flavor but because of the ingenuity involved in its cultivation.

Terraces in the mountains

During our class hike through the 4 trails that connect the towns we passed by built-in terraces in the mountains. First of all, I was amazed when I learned that people actually farm up in the mountains because of the difficulties that they encounter. For instance, they have less workers since less people are willing to work in such secluded areas, and harsh conditions. Also, they can’t exploit the help of farm animals because the surface is not flat.  Despite this, their best efforts work, and they are able to cultivate grapes for white wine. This kind of labor shows dedication, hard work, and love for the land, and that is something that the people in the five towns share. Making delicious white wine is a difficult task but if there is one thing I noticed in my visit to Cinque Terre is that they take pride in doing something difficult to create unique, local, high quality product. This in turn reflects their small town dynamics, and good heart.

Venezia as Text


After traveling through Italia for three weeks, going into Venezia felt like going from Rome into the Vatican, and stepping into a new country. Venezia can definitely stand on its own both structurally and culturally. Because of this, there were many instances when I couldn’t help but notice that in more ways than one, Venice is not only incredibly remarkable, but also incredibly similar to our hometown: Miami. Yes, their origins were different, and Venezia’s construction is something unmatched in the entire world, however, the idea behind Venezia and Miami is the same. They both provide an escape, a sort of cultural safe haven for persecuted migrants. Venezia was created for this sole purpose since the mainland was attacked by barbarians, and locals decided to push down pine trees into the water after realizing that they harden into rock-like structures that created the foundation from which Venezia emerged. The barbarians lacked knowledge of navigation, and ships, which made them unable to chase their victims all the way to this new city on water. As a result, Venezia became a safe ground, and they made sure to continue to be that in many ways. Home to the outcasts, Venezia has a great reputation for being accepting of foreign people and foreign ideals, thereby transforming into a cultural melting pot much like Miami is today. With the number of people that are being persecuted around the world for political or religious reasons, and their constant immigration into the United States, Miami has become one of the top destinations to build a new life in. This is due to our welcoming nature, so that immigrants never feel left out (or at least not as much as they would in other parts of the country), and feel more represented or at least accepted. The fact that Miamians are constantly exposed to all sorts of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, races, sexual orientations, religious, and beliefs makes us fitted to receive newcomers with arms wide open, and integrate them as functioning members of our society. Oh, and did I mention both cities are next to the water?

Italia as Text 2019
Italia as Text
Miami as Text
Italy Study Abroad

Author: miamiastext

Admin Account for Miami in Miami

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