Flavia Argamasilla: Italia as Text 2022

Flavia Argamasilla is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Pre-Law Skills. She was born in Havana, Cuba, but has called Miami home since she was six years old. After graduating, she plans on furthering her education by attending law school.

Roma as Text

“A Beginning and an End” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Roma on May 15, 2022

Back when we were in Miami preparing for our Rome study abroad trip by firstly exploring all the historical sites and looking out for the things that make the city we call home unique, Professor Bailly specifically pointed out that we had to draw inspiration from the history of the land and how it affects us today to truly see how there’s no place in the world like Miami. Well, that may be true, but it’s also true that there’s no place in the world like Rome either.

There is, in fact, some specific structures that sparked my interest that I’d like to hone in on. Imagine, we wake up in the morning and after a short, two-minute walk (at Bailly speed), we have a breathtaking view of the ancient Roman ‘Aurelian walls’, including Porta Maggiore, which played a very significant role in Roman civilization during its time. This structure alone can tell us worlds about what was happening in history, if we’re willing to listen. What type of city needs walls for protection? A weak one.

Porta Maggiore was the grand entrance to a city surrounded by walls for protection against raids and other civilizations’ schemes and plots. Sadly, in Porta Maggiore we not only see what was once a booming city capable of building enormous structures with concrete and travertine, and a population that surpassed a million, but we also see Rome’s slow fall from grace when it started becoming weaker and needed walls to maintain its stability. When I thought of Rome before coming here, I always romanticized how great and mighty of a civilization it must have been at its peak, with its modern advances in construction, politics, and social customs. I never stopped and thought, “wait… what was Rome like right before it fell?” Porta Maggiore offers insight into this very question.

Ancient Roman aqueduct and Porta Maggiore. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Another structure that does that job is the ancient Roman aqueducts by the Italian countryside. After long hours of bike riding up and down ancient roads, and a couple of bike chain mishaps, we made it to a tranquil resting place right under the aqueducts. At first I wasn’t sure what they were used for, but as our lecture went on, I realized that these aqueducts are similar in meaning to Porta Maggiore. They show strength, in what Rome was capable of at its peak, a system for clean water for their entire population. However, it also displays the very end of Rome, as the barbarians managed to defeat Rome by breaking off the aqueducts, forcing Rome to surrender at around 537 AD. If there’s any clear message beaming through in all of the sights we’ve seen, it’s that all good things must come to an end. Rome was massive and powerful, until it was not. Doesn’t it kind of make you think about todays civilizations? And where their futures might lie?

Pompeii as Text

“A Modern 2,000 Year Old City” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Pompeii on May 16, 2022

The ruins of Pompeii showcase the tale of a magnificent city forced to freeze its snowballing progress in time forever. Mostly preserved thanks to the ash and stone that fell on it after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, we can see a city reaching a peak of technological advancement and ingenuity. Pompeii is a prime example of how Rome is still, to this day, all around us. Rome is embedded so deeply into who we are, that we don’t even notice anymore.

The advancements that took the ‘modern’ world years to create and adapt were commonplace to Pompeiians 2,000 years ago. Roads that helped you see at at night by having reflectors on the ground are an invention that changed the way we drive at night, especially on highways. They play a pivotal role in preventing accidents on the road. Clearly, Pompeii also saw their value early on. The holes on the sidewalk to tie your donkey while you grabbed a quick snack at a bar are basically the equivalent of our parking lots.

A terracotta bowl for maintaining food temperature; a Pompeiian mansion; a street in Pompeii. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Don’t even get me started on Pompeii’s system of avenues and streets. The avenues run from North to South and the streets run from East to West, seem familiar? The toilets on the first and second floors of homes and shops, plumbing systems throughout the streets, their terracotta food heating bowls, and even the street that resembled a mall all mark the earliest of beginnings to every convention we enjoy now in the modern world. Furthermore, in terms of social commodities, Pompeii was more ahead than anyone else during its time. They had the equivalent of street signs on the floor that would point men to the nearest brothels, where women were never shamed for their craft. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from Pompeii. In many ways, it is still the city of the future.

Tívoli as Text

“The Complexities of Love in Roman Times” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Tívoli on May 13, 2022

There’s definitely more than meets the eye when touring Hadrian’s Villa. The Roman emperor built his huge retreat in Tívoli as an escape to be among nature, where he could relax and enjoy his time. He built it over the foundation of what was originally a pre-existing villa belonging to his wife, Vibia Sabina. The halls and columns scream of Roman riches. Hadrian had baths, stages for entertainment, tunnels for his guards, and a private oasis with a moat and drawbridge. However, what was more fascinating altogether was the love story that we saw play out in Hadrian’s Villa- one for the books. Hadrian was, in fact, married, but as we all know, in Rome, many marriages were negotiations and political schemes.

Hadrian’s marriage to his wife was more of a business deal than it was love. We see that in his wife’s written recollections of daily life, she never seem bothered about her husbands escapades with others, particularly with who I’d say was the love of his life, Antonius. When Antonius died, Hadrian spent the rest of his life mourning him. He built statues upon statues of his deceased lover, making sure he would be reminded of their cherished memories together as he roamed through his villa. He even went as far as to declare him a god, although the Roman people were not too fond of the idea of such a common man becoming a god. Hadrian’s blatant public disregard of his marriage and his marital obligations to his wife is something we do not often see in history.

All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The dynamics of marriage and infidelity were much different in Roman times. You could easily get away with ‘cheating’ on your spouse, as long as it was with someone below your own social class. It’s an interesting concept, that of how and where the line was drawn when it came to extramarital relationships. Perhaps it was because the lower classes weren’t seen as valid threats to the establishment that is a marriage, they were just side ‘entertainment.’ However, Antonius was clearly much more than entertainment in Hadrian’s eyes. Walking through his villa, seeing statue after statue, you can almost feel the emptiness Hadrian felt now that his lover was no longer with him. It’s mind-blowing that a structure that so vividly celebrates infidelity, with Antonius statues and all, was built that far back into history- 117 A.D. There was nothing secretive about the infidelity here. Nowadays we could never see our world leaders build something like this for their extramarital lovers, especially in the United States. The way we view marriage has changed drastically through the years, and Hadrian’s Villa is proof in 4K.

Author: Flavia Argamasilla

Flavia Argamasilla is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Pre-Law Skills. She was born in Havana, Cuba, but has called Miami home since she was six years old. After graduating, she plans on furthering her education by attending law school.

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