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.

Statues and columns in Hadrien’s Villa. 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.

Firenze as Text

“We Built This City on Art and Sculptures” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Florence on May 25, 2022

Rarely do we see families in history as influential as the Florentine Medicis. They managed to work their way up from originally being commoners, to ending up with lavish office buildings, their own private chapel, and loads of works of art. It would certainly not be an exaggeration to say that the Medici family was the reason Florence became a hotspot for art and culture that would eventually lead to the renaissance.

Florence is defined by its art, with artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, and Vasari all living within its walls at one point. The city represents the very beginning of looking at the world around us and interpreting it in different mediums. Painting and sculpting were two of the most popular methods of capturing and displaying the essence of life at the time. The Medici family sponsored so many works of art and architecture, that they are largely to blame for the majority of art during their reign. It’s mind-blowing to think about how a single family managed to take over Florence and beyond in political, religious, and artistic ways, all starting with the creation of a banking system.

Art made for the private Medici Chapel. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Cosimo the father started the Medici bank in the late 1300s, and marked the very start of the family’s incredible power. The banking system made it so easy to buy goods that even the Papal States started using it. The handlers of everyone’s money became the Medicis. All the newfound ease of moving money around and regularly buying items grew the Medici wealth and significantly contributed to Florence’s renaissance rise.

Furthermore, Cosimo’s successor, Lorenzo de Medici had an eye for spotting talent. He took in Michelangelo like a brother, and housed and supported him through his funding of his art. Imagine if Michelangelo was never supported financially to be able to work on all his art… His magnificent contributions to the world of art and sculpture and his tremendous impact on the renaissance would never have developed fully. Plainly, we have the Medicis to thank for the renaissance and all the enlightenment that came along with it, both artistically and religiously.

Siena as Text

“A Little Healthy Competition” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Siena on May 27, 2022

Throughout human history, we have seen that time after time, competition drives innovation forward, and sparks new beginnings. As you walk through Siena, you are reminded of not just everything that makes the city unique, but everything that would not exist if not for their constant rivalry with the nearest booming city of Florence. Worldwide, Florence is known as the city that birthed the renaissance and continued to add fuel to the artistic, economic, and cultural fires that were burning at the time. After all, the Medici family, who were the ones that contributed greatly to the renaissance, were centered in Florence.

Yet, Siena had contributions to humanity of its own during the renaissance too. It was one of the cities on the pilgrim’s route, seeing millions of people come and go. Eventually, it led to the early beginnings of what banking looks like today; pilgrims traveling with very little would deposit their money in Paris and once they made it to Siena, they could withdraw. It’s hard to ignore the financial and economic impacts Siena had on Europe during the renaissance.

Furthermore, it does have amazing art and sculptures that often go unnoticed, with people instead looking solely to Florence for high renaissance art. One of the most detailed, beautiful, and well-made stained glass windows in the world called a Siena church ‘home’ for years. I am referring to the stained glass originally found in the apse of the Siena duomo. It was Siena’s very own Duccio who worked on this masterpiece, now considered one of the most important works of his life, and in all of Italy.

The Siena Cathedral and Duccio’s stained glass window. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The main focus of this work of art is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Duccio used his creative means and his talent to serve religious purposes, telling three stories from her life through the stained glass: the Burial, Assumption, and Coronation. On top of this, he portrays the four patron saints of Siena and the four Evangelists in his glasswork. With this in mind, it highlights what the renaissance is: humans making art, religion, and culture come together, meshing and clashing them in every chaotic way possible. A prime example of this is in the Siena duomo, where religious symbols clash and juxtapose each other at every turn. The sheer ornate nature of the church makes it difficult to focus on just item at a time, a staple of renaissance works.

All these works tell a lot about the impact Siena had during the renaissance. It expanded human capacity, as well as encouraged Florence forward through their rivalry. If a strong rivalry between both cities contributed to works of art such as the stained glass in the Siena duomo, then it’s nothing more than a little healthy competition helping to move art and culture forward during some of the most enlightened years of human history and development.

Cinque Terre as Text

“A Joyful Mesh of Agriculture and Tourism” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Cinque Terre on June 2, 2022

It is obvious that Cinque Terre is breathtakingly beautiful, with its simple, pastel-colored buildings paired with jungle green window shutters, its deep blue ocean waves hitting the rugged rocks below, and the endless gelato and quick food spots. Yet, there is more than meets the eye in these five UNESCO world heritage site villages. The farming and agricultural work that occurs behind the tourist scene is significantly tied to the villages’ self-worth and meaning. The trails that we hiked to see these five mesmerizing villages wind up and down, taking you around Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each village is unique, but what brings them together is the work that is done at a local level by those who live in the very town. The only challenge in Cinque Terre is blending the farming work with the tourism industry. As it seems, they have done it seamlessly. Tourists can stop by the small grocery stores along their way to the villages and buy some lemons, or some ‘nespole’, which I thought were apricots at first, but are actually a different fruit, native to Cinque Terre.

Farming land in Cinque Terre’s Vernazza and Manarola. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The foods, wines, and fruits are unique to the area, and shine through as the real identity of Cinque Terre. It is not the beaches, or the colorful views that define Cinque Terre, but rather the products of its land, like the ‘nespole’, wine, and lemons that are unique to them. Cinque Terre has found the perfect balance between work and play, agriculture and tourism. It invites you take a deeper look at what your favorite views really are, because the most beautiful sights are those that represent the hard work that goes on in the villages where the tourists are not around.

Venezia as Text

“A City for Dreams” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Venice on June 5, 2022

Venice is in many ways a wondrous city. As I walked the busy streets and turned through the countless alleys, I would find myself in random dead ends, and looking out onto what seemed like a different part of the city every time. I thought to myself, “how is it possible that someplace so small can house so many vastly different neighborhoods… and structures… and churches… and people, all at once?” Then it hit me. Venice is a city where anything is possible, from building a massive basilica on wood and Istrian stone, to losing a dead body during the construction of said basilica. The basilica I’m referring to is San Marco’s, which has much more history to it than I could ever cover in one sitting. What did stand out to me during our time in Venice was how anything is possible here.

The wonders of Venice. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

A prime example of this sense of possibility is Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, otherwise known as the first woman in the entire world to achieve graduation from university on June 25, 1678. To state the obvious, I was starstruck by the plate honoring this woman. How could I not feel connected to Elena, when I am a woman in university, so close to achieving graduation and we are visiting Venice so close to the anniversary of her graduation? It is simply inspiring, and quite frankly, fitting, that this city, one full of wonder and diversity, was the home of the first woman who ever achieved this milestone. Walking these streets reminds me of home in Miami, not just because of the humidity, but because of that feeling of endless opportunity and possibilities that carries you through the city’s sites, taking it all in, capitalism, hedonism, multiculturalism and all.

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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