Nathalie Herrera: Italia as Text 2022

Nathalie Herrera is a senior at Florida International University studying Chemistry, Natural and Applied Sciences, and Biology. She plans on pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant in order to treat others and improve their quality of life. With a growing passion for the sciences, she would also like to expand her knowledge about the arts and cultures from around the world through travel. The Italia Grand Tour is a once in a lifetime opportunity for her to become immersed in a new environment.

Roma as Text

The Cultural and Religious Shifts from Ancient Rome to Christian Rome

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Roma

Rome is a juxtaposing city of modern and ancient. Side by side there are the ancient ruins of what life was like 2000 years ago and the new buildings of modern times. It shows us how time changes all aspects of life, and how we can build new things while still recognizing the old. For example, around any random street corner you can find a grandiose monument so casually amongst apartment buildings and restaurants.

Similar to these architectural differences, Rome highlights the cultural and religious distinctions that have arisen over time. Rome was a relatively very free empire. Its people were very liberal in the way that sexuality was something to be admired instead of shamed. Temples like the Pantheon were made to worship several gods such as Venus, the goddess of love and fertility. The pagans let people worship any gods they wanted — however, they still had to worship Roman gods in addition to this.

Over time, as Christianity rose and the empire collapsed, there seemed to be a regression in these ideals. Rome became more conservative and less free. Catholic Churches were built for one god only. Women were not celebrated as much as before. This shift implies a digression from the celebration of worldly pleasures.

However, one sculpture that combines the promiscuous influences of Ancient Rome with Christian ideas is Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa statue. This statue shows the spiritual and sexual pleasures that Teresa experiences with a divine apparition. Such a sculpture is almost unheard of during the Christian times due to its licentious nature. Ancient Rome and Christian Rome have such stark contrasts, but Bernini does an amazing job at combining the influences of both.

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Pompeii as Text

What Happens in Pompeii Stays in Pompeii

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Pompeii

Pompeii was a bustling city thousands of years ago before it’s tragic destruction. After being rediscovered and officially excavated starting from the 1700s until present day, its preserved ruins give insight into the day-to-day life of its people before disaster struck. Pompeii was a center for commercial, political, and religious reasons. There were stores to shop in, temples to worship in, and halls to host Senate meetings in during the Roman Republic. Amidst all of this, the infrastructure was very ahead of its time. Most notable was their ability to transfer water. The Pompeiians built a system of lead pipes which would transfer water around the city to different homes, shops, and public fountains. In this way, there was a more efficient transfer of clean drinking water to the whole population as compared to the previous practice of collecting rainwater through the roofs into basins. If a problem arose, the last pipe system standing would be that of the public fountains.

I find it interesting to see how this type of infrastructure is still used today, and in some cases even worse than in ancient times. Access to clean drinking water is a big concern for millions around the world as local water sources are severely polluted or “owned” by large corporations that do not allow locals to drink from them. For example, in Flint, Michigan, the running water is undrinkable; however, Nestle is bottling water from a very nearby source and selling it back to residents, creating an endless cycle of dependency for the citizens. I believe it is essential to take a look back in time at how the government of Pompeii recognized the needs of their people before their wealth.

One could say Ancient Rome was ahead of its time in many more aspects, such as sexuality — specifically female sexuality. In this day and age, female sexuality is a very taboo subject matter. People rarely recognize or talk about female pleasures and tend to look down upon these ideas. However, in Pompeii, these matters were completely normal and even celebrated. Phallic symbols carved into stone led the way to brothels that lined the city streets. Women known as “she wolves” would howl at men during the night to invite them into the lupanar, where frescoes on the walls depicted the acts of sex the men could pay for.

Additionally, the Villa dei Misteri tells the story of a woman being initiated into the cult of Dionysus (which is basically a sex cult). Today, such an image could be perceived as crude and vulgar, or as an exploitation of women. However, from another standpoint we could see it as the progression of a girl into her womanhood. The fresco takes us on a journey of a girl who faces challenges and fear during her initiation, yet she prevails and finds confidence and strength with her sexuality, not shame. I find this to be a beautiful example of how girls should not be ashamed of their bodies as our current society suggests, but rather proud of who we are.

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Assisi and Tivoli as Text

“God or Greenery”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU at Tivoli and Assisi

In Italian history, there are many shifts of focus from the natural world to the spiritual world and back. For example, Ancient Rome had a big emphasis on the natural world. They would appreciate worldly pleasures and inspire innovation in technology and new inventions. After Christianity is legalized and becomes widespread, the focus changes from this world to the spiritual world. Grandiose gothic churches are built to make people feel closer to God and heaven. Art is heavily inspired by stories of the Bible. Once the renaissance occurs, these ideals shift back to a more humanistic and natural approach. The towns of Tivoli and Assisi encapsulate these stark differences in ideology that exist between time periods.

Tivoli is a beautiful town in the outskirts of Rome. It presents a very distinct contrast from the ancient ruins seen all over Rome less than 20 miles away. The town looks like a landscape straight out of a dream. From Villa d’Este to Hadrian’s villa to the valley of hell, this town presents the beauty of the natural world. Hadrian’s Villa is home to many statues of Hadrian’s lover, Antinous. These sculptures show the immense love and passion between the two companions in this natural world. Not too far from the villa we took a hike down into the valley of hell, but it was the complete opposite of a fiery inferno. The greenery and waterfalls were a spectacular view to witness. 

On the other hand, Assisi is a beautiful town that focuses more on the spiritual realm. A gothic town, Assisi is home to several important Franciscan churches and is actually where Saint Frances is from. The patron Saint of Italy, Frances abandoned all worldly possessions. His only focus was on God and all of His creatures— which included animals as well. He would give away any gifts he received to others and only wore a tunic and rope. Today, several Franciscan churches stand in Assisi venerating him; monks still wear the same attire as him as well. 

Being able to see this complete 180 in ideologies is jaw dropping, but it begs the question: are we currently in an era of spiritual or natural focus? Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Pertaining to the natural focus, we have become more aware of our effects on this Earth as fossil fuels, pollution, and climate change threaten our future. In addition, people are more liberal in that sexuality has become much less taboo than in the past decades and centuries. However, people still place a big emphasis on their God(s) and the spiritual realm and use these ideals to dictate their actions. For example, some Christians in the United States fight for the overturning of Roe v. Wade because it is against their religion. Neither focus is better or worse than the other, but they both give great insight into what people find important at any given moment in time.

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Firenze as Text

“Renaissance in Pop Culture”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Firenze

Florence has been a cultural hub for centuries. The renaissance began in this city, and changed the course of art, science, and more for years to come. Meaning the rebirth, this movement started in 1401 as the medieval ages were coming to an end and people were shifting their focus away from the spiritual realm to more worldly influences like in classical times. Beginning with the famous feud between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, there was a competition to see who could design the baptistery doors. A key difference between the renaissance and gothic art is the presence (or absence thereof) of linear perspective. Ghiberti’s doors were revolutionary in that he was able to convey such depth in the doors. 

Other prominent artistic figures of the time include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Raphael. They produced world famous sculptures and paintings such as the 17-foot tall “David” and the “Primavera.” The renaissance had so much of an impact on the world that people flock to Firenze just to witness these masterpieces with their own eyes. Not only that, but the era has influenced our modern pop culture. Elements of the renaissance are seen everywhere you go. For example, Rosalia’s 2022 Motomami album cover shows her completely nude except that she is covering herself with her hands. The pose and implications are very similar to that of the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. 

The artwork as well as political and religious figures have impacted pop culture. Savonarola was a religious zealot who led a religious revival in Firenze. He rejected worldly possessions and outwardly opposed the grandeur and wealth of Florence and the Medici’s. He went so far as to begin a fire known as the Bonfire of Vanities where people would burn their worldly possessions, either in agreement or out of fear. When hearing of his actions and mindset, I instantly thought of the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones, a religious cult leader and main antagonist. Much like Savonarola, he empathized with the lower classes and was against the ruling class. He rejected worldly pleasures and used fear to keep his followers and others in check. Ironically, both had a fiery death as well. 

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Siena as Text

“Racing Through Time”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Siena

          Siena is a medieval town, with elements of the renaissance, stuck in time. Its buildings are almost all made of stone and brick, giving it a uniquely cohesive look. From above, you can see the beautiful “burnt Siena” city (which is where the name of the color comes from). In medieval times, the city was prospering. Pilgrims would pass through on their pilgrimage route. It was rivaling even Florence and Rome. After being struck by the Black Plague, 75% of its population had been decimated. Unfortunately, it never reached the same level of power and authority again. However, the city has kept many of its traditions alive for hundreds of years despite these setbacks. 

          One such tradition is The Palio, which has records dating back to the 6th century. The Palio is a horse race that occurs twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th. Rivaling neighborhoods, or contrade, flood the Piazza del Campo to watch the passionate race and cheer for their respective horse to win. The race may be the most important event for the people of Siena each year as their pride for their city and contrade is palpable. 

          Taking a look further back in time, the Ancient Romans would host chariot races. Most popular was the Circus Maximus racetrack, which could hold up to 250,000 guests. Not only was it a source of entertainment, but it also served as a political and religious center to honor gods and emperors. Today, we host similar events, most notably the Formula 1 races. The high-speed car races are watched all around the world as people cheer for certain drivers. The key difference between the three events is the type of race, but they all serve the same purpose. From chariots to horses to race cars, we keep these ancient traditions alive in different ways and dwell in the same political and social tendencies of the races.

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Cinque Terre as Text

“A Pop of Color”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Cinque Terre

Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These five towns have one thing in common: they make up the five villages of Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a beautiful area on the Italian coastline of the Ligurian Sea. This area is most famous for its lemons, wines, seafood, hiking trails, and of course, inventing the pesto sauce we know and love today. Throughout our travels in Italy, we have seen the ancient ruins of Rome and the gothic infrastructure in Florence. However, we have not seen anything quite like Cinque Terre. 

These five towns explode with color. All of the buildings are painted different shades of yellow, pink, orange and more. Bright flowers line the windowsills and streets. Docked boats add vibrancy to the shimmering coastlines. This is no new tradition. Cinque Terre has had this style for centuries now. Dating as far back as the 13th century, the towns have kept their original infrastructure thanks to the efforts of their citizens.

In recent years, the tourism industry in Cinque Terre has risen, and several bars used to line the beach, drawing in guests from around the world. However, it was negatively affecting the towns. By drawing in tourists, the relatively quiet area was in danger of urbanization through condominiums and large-scale hotels. This problem has plagued many cities and areas such as Miami Beach and the Amalfi Coast, making the architecture very boring and indistinguishable. The citizens were against this urbanization and have voted to close many bars as well as conserve the authentic buildings, saving Cinque Terre’s centuries-old style and original charm.

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