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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