Pauline Marek: Grand Tour 2022

Rome – Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain

To kick off the Grand Tour I was assigned to visit and exclusively explore the Spanish Steps & Trevi Fountain Quartieri, to somebody who has never visited Rome prior to this opportunity I questioned my ability to authentically write solely about some of the most well known tourist attractions in Italy. I was faced with the question of whether or not I would be able to write an original piece about two UNESCO Heritage Sites that have been visited time and time again by thousands of people all around the world annually. Deep diving into the internet for solutions my group stumbled upon a truly hidden gem known as “La Città dell’ Acqua”, the direct English translation of the term is “The City of Water”. Rome is often compared to a lasagna, weird segue I know but it couldn’t be any less true. The Rome that many of us know today is only the tip of the iceberg when looking back at the city’s extensive history, our beloved Rome was built on top of the old Rome. Arguably one of the most notable fountains located in Italy known as the Trevi Fountain captivates crowds during all hours of the day, no matter the time of visit I was always greeted by hordes of fellow onlookers. The flocks of tourists and the fountains overall famed status was all the convincing I needed to go off the beaten path and explore the lesser known parts of my neighborhood.

Introducing the less renowned Vicus Caprarius, an archeological site 30 feet below the highly regarded Trevi Fountain. Mic drop. If it wasn’t for my very own visit to “The City of Water” I would never have believed that an entire museum, as small as it may be, exists underneath the famous UNESCO Heritage Site. The archeological site is composed of detritus belonging to aqueducts and a Roman house, it was truly bewildering to see the remaining walls of a home and personal effects of a Roman family that once resided above ground buried away. Entering the museum was an experience in itself as I felt as though I was navigating secret passageways to get to the exhibits. The photos of the site do not do it justice, the domus dating back to the 4th century was eerie to witness yet fascinating as well. Cutlery, statues, and currency were only some of the items on display, the concept that the artifacts being exhibited were at one point belongings was baffling. Even more interesting was the presence of goods originating from Northern Africa, the exhibit had various oil lamps on exposition with depictions of Christian orientated emblems. The information plaques highlighted the importance of the imports brought to Rome as well as the influence they had as they became a blueprint for Romans in regards to regional production. Alongside the remains of a house, aqueducts were also discovered and the water that flows out into the Trevi Fountain passes through the very same pipes located in Vicus Caprarius.

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

To top it all of “The City of Water” was discovered only 23 years ago in 1999 during renovations that took place at what once was the Trevi Cinema – National Film Archive. The unearthing of the site halted construction and eventually led to the opening of the Vicus Caprarius in place of the former Trevi Cinema. The realization that discoveries of past Roman life are still being uncovered to this day is hard to grasp but has left a lasting impression on me, I can only describe it as an unforgettable experience that I will cherish for a lifetime.

Florence – Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria del Fiore is located in the Santa Maria Novella neighborhood, it is by far one of the most architecturally interesting cathedrals that I had seen during my time spent on the Grand Tour. At first I wasn’t really able to pinpoint the exact architectural style of the building as it appeared to lack cohesiveness, I saw inspirations drawn from both the Renaissance and Romanesque styles. The closest comparison I could make with the Cathedral of Florence was to the Duomo di Siena, both structures seem to be created in a disarray. When trying to determine the concrete architectural design of Santa Maria del Fiore I was met with a list of varying styles that were incorporated into the design. The entirety of the cathedral had aspects of Renaissance, Romanesque, and Italian Gothic architecture. I personally found it to be hectic but at the same time so fascinating to look at, the inside of the Duomo was even more impressive. The mural that was painted on the ceiling of the Cathedral of Florence was definitely by far one of my favorites, following shortly behind the one belonging to Saint Peter’s Basilica. The attention to the detail in the mural was profound, the details were intricate and I truly couldn’t help but admire the ethereal scenes depicted in the artwork created by Giorgio Vasari.

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

Alongside the captivating architectural design of the cathedral, the story behind the attempted assassination plot of the Medici brothers also captured my attention. The idea of a premeditated assassination taking place on Easter Sunday within a building meant for religious purposes was hard to wrap my mind around. I was completely left speechless when I learned of the priest’s involvement with the Pazzi Conspiracy. Although the original intention was to kill off both Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici, only Giuliano was murdered as a result of a frantic execution of the public assassination. The existing feud between families and the murder of Giuliano Medici caused the Pazzi family more harm than actual good despite their efforts to end the Medici reign. The Pazzi family was eventually exiled from the city of Florence for their involvement and it strengthened the power dynamic of the Medici family in Florence. It was a very surreal experience to have visited such a beautiful cathedral that housed such acts of horror and corruption in the past.

Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore

Arriving to Riomaggiore I expected to be greeted by a village teeming with life, this expectation was established as a result of a few quick google searches. The overall consensus was that Riomaggiore was meant to embody the nightlife scene as well as boast lively streets filled with tourists. Visiting the village with this predetermined perception I found myself completely disagreeing with the majority. I would best describe it as much more of a quaint destination in comparison to Vernazza and Manarola, the village I was assigned to seemed like it was in a state of slumber. Walking through the major tourist attractions that Riomaggiore has to offer, I found tourists clustered in small groups here and there but I wouldn’t consider it to be a busy area. I am uncertain if this misconception may have been due to me spending time in the town during the afternoon but the area overall did not appear to be able to foster a bustling nightlife. Although Riomaggiore is greatly acknowledged for its notable harbor, I decided to go on a hike to one of the higher points of the village.

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

Dating back to 1260 construction on Riomaggiore’s very own castle began but was officially completed in the 16th century. Castello di Riomaggiore sits up at a vantage point overlooking the better half of the village, the stone castle was built in an attempt to improve defense efforts. At first glance the castle seems to be out of place amongst the colorful homes and luscious greenery, it simply didn’t fit into Cinque Terre’s predominant aesthetic of small seaside villages. The actual intention behind the building was for it to become a fortress, however, to my surprise it was eventually renovated into a cemetery. I was later informed by a local shop owner that it is currently serving as a cultural center that hosts important conferences. What I cherished most from walking around the castle grounds was the stunning view that the vantage point provided. Even though the main focus of the castle was for military use and currently promotes culture as well as the arts, I couldn’t help but romanticize the landscape and the glistening vibrant turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Looking around Castello di Riomaggiore I quickly came to the realization that the castle also had religious connections as it was adorned in varying Catholic symbols. Most noticeable was the crucifix located behind the former fortress, the area in which it was situated overlooked more of Riomaggiore and had benches setup for those who want to stop for the view. My biggest takeaway from Riomaggiore as a whole can best be described by a popular saying, stop and smell the roses especially if you are in Cinque Terre.

Venice – San Marco

During my stay in Venice one of the most captivating stories that I was informed of was the retrieval of Saint Mark’s body from Alexandria, the journey of the two Venetian merchants sparked my interest. I was assigned to the San Marco neighborhood of Venice and I was pleasantly surprised to find a mural of mosaics depicting the whole undertaking at the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica. The mural portrayed the Venetian merchants carrying in Saint Mark’s body and masses of crowds celebrating his return to Venice. Despite signs of weathering, the mosaic piece does not lackluster and continues to be a brilliant introduction to the Basilica. I feel as though it was an important aspect of the architectural design of the building as it is a symbolical welcome into the most significant religious temple located in Venice. The act of acquiring an established religious figure made Venice appear more noteworthy in regards to maintaining religious relevance among other cities in Italy.

All photographs taken and edited by Pauline Isabelle Marek/CC by 4.0

After taking a closer look at the photos that I personally took of the mosaic mural it dawned on me how truly opulent it’s appearance was, the use of vibrant colored mosaic fragments highlighted the Venetian’s wealth and prosperity. The interior of the religious temple was just as lavish, the Basilica’s ceiling is adorned in warm yellow colors that make you feel as though you are standing under a ceiling made of gold. Coincidentally I later found out that St. Mark’s Basilica was also referred to as “Chiesa d’Oro”, the English translation of this is the “Church of Gold”. The immense success obtained by the Venetians during the time of the temples construction was as a result of Venice being a major key player in the trading scene. One example of their evident wealth that stood out to me was their usage of various colors in their artwork more specifically the color blue. During those times blue pigment was hard to acquire due to its limited supply, the color blue was also acquired from Egypt which made it even more so difficult to get a hold of. Yet the use of the color in Venice could not be described as sparingly, the Basilica was bespeckled in blue textiles as a form of adornment but was also prevalent in the mosaic murals. The same was true for the paintings found inside the Doge’s Palace right next to the religious temple, the commissioned artists used generous amounts of blue in their artistic works. I was awestruck by the use of blues in the murals painted on the palace’s ceilings, the painted skies consisted of the richest blues that I had seen during the entirety of the Grand Tour. Reflecting back on all the places that I had visited previously during the trip made the comparison so much more apparent, it is very evident that Venice was truly a powerhouse for its time.

Piazza San Marco, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Doge’s Palace are only three examples of how prosperous the city was, their display of wealth withstood the test of time and continues to astonish anyone fortunate enough to get to visit Venice.

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