Ashley Lopez: Italia as Text 2023

Italia Encounter as Text


by Ashley Lopez from Florida International University, 05/14/2023

Photograph taken by Ashley Lopez (Roma, Italia) / CC by 4.0

The Metropolitana di Roma encompasses several different metro stops which each represent a unique aspect of Roman culture. My selected destination was Flaminio, which was outside the Aurelian walls and featured Piazza del Popolo, multiple restaurants, souvenir shops, Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo, and many more places.  As I exited the metro station, I first noticed the the businesses on the street, which were vintage markets selling clothing, bags, scarves, and jewelry. This certainly surprised me because these type of street vendor businesses are not very common in Miami nor in the center of Rome. I had never really seen anything like that before and I thought it was interesting that even throughout the rainy weather, the vendors stood their ground and were trying to sell to pedestrians. When comparing the neighborhood of Flaminio with the center of Rome, this was less of a tourist destination and it was not as crowded with people. The area outside of the metro stop was vastly different than the area behind the towering walls that surrounded the Piazza del Popolo. The neighborhood seemed a bit dirty until I walked through the opening of the walls and everything seemed so much cleaner and beautiful. Seeing the centered 3,000 year old Egyptian obelisk in the shocked me as I had never seen any of these in Miami. Another feature that definitely caught my eye about this particular stop was the graffiti on the walls and on the metro itself.  The restaurants within the walls of the Piazza were mainly bars, pizza restaurants, coffee shops, and gelaterias. The piazza divided into three main roads, Via del Corso, Via di Ripetta, and Via del Babuino,which were lined with clothing stores and high-end boutiques. These three roads lead to three very important sites, the major papal Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Roman Forum, and Vatican City. Walking down these roads reminded me of Miami’s Design District and it was interesting to see the same stores in Rome, but this brought my attention to the contrast between modern Miami and ancient Rome. Miami’s Design District features modern buildings and contemporary art surrounding the stores, whereas Flaminio contained basilicas that date back to the 14th century. Flaminio’s main monuments were the Porta del Popolo, Flaminio Obelisk, Piazza del Popolo, and the Fontana dei Leoni. In addition to seeing these, I walked about half a mile down one of the main roads from the Piazza and  I encountered the Spanish Steps. Strolling doing Via del Corso I was able to spot many tourists and locals and I realized a major difference between Rome and Miami. It is very typical of Romans to engage in an evening stroll with their families and friends and grab a bite to eat, whereas in Miami this is not as common because cars are so heavily relied upon and the public transportation is not as efficient. I was able to participate in the Roman passeggiata through the main shopping area and enjoy a traditional Margherita pizza in one of the restaurants. Personally, I found my metro stop to be very inviting with the historical Piazza del Popolo and it was definitely a site to see that left a very good impression on me. 

Ancient Rome as Text

“Il Colosseo”

by Ashley Lopez from Florida International University, 05/21/23

Photograph taken by Ashley Lopez (Roma, Italia) / CC by 4.0

In 2022, I was able to visit for the first time one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world, the Colosseum. However, it was not until our class visit that I was able to truly appreciate the experience and value the historical significance of this architectural marvel. The Colosseum, formerly known as the Flavian Amphitheater, was constructed under emperors Vespasian and Titus between 70 CE and 79 CE. It was built from over 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone that was constantly mined and transported from modern-day Tivoli (1). In addition to this, several iron clamps were utilized to bind together the stone, but they were removed and left behind several holes that are still visible in the structure. The Romans were also able to create a tiered seating arrangement that displayed the differences between the social classes. The arches and ribbed vaults evenly distributed the weight of the building and the spectators present. The different types of columns, including Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, demonstrated the complexity of the decorative elements. Overall, each of these architectural elements when combined formed the unique Colosseum and make it the marvel that it is today.

 Prior to our class visit, I had thought the Colosseum was primarily constructed to be an entertainment venue that hosted gladiator fights. I was very surprised to learn that it was initially a palace for Roman emperor Nero, the Domus Aurea. In fact, the amphitheater was constructed above an artificial lake Nero had built for his palace. Emperor Vespasian intended to regain the support of the Roman citizens by commissioning the construction of the Colosseum. In a way, I believe this established unity among the Roman citizens as they would all join each other to watch gladiator games, drink, eat, and gamble. The Colosseum served as a distraction for all the different social classes from their everyday lives in Ancient Rome as it allowed for them to focus solely on what was going on in the arena. Many parallels can be drawn between the Colosseum and the stadiums that are built today because stadiums also bring together several spectators from different backgrounds to enjoy a sports game or musical concert. 

I was very impressed when I learned about the history of the Colosseum’s construction as well as it’s architectural components because in my previous visit, I was not able to grasp this information.It is incredible how a construction that is so old and involved no electricity and no trucks to transport the stone, is still standing today. I was also astonished when I learned this building was intended for 50,000 to 80,000 people to witness gladiator battles, wild animal hunts, and mock naval battles. These events served as a source of entertainment for the Roman citizens while also symbolizing the power and dominance of the Roman Empire.Personally, I find it appalling that over 80,000 spectators would be present at the Colosseum to watch gladiators fight for their lives and practically murder each other, and it is absurd to me that this was pure entertainment for the Ancient Romans. In addition to gladiator battles, wild animals were also set on the fields to fight and die, including bears, lions, rhinoceroses, tigers, leopards, and etc (2). When the Colosseum was first inaugurated, in the 100 days that followed, over 9,000 animals were killed(2). As a result of these battles, some species went completely extinct, and I believe this is a ridiculous form of entertainment. These animals likely faced harsh conditions already but to subject them to fights like this was plain cruel. 


Pompeii as Text

“Connecting through Catastrophe”

Photograph taken by Ashley Lopez / CC by 4.0

by Ashley Lopez from Florida International University, 05/21/23

In the year 79 AD, the lives of thousands of people from Pompeii were abruptly halted by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Prior to the eruption, Pompeii was a multicultural melting pot that was a center of trade and commerce for the Roman Empire. The fertile volcanic soil, mild climate, and geographic location with seaports allowed it to thrive as a trading post.  Several ships were able to dock, unload their merchandise, and trade in the city center. The main trading sources in Pompeii were derived from the growth of olives, wheat, and grapes, which led to the production of wine and olive oil (1).The city also consisted of several local bakeries, private shops, and bars that helped the community thrive. The daily life in Pompeii also consisted of attending the public bathhouses, and specifically for the men, the brothels were a standard activity.The main forum of the city was confirmed to be a pedestrian area only, which makes it easier to imagine a place where people could not only exchange goods but also exchange ideas and knowledge due to them being in such close contact at the time of trading.  

While exploring the streets of Pompeii, one of the features that caught my attention was the stone dividers on the road, which demonstrated that there was a standardized size of roman chariot. This in turn provides further evidence for the extreme organization and civility of the ancient roman empire. These dividers served as a basis for traffic control to separate pedestrians from the chariots and carts that would pass through the city’s streets. In addition to this, the stone blocks functioned as stepping stones and prevented pedestrians from walking in the accumulated rainwater or waste that would flow through the streets. Similarly, on our class trip, I used these stone dividers to cross intersections and I realized it was very practical on a day such as that one where it was raining a lot and I did not want to step in the formed puddles on the street corners. 

Another impactful aspect of ancient Pompeii were the plaster casts of the victims, which allowed viewers such as myself to connect on an almost disturbingly close level. When seeing the casts, it’s not hard to imagine family members going through this, or something as devastating as this happening in your own city, to your loved ones. Walking throughout the ruins, I saw several of these casts that evoked a sense of tragedy and hardships. It was very difficult for me to see these captured moments in which parents held onto their children as a means to protect them at the time of the eruption. It is very saddening to imagine those exact moments in which the people of Pompeii were suffocated with the ash and pumice. Seeing the victims’ final moments caused me to feel a deep sense of empathy for them. Although it was a very moving experience to see the plaster casts, it was also very startling to see the sense of fear and desperation on the faces of the victims. The expressions of these victims will always serve as reminders to me that life is very short and that we should live every moment to its fullest extent.


Toscana as Text

“My Take on Florence”

by Ashley Lopez from Florida International University, 05/28/23

“To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature…” -Mark Twain 

            In this quote, writer Mark Twain perfectly encapsulates the beauty of Florence, Italy and he vividly describes the sunset view from the Ponte Vecchio. Florence can most definitely be regarded as a city of dreams where once many geniuses such as Dante Alighieri, Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, and Michelangelo lived and produced masterpieces. Prior to my first visit to Florence, I had somewhat of an understanding of the city’s historical background and significance, but I did not truly learn much in that trip and I did not properly appreciate the art and architecture I saw. However, in this visit, my perspective was very different and much more focused on grasping the information as well as capturing beautiful scenery, such as the sun setting behind the Ponte Vecchio. There were several aspects of our class visit to Florence that resonated with me and left an impactful impression on me.  

Florence is primarily known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance that occurred in the 1400s.  The Renaissance was a period of “rebirth” that ultimately changed the way Europeans saw the world and cultivated different architectural styles, art pieces, and literature. In Florence, this movement was ultimately driven by a family of wealthy bankers, the Medici, that regularly commissioned and helped fund several art pieces. In fact, the Uffizi Gallery, that was at one point their private administrative offices, is now a world-famous museum that houses the majority of the Medici’s collection of artworks. As we walked through this museum, there were two art pieces that stood out to me the most, Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus. The Birth of Venus depicted the goddess Venus emerging nude from a seashell in a poised manner with her long golden hair.  This painting illustrates the natural features of a woman’s body and in a way it celebrates purity, beauty, love, and womanhood. It is because of this and the sense of empowerment that the Venus evoked that I admired the work of art so much. 

Another work of art in the Uffizi collection that truly left an impact on me was Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting of Judith Beheading Holofrones. This eye-opening painting depicting a gory assassination was very interesting to me because of the story behind the artist and her motivation to paint it. Gentileschi became a painter after learning from her dad in the studio and she became an apprentice to one of his friends, who then tragically raped her. This resulted in her reputation being ruined and she faced a dishonor that led to her being tortured because no one believed she was telling the truth about the incident. She was also told that she could only paint women, which along with her traumatic experience, motivated her to paint the Judith Beheading Holofrones. This piece was very meaningful to me because it was a clear representation of a woman’s strength, bravery, and power as she took matters into her own hands. It is a clear testament to Gentileschi overcoming her traumatic experience and the power that that man asserted over her. Overall, being able to see this piece was an empowering experience for me as a woman and it is something I will never forget. 

 Apart from the amazing works of Renaissance art, Florence’s architectural works were also breathtaking. The Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral coupled with Brunelleschi’s Dome left me in awe and the panoramic views from the top of the Duomo and Giotto’s Bell Tower are ones I will always treasure. Watching the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo and witnessing the view of Florence from there will forever remain etched in my memory. To me, Florence was a combination of beautiful art, panoramic views, incredibly intricate architecture, and significant history that have all left a lasting impression on me. 

Cinque Terre as Text

“A Coastal Gem”

by Ashley Lopez from Florida International University, 06/02/23

Photograph taken by Ashley Lopez / CC by 4.0

Cinque Terre is a coastal area in Liguria, Italy composed of five unique villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each of these villages contains different elements that make Cinque Terre an ideal place for reflection. There are several hiking trails along the coastline that connect the five villages and offer breathtaking views of the towns and sea. These trails through the mountains evoke a sense of serenity that make hiking through them the perfect way to disconnect from one’s daily life and connect with nature. While I do believe that hiking is an effective way to forget about your worldly problems and responsibilities, I also believe that that there may be better ways than hiking to reflect on our Study Abroad journey up to this point. In my personal experience of hiking from Santuario Nostra Signora di Soviore to Monterosso, I was not able to use it as a time to reflect because I found it physically challenging and I was not able to focus my thoughts on anything other than reaching the end of the first trail. When I finished that first trail downhill and arrived in one of Monterosso’s beaches, I felt I had found my ideal place to relax and leave behind the museums, churches, and tourist attractions Italy has had to offer. 

Although visiting the Uffizi Gallery, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon, were all unforgettable experiences, I found that my favorite place so far on this journey has been Cinque Terre. Whether it be bathing in the beach, sunbathing on the shore, enjoying a cone of fried fresh calamari, or watching the sunset from the sanctuary, there were so many different ways to wind back and enjoy my time here. Using the Cinque Terre day pass, I was able to visit each of the seaside villages and spend the day exploring them. Through a boat tour, I was also able to enjoy the picturesque scenery of the villages up from afar and this allowed me to capture beautiful images.  

One of the most impactful parts of my visit that definitely set the tone for my introspection was my stay at the Santuario Nostra Signora di Soviore. The simplicity of the sanctuary and the kindness of the owners humbled me. Similar to my experience at the beach, I found that this isolated and tranquil environment was another perfect place for me to reflect and sort through my thoughts. By walking around and sitting on one of the benches with a breathtaking view of Monterosso, I was able to focus on the calming sound of the birds chirping and this serenity provided the opportunity for me to get into the same headspace as the travelers that did the Grand Tour, hundreds of years before me. Staying here for a few days was very different from the other cities we have visited, including Florence, Rome, and Pisa. Those mainly tourist-filled cities were more modernized and were very chaotic whereas the small villages in Cinque Terre have developed but are definitely not as populated as the others. Personally, I preferred the small villages where I could sit by the sand and listen to the peaceful sound of the waves crashing against the shore. Being in Cinque Terre definitely taught me the importance of taking a step back from our daily routines and finding the time to relax and reflect upon my personal life experiences. It also showed me the importance of living in the moment and appreciating the little things in life. Although hiking was not ideally suited for my way of reflection, I found other ways to detach myself from the real world and focus my attention towards my thoughts. 

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