Caitlyn Ratto: Italia as Text 2023

Italia Encounter as Text

“I Santi di Trastevere” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU, Roma, Italy May 14, 2023

Ciao bella! Those were the last words my parents said before I took my first flight towards Italy. I have always imagined visiting and finding some sort of missing piece of my life, maybe even discovering that I truly don’t know myself yet. At least some part of that is true, because when I walked out of the Fiumicino Airport I realized that I didn’t really know how to do anything. I managed to grab a taxi without being scammed, and spent the next fifty minutes trying to take in the scenery and tell myself to constantly be aware. I could hear my father’s voice telling me to stay “mosca” and not to trust anyone, not even the taxi driver. You can imagine my thoughts were going a million miles a minute. My first two days in Italy didn’t feel real, and I think that I was waiting for my parents to come pick me up, but when we were reading the tombstones of the Romans I was completely overwhelmed. I don’t exactly know what it was but I think that it was the moment that I realized the Romans were real people and the ruins were not just pretty stones around every corner; Rome is a city built on top of a city.

Before visiting the Capitoline Museum, I felt truly like a tourist who didn’t appreciate the human aspect of Rome and now after reflecting I think that I see the city on adeeper level. I feel a lot more comfortable, and I figured out how to use the trains and buses so I count that as a win. On that same note, I planned out what I wanted to do separate from the class, so I visited Trastevere, a city on the other side of the Tiber River. Even though it is only about four miles away from the inner city of Rome, it has a completely different atmosphere. The quickest way to get to the city is to get off of the metro at Piramide, and then op on a bus for another thirty minutes. It isn’t as easy to get to as the other cities in the province and that must be why it isn’t as densely packed as say Termini.

When I was researching things to do in Trastevere, I found out about a popular villa to visit, and it just so happened that there was a Raphael exhibition going on. It might seem a little random that they were holding an exhibition for Raphael, but the villa was decorated by Raphael. He was also inspired by the Villa Farnesina, so much so that he painted the Galatea and the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche. The owner of the villa, Agostino Chigi Il Magnifico, came from a rich family originally because they were Sienese bankers, but then Chigi established his alum and salt monopolies, and he became filthy rich. One thing that he could not have though was stereotypically, love. Chigi had proposed to Francesca Ordeaschi, but wouldn’t marry her until his first wife had died. When they did get married, they had many children and Agostino commissioned Raphael to design art to commemorate their love (Salvo). Raphael then designed the Wedding of Alexander and Roxane, and the many other frescoes inspired by the fable of Psyche and Love. Thanks to the marriage, Ordeaschi was able to jump up the social ladder, from a courtesan to the wife of the richest man in Rome.

Another woman that Trastevere celebrates is Saint Cecilia. When she died, she was buried in the catacombs of Saint Callisto as a martyr for Christianity. After the persecution of Christians her remains were moved back to her hometown of Trastevere and they were placed in the Basilica di Santa Cecilia. Although I wasn’t able to go inside of the Basilica, the outside was impressive and the piazza surrounding it was very large and not crowded. One last woman that is represented in the town of Trastevere is Mary. After following a busy main road, you are presented with a large plaza and an even larger church. It turns out that this church is actually one of the first official places of worship for Christianity; the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was finished in 340 A.D. and is a Marian church. This means that this church is dedicated to worshipping Mary and the conception of Jesus (Wikipedia). Before I visited this medieval town, I thought that women were only second-class citizens, but it turns out that in the early days of Christianity there were multiple ways that women were praised and now many are canonized (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). This little day trip showed me a completely different side of the religion that I thought I knew and I’m so glad that I was able to learn so much even without the help of a guide.

Works Cited

Salvo, Maestro Mario. “Francesca Ordeaschi.” ALETES ONLUS, 31 Jan. 2020, Accessed 14 May 2023.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Canonization | Christianity.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 19 Dec. 2017, Accessed 14 May 2023.

Trastevere, Basilica di Santa Maria in, et al. “The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere.” Turismo Roma, 11 Feb. 2016, Accessed 14 May 2023.

Wikipedia. “Catholic Marian Movements and Societies.” Wikipedia, 23 Jan. 2023, Accessed 14 May 2023.

Ancient Roma as Text

“Feng Shui in the Pantheon” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU, Roma, Italia, May 21, 2023

One thing that the streets in Rome are good at is making you go down another street. The thought of something new or in this case “old” is just tempting enough to make you add another 500 steps to the 10 miles you have done thus far. I’ve quickly noticed that everything is connected like a labyrinth within Rome. Thankfully, the little peaks of past civilizations help us to understand what it was like to live when there were only these buildings around. 

At the end of a little street in the heart of Rome, lies one of the most recognizable structures of Ancient Rome. This building is easy to spot from up high because of its characteristic roof that looks like an upside-down bowl. The Pantheon, in my opinion, is one of the most diverse buildings that is still in use to this day. Its original structure did not include the oculus and was a regular temple for the twelve Roman gods, built in twenty-seven BC by Agrippa. The structure that everyone knows about now with the oculus in the middle was a result of the Roman emperor Hadrian who reconstructed the building drastically in about 118 AD after a series of disasters (“Pantheon”). When looking into Hadrian and examining his house, you are able to see his own mini pantheon. His predates the Pantheon, so we are able to see that he dabbled in architecture and chose what he wanted the Pantheon to look like. 

Hadrian’s Mini Pantheon by Caitlyn Ratto. CC by 2.0

After Hadrian and Severus restored the building on two separate occasions, Pope Boniface removed all of the Roman deities and put martyrs of Christianity in their place in 608 AD (Pantheon Roma). The fact that the Christians removed any sort of diversity is what made me want to write about this building because I realized that it wasn’t just a building but a community all on its own, or at least it was. When the final structure was finished, the pantheon formed a perfect sphere, if only a little flat at the bottom. The perfect symmetry made me think about how important it was for all of the deities to be worshipped equally. This idea was what made me fall in love with the original idea of the building. I liked how no one was forced to worship one deity but it was an individual experience. It was almost like Martin Luther’s ideas of Lutheranism where people were taught how to worship without the facilitation of a priest (Hillerbrand). The replacement of the Roman deities with Christian martyrs makes the Pantheon seem a little awkward. Where there were marble statues of larger-than-life Roman gods, there are now dim paintings of humans who died for their religion. I feel that instead of selling stories like the Romans, the Christians sell sacrifice. Another couple of random implementations that happened after the Christians took over was that it became a burial place for a select few. Those that are buried in the Pantheon include the first and second kings of Italy, queen Margherita, and the Renaissance painter Raphael. 

Raphael is my favorite Renaissance painter at the moment, but I feel like the Pantheon has lost its identity. What once was a large temple that prided itself on equal representation of deities, has now become a mismatch of Christian crosses, paintings, and random resting places. I believe that if there was more thought on how to make the Christian version of the Pantheon- not so concisely named “The Church of the Holy Mother of God and all Christian Martyrs,”- more of a 360 degree experience like can be seen in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside of the Walls, it would bring life to the Pantheon once again.

Works Cited

Hillerbrand, Hans J. “Martin Luther | Biography, Reformation, Works, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 14 Feb. 2019, Accessed 21 May 2023.

“Pantheon.” Pantheon Rome, Accessed 21 May 2023.

Pantheon Roma. “THE PANTHEON Basilica of Santa Maria Ad Martyres.” Pantheon Rome, Accessed 21 May 2023.

Christian Roma as Text

“Waste or Show of Power?” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU, Roma, Italia May 21, 2023

Churches, churches, and more churches. Rome is full to the brim with churches and other Catholic memorabilia. It makes sense of course because this is where Christianity got its official start with Peter, and his appointment as the first bishop of Rome. 

Peter was known for his humble beginnings and for his being directly appointed by Jesus. After him, there have been more than 260 popes and each of them has shaped the way that Christianity is today. Some have been great towards the people, and some have been iron fists cracking down on the doctrine. Without the commission from all of these different popes, there would not be hardly any structures like the numerous churches. Some of the oldest churches are actually part of the Vatican City, which is a country in which the Pope rules. A couple of churches that stood out to me was the Basilica of Saint Maria Majorie and the Basilica of Saint Giovanni in Laterano. 

The ceiling of the Basilica of Saint Maria Majorie by Caitlyn Ratto. CC by 4.0

The first, the Basilica of Saint Maria Majorie was an extremely impressive church. It was one of the biggest and most elaborate ones that I had seen, before I saw St. Peter’s of course. When we first entered, I was immediately drawn to the ceiling, which was covered in gold. It turns out that all of the gold was gifted to the Catholic Church by the Spanish king and queen from the New World. This means that all of the ‘God, gold, and glory’ was true. It was the first time that I saw what came of all of the death and suffering of the conquistadors. I was immediately taken aback and when we took a bathroom break, I called my father. It was around 5 in the morning over in the States, but he answered, and I explained where the gold was from, and my father had the same reaction. My father is from Peru, which was where the capital of the Inca Empire was before the Spanish conquistadors invaded and destroyed everything. My father’s paternal side is from Italy and his maternal side is native Peruvian. Seeing both of those sides culminate to a pretty ceiling and lots of misery was overwhelming to say the least. I had never felt any personal connection in a church before that day and it was a sad connection unfortunately. One tiny consolation was that the Basilica was the first Marian church so at least it was honoring Jesus’ mother, but it didn’t make any sense that they needed to be so excessive and even a bit gaudy to celebrate a woman who was not royalty or someone who valued materialistic things.

In the Basilica of Saint Giovanni in Laterano, I didn’t see as much waste in regard to the New World but there was a couple of things stolen from the Roman Empire, like the doors to their senate building. It’s really upsetting that instead of coming up with new designs or taking inspiration from the Romans, the Christians would steal and almost vandalize important structures or symbols. 

Of course, there are good things that Christians, specifically Catholics have done but it is hard to look past a lot of the injustices that have come about because of it when it started so humbly. I only wonder if Saint Peter were to look at what a spectacle the religion has turned into if he would be conflicted or not.

Tuscana as Text

“How the Pisanos Got Their Name” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU, Firenze, Italia, May 31, 2023

I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until the Tuscan sun shined on my face. I could finally breathe, and I was honestly grateful for the sweat collecting on my body as we walked to the apartments. The Tuscany trip was honestly the busiest yet because I traveled to four cities in the region within a little over a week. I was able to visit Firenze, Pisa, Siena, and the Chianti region (where Chianti wine is made). Pisa was my favorite destination by a mile because it was so tranquil and picturesque not just in regard to the tower and cathedral but also because of the small population located outside of the main center, the Piazza dei Miracoli. The name matches perfectly because when you walk into it you are greeted by the beautiful white marble taken from the mountains that surround the city, and a beautiful field of bright green grass. Out of all of the piazzas I have seen so far, the one in Pisa was the only one where the buildings were built on grass, and it was amazing. I immediately found myself comfortable within the city and almost ended up falling asleep atop the tower! 

One aspect that I found to be interesting was the importance of a family that ended up receiving essentially citizenship to the town. Niccolò Pisano was originally born Niccolò de Apulia and worked on combining Christian and Classical traditions in his sculptures. From his early work, there only remains two griffon heads with a chiaroscuro effect. Chiaroscuro is when artists use high contrasts to show depth and it is most evidently seen within paintings (‘Chiaroscuro’). In 1255 he received a commission for the pulpit of the Pisa Baptistery. This is considered to be one of his masterpieces because he was able to combine the French gothic and Classical Roman styles. It was extremely impressive in person because the figures at the top of the pulpit are 3D, so Niccolò had to carve behind the figures when they a little bigger than the size of a person’s hands. One confusing aspect of pulpit, however, are the columns, which are a mishmash of different stones and sculptures. It turns out that these were taken from places that Pisa would conquer, so some of the columns were from Ostia. The scenes that are sculpted on the top of the pulpit include: a side that shows a combination of the Annunciation and the nativity, while the others show the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion, and the Last Judgement. It should also be noted that the pulpit is in the shape of a hexagon and is made out of the Carrara marble that the rest of the monuments in Pisa are made out of (‘Nicola Pisano’). 

            Niccolò’s son, Giovanni, was born in Pisa so he inherited the Pisano name. He would follow in his father’s steps and become another famous sculptor. He worked with his father in the beginning of his career but would later move to Siena and work on lots of buildings in the city where he gained notoriety. I wanted to talk about this family of sculptors because I feel like I have a lot of admiration for painters, but after seeing the David by Michelangelo, I noticed that not all sculptures are equal and even some small ones showcase the era that the city was in when it was sculpted (‘Giovanni Pisano’). 

Works Cited

“Chiaroscuro – Wikipedia.”, Accessed 29 May 2023.

“Giovanni Pisano.” Wikipedia, 2 May 2023, Accessed 29 May 2023.

“Nicola Pisano.” Wikipedia, 18 May 2023, Accessed 29 May 2023.

Cinque Terre as Text

“Reflection in the Waves” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU, Monterosso al Mare, Italia, June 2, 2023

The train ride was a great indication of what was to come out of my trip to Cinque Terre. The sights were amazing but there was no AC so I was pretty uncomfortable the entire hour and a half train ride. When I arrived at the final train station I was freshly energized by the glimpse of the sea between the tunnels and i was not disappointed as the beach was only 20 feet away from the station. I was immediately humbled though, because I was disappointed by the dark and rocky sand. I realized that my Miami Beach was a luxury and not what everyone else in the world has access to. The view was amazing and just like the movies, along with the little towns that make up the Liguria region. It is also called Cinque Terre because there are five lands or cities that make up the region: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Fortunately they are still small and picturesque because the locals have fought off urbanization and the biggest city, Monterosso was where we stayed. Our living situation was quaint and I thought that it would be aesthetic like being the main character in a Jane Austen novel. When I walked in I realized that there was no AC and only one outlet in my room. My roommate was upset that I had the outlet on my side while she had none, and honestly I felt bad because I had picked the bed first without knowing. Looking back I realize that the Sanctuary is supposed to get you off of your electronic devices and appreciate your surroundings. I think by the third day we were there I was able to fully embrace the concept of minimalism that the sanctuary promotes. 

Thankfully, I was able to disconnect from the chaos of the day trips and trips around the cities for those two free days. When I actually had time to myself I found myself thinking about my family a lot. I hadn’t gotten homesick since I arrived to Italia, but with the mindfulness I was doing at the sanctuary it made me reflect on how lucky I am to have my family who is always there for me. I missed all of my family members, even the ones I don’t normally talk to, but I think the home cooked meals really solidified the feeling. I was sick the entire time we were in Monterosso and I woke up one morning craving my mom’s chicken noodle soup. Not being able to have it made me anxious to leave the city, and since it was expensive to get transportation I found myself stuck on top of the mountain. I’ve never been one to get cabin fever because I am the worse homebody I know, however, not being able to go somewhere quickly was definitely rough. This part of the trip was where I have reflected the most, and honestly it was not all rainbows and sunshine. I realized that I’m extremely lucky and fortunate to have all that I do and that even though people don’t have all that I do they still find peace. I’ve struggled all my life with worrying about the little things like how people perceive me and what I can do to make myself a good person. Now I know that none of that really matters and that if I like the way something looks or feels then I should hold onto it. I think this break in the trip forced me to look at what kind of person I am. Now, I am no longer worried about what people think and I think that has shown some growth in my character. I hope that I come back to this feeling when I’m feeling especially self-absorbed so that I can remind myself of all of the ways that I am who I am and I can’t change that. 

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