Maria Mercedes Corredor: Italia as Text 2023

Italia Encounter As Text

“Michelangelo’s last design”

By: Maria Mercedes Corredor, FIU Summer 2023

I started this trip with a week alone in the north of Italy. I visited places like Milano, Lake Como and Lago Maggiore and I even had a chance to spend 3 days in Paris. So, when I got to Rome, it was easier for me to handle public transportation than for some of my classmates. Moreover, I lived in Caracas most of my youth, so I know how to take the metro and switch lines and all of that. This last part is completely new for someone that comes from Miami since we don’t have metros there and the public transportation is almost non-existent.  

Thanks to my limited experience, it was very easy for me to find the metro station that I was assigned. I woke up on our free day and walked to the bus station, the bus dropped me off at the metro and after 10 minutes I was in the designated station. Repubblica. Walking the halls that take you out to the street, you can appreciate roman ruins to the sides. They are remains of the underground corridors that used to be a part of the Baths of Diocletian. You can clearly see the travertine blocks that belonged to the massive structure of the imperial age. The Thermal Baths of Diocletian used to cover all the area of the Piazza della Repubblica and more. They paint a good picture of what the halls lead to.   

Top: Remains of the Thermal Diocletian Baths behing the Basilica. Bottom: Underground ruins of the baths visible from the metro. Pictures by: Maria Corredor

When I went out into the street I was amazed. Apparently, every little part of Rome has something to wonder at and this is not the exception. The Piazza Republica is a roundabout with a marvelous fountain the middle and surrounded by building of different eras. There is a big white building that encompasses a big part of the piazza and it is occupied by several stores, a hotel and a cinema. Then there is a Roman-looking planetarium that was turned into a museum and several other museums around the plaza. But the thing that stuck out the most for me was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. I was able to go into the church and sit down to listen to Sunday mass. It was amazing. After the service ended and the priest performed some baptisms, I was able to walk around the church and I learned a lot from it!  

This basilica has a long and important history. The Romans first built these baths in the early 300s and the structure is facing south, to try and limit the amount of sun that heats up the walls. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the building was abandoned like many others during this time. Nonetheless, since the baths were not located in the forum, they were not repurposed until the Renaissance. This allowed the structure to maintain a lot of its integrity. In 1562 the pope commissioned Michelangelo with the restauration of the ruins and the design of a basilica to honor Mary Mother of Jesus and all the Christian martyrs that worked and died to build the Roman baths. This basilica was the last work that the great Michelangelo worked on and certainly one of his great masterpieces even if not as famous as others.   

Michelangelo’s design was later modified in the 1700s when F. Bianchini was commissioned to build a meridian in the church. Meridians are the imaginary lines that are drawn in the Earth globe to calculate degrees of longitude. They also help indicate the position of the Sun and thus calculate the day of the year or even work as a Sun clock. This church was chosen for this for several reasons, first, it the ruins first build by romans were already facing south which made the process easier. Second, Michelangelo’s design raised the level of the church, and the high columns and towers made it easy for the structure to catch the Sun light every day of the year. And lastly because the structural columns were so old that it was sure that they were already settled into the ground, and they were not going to move much with the years. This last part meant that the accuracy of the measurements could be trusted and that the devices placed by scientists on the columns to measure the position of the Sun would not move.  

From top to bottom, right to left: Main Altar with meridian line on the floor, Entrance to the basilica, sign denoting the Piazza, Oculus of the Church. Photos by: Maria Corredor

While I was in the church, I was able to appreciate the meridian line and the oculus where the Sun enters the church. However, since it was a cloudy day, I was not able to read the time with the Sun clock since no rays of Sun were visible. Lastly, since I was there during mass, I got to hear the massive and 1700s original organ be played and it was marvelous! This entire church is filled with the history of every rocky place and every worker that had worked there since Roman times. It was truly and enrichning experience.  

“Messy And Complicated, But I Love It” (Extra)

By: Maria Mercedes Corredor, FIU Summer 2023

After a 3-hour layover and a total of 12 hours flying, I finally made it to Milano, Italy. I chose to fly to Milano because it was one of the cities that we were not going to visit as a group, and I wanted to see for myself the capital of fashion. I arrived at Malpensa airport and got off to a complicated start that defined the tone for the rest of my trip. While going through security there was a problem with my Venezuelan passport, and I was taken to a different location with a group of 3 policemen that only spoke Italian, no English and no Spanish. After a digging up my lost Italian and a lot of google translate, I found out my passport had a denouncement in the Interpol! Scary right? I was terrified. Turns out, when I had my passport stolen in Caracas in 2013, the American visa I had on that passport was also stolen. And somehow, the person that stole my passport came into Europe with it using that visa! I was astonished. So, within my first hour in Italy, I had to prove a group of policemen that I am really me! And not a thief that is trying to enter illegally. The whole experience was exhausting and frightening.  

After I finally made it out of the airport and into Italia, I had lost the train to my uncle’s house where I was supposed to be staying. It was 9pm on a Sunday and there were no more trains going to Bergamo. So, I had to book a hotel for the night near the airport. The next day I was able to go to my uncle’s house and also visit the Duomo in Milano. And let me tell you, the view from the terrace of the Duomo made absolutely everything worth it. This cathedral is amazing and the energy around it wraps you and left me feeling happy and relaxed. It was awesome! I also had the opportunity to go visit Lago Como and Lago Maggiore, which are stunning, and I would 100% recommend! I was traveling with my sister and that also made everything better. Being able to share these experiences brought us closer together and also made them fun! We got stuck in little towns because we missed trains, we ate unbelievably good pasta that gave us the worse stomach pains, we got on the wrong train more than once, and we had to ask directions from people on the street repeatedly. The whole thing was great! We both loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat.  

From left to right, top to bottom: Me in Il Duomo, Milano. Me eating in Bergamo, Me and my sister having gelato by Lago Como, picture of the lake.

Pictures by: Maria Mercedes Corredor & Maria Alejandra Corredor

The dropping of my sister in the airport meant my adventure with her was over, but a new adventure began. Starting the study abroad experience was filled with uncertainty and excitement. I was nervous about the housing and the sharing situation. Who am I going to have to share what with? I didn’t know. But now it has been a week and I think we all have slowly adapted to this new life that will last about a month or so. The housing has been great and the sharing situations totally manageable and even fun! It is nice having a bunch of girls around that will lend you that piece of clothing or jewelry that brings your whole outfit together. It is convenient to cook together and wholesome to laugh together. It has been a great experience and I can’t wait to see what the next weeks will bring.  

Ancient Rome As Text

“Flavian Amphitheater”

By: Maria Mercedes Corredor, FIU summer 2023

When you think of Rome you inevitably think of the Colliseum. A massive and imposing structure that attracts thousands of tourists every year. This year I had the opportunity to visit the Coliseum and learn about its history and people. In a span of two weeks, I went into the Coliseum three times. The first time was with my sister. The day we arrived in Rome we had reservations and were given an audio guide that gave us a lot of information and interesting facts, but I mostly focused on the view. The second time I went with the class, hanging out in a group and hearing the lecture from the professor was a completely different experience. This time I could pay more attention to the information since I had already marveled at the view a couple of days before. I also got to learn new things and answer the questions the audio guide had left me with. The third time I went to the Coliseum was for an arena and underground tour. These are extra tours that are bought separately and are done with a special guide. Doing the underground tour gave me incredible insight into the life behind the scenes, and I was able to connect with the people that built and used the Coliseum in ancient times.  

In my three visits combined, I learned a lot, but the thing that struck me the most was that the Coliseum was not originally named “Coliseum”! This is just a name that was derived hundreds of years later. The original name of the structure was Flavian Amphitheater. That is because it was built by the first Emperor of the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian. And it took him only 8 years to build this amazing thing! That means that they worked non-stop and allocated many resources for it for a series of years. The bricks and stones have marks on them of the company that brought them to the site, so far, three different marks have been found on the stones signifying that three companies worked to bring the stone into the city. However, Vespasian was not meant to see it finished since he died a year before the inauguration. It was his son Titus that finished the building. The opening was so grand that they had 100 continuous days of games and celebrations. Titus used the Amphitheater to gain the favor of the people since entrance was free and the popularity of the games was immense. Very fast, Titus came to be known as a charismatic and good emperor that cared for his people. Luckily for his reputation, destiny did not give him enough time to tarnish his name since he died only 3 years after he became emperor. It was his brother, Domitian, that continued the Flavian dynasty for 15 more years.  

There are records to prove that at the date of its inauguration, the Amphitheater did not have the structure it has today. It was remodeled a couple of times during Domitian’s rule and later suffered from earthquakes, wars and looting. Nonetheless, during the time it was used as an amphitheater, it must have been truly amazing. There are trap doors on the arena that signify that animals and stage props were brought in and out in the middle of the shows. There is a complex inner design that gave the games their organized nature. Special doors to come in or go out. Taps for exotic animals and even a tunnel that connects to the gladiator’s school so they can come in and out without going through the crowds. It the beginning, the inside did not have as many hallways as it does now and the river that runs underground had more space to flow. This makes the claims of water shows and recreation of naval battles more plausible. Moreover, the crowds were also carefully organized into classes. The emperor and his family had a specific place close to the arena. Senators also had their personalized seats with their names carved on them. Wealthy families had their VIP spots and as you moved up into the crowds, the spots changed from seats to standing up. Each entrance and exit were marked with a number and were called Vomitorium, they could get the 80,000 people that would fit into the theater in and out in a very organized way. I consider myself truly lucky to have been able to study all the faces of the Roman Coliseum like this, I only wish I could see it on its grand days in the middle of the games.  

Pictures by Maria Corredor. From left to right, top to bottom: me in the arena. An elevator reconstructed as a model of the ones they used to bring people and animals up and down the arena. The underground hallways. Stone placed laterally that signifies a spot for a sliding trap door. Bricks marked for the company that brought them into the city. View of the Coliseum from the new exit.  

Christian Rome As Text

“The First Christian Church”

By: maria mercedes Corredor, fiu summer 2023

There is an average of 2 million people in the world that consider themselves Christian. That means that they follow the teachings of Jesus and the Christian church. It is a very popular religion with representative in every country in the world except North Korea, where being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence. This last part sounds a bit drastic and hard to believe, but it is true. Now, what if I told you that there was a time when Christianity was a death sentence everywhere. A time when only a handful of people knew of Christ and the church was no more than a transportable altar that Peter hauled around Rome. During the first century AC, Christianity was illegal in Rome, and Peter, the founder of the Christian church, had no designated space to give mass. He used to take his movable altar into the streets and give mass wherever he could at the risk of imprisonment and even death.  

However, as the teachings of Christ gained popularity and more and more people joined Peter’s church, it became easier to practice, although still illegal. One of the people that joined the church early on was the family Pudentiana, they were a wealthy family in ancient Rome. The patriarch of this family, Saint Prudends is known traditionally as the first Christian converted in Rome by Peter. This wealthy Christian had two daughters: Praxedes and Pudentiana. They were also devout Christians. History remembers Praxedes for lending her house as a place of worship in a time when being caught worshiping Christ meant death, and an ugly one too. There are also records of Praxedes and her sister personally burying Christians in their backyard and provide care and comfort to the persecuted. She managed to escape martyrdom and died in peace. However, since her house was one of the first places Christians ever worshiped in and a place where Peter himself gave mass, it was eventually turned into a church by Pope Pius I. This church is it said to contain the relics of 3,000 Chrisitan martyrs and a piece of the column where Jesus was flagellated in Judea. This last relic was brought to Rome by Constantine’s mother, also a devout Christian.  

During my time in Rome, I had the pleasure of visiting this church and I found it fascinating. The altar and the ceiling of the chapels are decorated with mosaics of religious figures and events. These mosaics are colorful and incredibly beautiful. It is amazing to think that these tiny rocks and pieces of glass were put there around 1,200 years ago! Not only that, but the depiction of Jesus is different than the modern one. In the mosaic he is not in the cross, he is not bleeding nor suffering. Instead, he is holding the scripture and surrounded by angels and light. In the altar, Jesus has his halo and seems to be talking to a group of saints (between Praxedes and Pudentiana). He is passing on the teachings as he did during his life. I found this interesting because the image of Jesus that I had in my mind before was of a figure that was not human, it was more spiritual and unattainable. But in this first century mosaic he looks more like a person, a human that lived and experienced joy and suffering. Someone I can relate to. And that was my favorite part, to get to see Jesus in a new light and feel a connection to him.  

Pictures by Maria Corredor. From top to bottom, left to right: Mosaic in the basilica, the altar, a piece of the column where Jesus was flagellated.  

Tuscany As Text

“My Goliath”

by: maria mercedes corredor, fiu summer 2023

Michelangelo’s David has attracted the attention of historians and tourists worldwide. As a study abroad group in Florence, we could not leave it outside our route. I had heard so many things about it and had seen countless pictures, but nothing compared to the feeling I got walking down that hallway towards David. This 17-feet structure is on the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, at the end of a hall that has other Michelangelo works on both sides. So, as you are walking towards the massive work of art, you are surrounded by Michelangelos unfinished works. Statutes that look like they are trying to come out of the marble but don’t quite manage to free themselves. And at the end there is David. Completely free and alive. Mighty. His veins seem to pulsate with life and if you look at him long enough, he will talk to you. He will tell you about his fears and ask about yours.  

Many historians have tried to describe Davids’s situation and the consensus seems to have two sides: is he preparing for the fight or is he celebrating his victory? Personally, I think he is neither. He hasn’t conquered Goliath since he is not portrayed glorious over his rival’s head. But he is also not sitting around waiting for him nor picking the perfect rock by the river. To me he is in the middle of the fight. In the thick of it. Standing tall, slingshot and rock in hand. Looking at his opponent as if trying to measure the distance between them. Afraid but careful in thought, calculating the right spot, time and position to strike. I can notice his struggle, his doubts, his courage. I see him and I see me. And cannot help but think of my own tribulations, my Goliath.

Maria and David in conversation. Picture by: John Bailly 

I didn’t realize how scary study abroad until I was in Italy. The idea of going to a new country with new people and spending the summer there sounded really exciting in the beginning. Visiting historic places and learning cool facts about them was what drove me in the first place. I never thought the trip would be so challenging. The challenge started physically. Two years ago, I was in a wheelchair and couldn’t walk; after treatment and physical therapy, I have been able to recover and so I prepared for the trip accordingly, or so I thought. I purchased the hiking bag that we were recommended and even practiced carrying it around in my house. However, two days into the trip my back was giving out. I was in Paris and could not get out of bed because of the pain. Determined not to miss anything of the wonderful city and make all the tourist reservations, I took some pain killers and later bought a small suitcase (carry-on size). I divided my stuff between the suitcase and the backpack and kept going. 

However, when I got to Rome, the pain came back. This time it was worse since I also got the flu and had to attend class. The first week of class I was absolutely misserable. We had to walk around 10 miles a day and it was cold and raining. On several occasions I attended lectures with a fever and had to keep myself drugged up with ibuprofen. Until finally, the morning we had to go to the Vatican, my body gave out. After a night of restless sleep, I woke up shivering and with crimpling back pain. That day I had to skip class and now on top of the physical challenge, I had an emotional burden. I felt like a failure. Like I was missing out on all these wonderful things that my classmates were doing just to stay in bed. I was angry and disappointed at my body for not holding on a little bit longer and needing a break. And the comments of the people around me did not help. “This is so cool!” or “My favorite place ever!”. Feeling like a miserable failure was not what I thought studying abroad would be like.  

And so, finding a way to enjoy this trip became my Goliath. One that came unexpectedly because I thought fun and joy just happened while you are abroad. But now I see myself as David, in the middle of a fight. Battling my own body and thoughts of failure and disappointment.  

Cinque Terre As Text

“No More Troubles”

By: maria mercedes corredor, fiu summer 2023

inally! Now this feels like Italia. The one I have seen on movies and social media. After three weeks of intense tourism, today was the first time I actually felt in Italia. The sea air and the beaming sun helped a lot, but mostly it was the homey and authentic feel of Cinque Terre. This area on the coast of Italia is formed mostly by 5 small towns in the mountains by the sea. These 5 towns form the five lands, or the Cinque Terre. The clear waters and the amazing food will call you here, but the people and the scenery will make you want to stay. This is, without a doubt, my favorite part of our trip so far.  

When we arrived here, we went straight to the beach. I was determined to have fun and make the most out of these last weeks. It is only 3 days later, and I am already so happy with the outcome. These three days, we stayed in a sanctuary on the top of a hill and the tranquility of it healed my soul. We spent the first day doing a hike. The groups’ goal was to hike the entire 19 miles that cover the 5 villages. My personal goal was to give the day my absolute best and get the most of it and obviously, have fun! The first part of the hike, towards the first village, was rough. I was at the end of the line and since we were going downhill, it was hard of my knees. But I managed to finish by playing motivational music on my headphones and admiring the nature around me while blocking everything else. I realized that if I distanced myself from the group, it would be easier for me to hike. This was because the complaints of the people around me made me want to complain too and if I started feeling sorry for myself, I was never going to make it! (And we as a group do complain a lot! – especially me, don’t get me wrong). But by the second piece of the hike, I had it figured out and the next two towns flew by and even seemed easy!  

Once we got to the third town, Corniglia, I was the first one there and went straight to the beach. The cold and clear water seemed to heal my body and felt so relaxing that I didn’t realize I spent 3 hours in the ocean! By the time I got out my classmates were already hiking, and I had not even had lunch. The same thing happened to my friend so we both decided to grab lunch before we continued hiking. We found a nice restaurant and we were set on trying the authentic pesto from Cinque Terre. After a wonderful meal we could not bring ourselves to continue the hike and decided to call it a day. We took a train back to the main town and within an hour we were back at the hotel. Even though I did not finish the hike, I sure had the time of my life! According to my smart watch, I ended up walking 10 miles! Way more than I thought I could do.  

The next two days after the hike, I was constantly reminded of my success by the pain in my legs and muscles. And I loved it! I went to the beach on multiple occasions and swam in the Liguria Sea. All my troubles melted away.  

Pictures by Maria Corredor and Ana Ferreiro. From Left to right, top to bottom: Me and friends in the middle of the hike. Me admiring the view and my success at getting at the top of the mountain. Me and friends (if you look close enough you can see stress leaving our bodies). Me bathing in the Ligurian sea.

Author: mcorr128

Maria Mercedes is a 25 year old biology student. Her dream is to go to med-school. She moved to Miami in 2019 but she was born and raised in Venezuela, that is the place she feels most at home in. She likes to paint and spend time with her dog. And she loves to study! Any new information that you give her she will be happy to hear it and make it her own.

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