Samantha Villa: Italia as Text 2023

Photo by Samantha Villa


Samantha Villa is a third year Pre-Medical student at Florida International University studying Nutrition Science and is part of the Honors College. She was born and raised in Miami to Colombian parents who immigrated to the United States. As both a Pre-Medical student and proud member of Phi Delta Epsilon she cares about her community and enjoys giving back whenever possible. She spends her free time doing what she loves which includes reading, spending time with family and friends, and spending time outside whether relaxing or walking amongst nature.

Italia summer encounter as text

Picture by Samantha Villa/ CC by 4.0

“To Roma and New adventures”

By Samantha Villa of FIU on May 14, 2023

Flying into Rome was the moment of realization that this was real. We were actually going to be in Europe, in Italy for an entire month. All anxiousness and fear disappeared as soon as I got here it felt like I was just okay and in control which is not what I had really expected since I had been pretty anxious the entire week before getting here. Starting class, however, was a brutal awakening although I knew in theory the intensity and requirements of the class it was an entirely different experience to be doing everything. It has been a whirlwind of good, bad, difficult moments, excitement, and new experiences. One of these things was the public transportation system which is not something that we really use back in Miami since it isn’t structured and supported in the best way as it is here or other cities. I have used the metro and everything before in other locations when I have been traveling with my family but it always takes a moment to get into the groove of things especially with a new geography that you have never explored. The first few times we second guessed ourselves and double checked everything and maybe even got off on the wrong stop here and there but within less than a week I feel super confident and comfortable using the metro and bus system as if it was second nature and I see my classmates experience the same. With a few days practicing everything and exploring I went with a group of my fellow classmates to go along and find our assigned and chosen metro stops where we would go to the location and explore the area. The metro stop I ended up choosing and exploring was Bologna along metro line B and one stop away from Tiburtina which is the metro stop closest to where we are staying. I think total travel was about 20 minutes if we include the walking to the station and you land in a somewhat residential but bubbling area of town. When we went it was around night time and we were looking for somewhere to have dinner in the area that was good, authentic and not too expensive. As we walked looking for something that fit the criteria we got to explore and see the entire vibe of the area. It was pretty quiet in most areas but around the Piazza Bologna there were a few places where you could see locals tend to spend their evenings at for dinner, drinks, to catch up with friends, go out with family and just enjoy their evening. Around that Piazza was more busy so we chose to stray away in search for our dinner destination and came across this restaurant that was basically empty but decided to try it out anyways since the menu looked good. It turned out to be this cozy mom and pop type restaurant which had amazing food. I love how the moments and experiences you don’t necessarily plan out but rather come across tend to be the best ones. We had a great dinner and a great time and explored a new area of the city. Funnily enough Rome feels like a compressed version of Miami. There is a lot of residential areas, touristy areas, areas to go out, and also calmer areas but all in a tinier circumference making it really cool as you can get to a lot of places in a short amount of time whereas back home it’s very hard between driving the distance to get to places and traffic. Overall so far it’s been a great experience and a cultural shift definitely but I am incredibly happy and excited to continue finding new places and seeing more things as we go along the rest of the program.

Pompeii as text

Photo of Pompeii Ruins by Samantha Villa/ CC By 4.0

“A Brutal Awakening Amidst Pompeii”

By Samantha Villa of FIU on May 21, 2023

Pompeii, the ancient city that is historically recognized as the city buried by the tragic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. As part of our journey through Italia learning of the many historical aspects within every city we visit, we took a day trip to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. We were able to traverse through the ruins and observe the city frozen in time from the year 79 A.D. 

Walking along the roads many people long ago used to walk we saw the many areas of the town. There were buildings that once used to make up homes, shops, restaurants and more. The roads had fountains and visual indicators along the crossroads to make it easier for foreigners at the time since Pompeii used to be a trading center. The reason Pompeii was able to be a trading center quite easily was due to its port and as a result of this there were many people at that time that would be visitors to the city. Walking further into the city we were able to observe even more evidence of the everyday life of this ancient city. There were brothels with preserved paintings of the walls of promiscuous figures and the multiple rooms that would be used. There were bath houses where you could see the beautiful murals and mosaics, the separations between the different temperature baths and the fresh water access or well that was present in the bath room with the hot water. And within some of the bigger more lavish houses we were able to see the still standing mosaics, alters, fresh water collectors, and even gardens in the middle of courtyards. 

Pompeii is a city that most people have at least heard of at some point in their life and even maybe learned a little bit in school. It was an entirely brutal moment to actually be within the remaining city from ancient times. Everything we walked along was remnants to remind us that here people actually had lives, they walked along these streets, spent time with family and friends in the town square, indulged in decadent lifestyles visiting bath houses and brothels, took to the shops and bought groceries or trinkets or things they needed, and ate out at restaurants scattered throughout the city. Too often when we learn about history and historical events that happened we tend to dehumanize them in a sense. By this I mean that we tend to forget that though we are learning about events that happened a long time ago there were people that lived through all this, there were people that struggled through those events and people that died due to those events.

The city of Pompeii was able to be preserved due to the way the eruption took place. As the tour guide explained to us, when the eruption took place the peak of Mount Vesuvius was blown off and what first reached and covered Pompeii was pumice stone and other volcanic debris. Then volcanic ash fell atop and finally the lava would have reached the city after a few days. Because of this the many things in the city were fully or partially preserved, this included the people that died in the city also. Since the start of the excavations of the Pompeii over 1000 remains of the victims have been discovered and plaster casts of their bodies were made. These casts demonstrate the victims of Pompeii in their final moments of life as they died due to the tragic eruption. 

Visiting Pompeii has been my least favorite part of the entire trip. Though we got to see a city frozen in time I couldn’t help but feel so out of place and like it was morally wrong to be there. To me seeing everything around me and all the tourists visiting felt inconsiderate to the tragedy that struck this ancient city. We were all there visiting paying to see the remnants of a disaster. We were basically walking amongst a graveyard which was made worse once the tour guide showed us the casts of the victims. Not only were we witnessing what remained from this disaster but we were literally looking at the bodies of people that died in their last moments of life as they suffered and feared for their life. Though learning parts of history is incredible, this not only did not feel incredible but if anything it just felt wrong.

Roma as text

Photo of St Peters Basilica by Samantha Villa/ CC by 4.0

“An Outsiders Perspective on the Vatican”

By Samantha Villa of FIU on May 21, 2023

The Vatican or rather Vatican City, I recently found out is the smallest country in the entire world. Vatican City is around 44 square kilometers and has a grand total population of 825 people. Home to the Pope and known for being the center of Christianity, specifically Catholicism, Vatican City is made up of Saint Peter’s Square, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Apartments and the Vatican Museums as well as the few churches across Rome that also are considered a part of Vatican Territory. Of this we were able to visit the square, the basilica, the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel as part of our immersion into this small country within Rome. 

Walking through the city walls you see four rows of columns and then further along Saint Peter’s Square with an uninscribed obelisk in the center that has a cross at the top. Looking from the center of the square facing away from the Basilica you can see the dramatic entrance that still stands along Via Della Conciliazione from when negotiations were made to separate Vatican City from the city of Rome. The pillars surrounding the square entice you towards Saint Peters Basilica almost in a welcoming manner. The square was designed by Bernini hence its grand and beautiful composition. Facing towards the Basilica we can see the pillars all around in a radial manner. They are built perfectly surrounding the center of the square so much so that from the center it appears as if there is only one row of pillars instead of the existing four due to the perfect alignment.

Coming into Saint Peters Basilica there is so much that catches your eye it’s almost overwhelming. What’s even more overwhelming is learning about the significance of the different areas in the Basilica while visually taking it all in. Looking up at the Dome you can see the Latin inscription around the diameter “Tu es Petrus te super hang petram aedificabo ecclesiam mean et tibi dabo claves caelorum” which translates to “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” in reference to the quote from the Gospel of Matthew. This dome is also right above the tomb of Saint Peter, the first pope, and the Baldachin that stands right above his tomb. The Baldachin stands at a grand seven stories high and contains a remnant of the original cross. Looking towards the wall behind the Baldachin and the tomb of Peter, there is a beautiful stained glass window representative of the Holy Spirit and the throne of Peter. These were the things that stood out to me the most. Walking along the rest of the church, I was in awe with absolutely everything. There was the almost perfectly preserved body of the “Good Pope” who looked almost porcelain, the bronze statue of Saint Peter which is worn down at the feet as people used to kiss it and pray at the feet of Peter, The Pieta by Michelangelo one of the most tragically beautiful sculptures I’ve ever seen, and the monument sculpture above a Pope’s tomb which was Bernini’s last work with a dramatic flair to it as there is a skeleton with an hourglass indicating time of life has passed. This is just scratching the surface on the many wondrous things within Saint Peter’s Basilica but it was just absolutely amazing to see this all in person, analyze it’s significance, and learn about when and why they were made. As someone who isn’t all to religious myself, it was still an amazing experience and incredible to be in the heart of Catholicism and be a part of hundreds of years of tradition.

Toscana as text

Photo of cannoli in front of Leaning Tower of Pisa by Samantha Villa/ CC by 4.0

“How a small city leaves a grand impression”

By Samantha Villa of FIU on May 28, 2023

The Toscana region is an area around the center of Italy characteristic of mountain landscapes, vineyards, and the many cities that make up the region. Out of the various cities that are a part of the Toscana region we got to visit three: Florence, Pisa, and Siena. All three of these cities brought a unique experience of the different historical time periods and with them the architecture and art that was distinct for that time. 

The city that stood out to me the most was Pisa. The city of Pisa is most famously known for the Leaning Tower of Pisa but the city itself encapsulates the essence of Italy throughout the less touristy areas. Throughout the city we can see many examples of architecture that represent the time periods during which Pisa was an active city prior to its defeat to the Medici of Florence in 1500. One of the things that is unique to Pisa is the Romanesque style of architecture. This style came after the Roman Empire but before the Gothic Era yet it includes Christian style as well making it a style unique to Pisa and Pisa alone. Pisa Romanesque style is only found there and is not seen anywhere else in the world. In addition to this one of the most famous marble in the world is found nearby Pisa. The Carrara marble is found in a quarry nearby and is very popular for its durability and characteristic clean white look. This is the same marble used to make The Leaning Tower of Pisa which gives it its bright white appearance as well as allowing it to be in such good condition despite the fact it was constructed starting in 1173 and finished around the middle of the 12th century.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is probably the main attraction of tourism towards the city. It is located in Piazza deli Miracoli which is the Plaza of Miracles. Alongside the Tower, which was the planned bell tower for the city, is the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and the Camposanto. It was astonishing to see how the tower is standing and stable considering the lean and the issues that led towards the lean during the construction process and even afterwards. The entire construction process took about 200 years due to the leaning that began after the start of the contraction. It was built on unstable ground due to the wet muddy soil underneath and without a proper foundation which is intimately what caused such an issue. There were many attempts to correct the slant even from the start including making the upper stories shorter on one side to try to balance it out, tying it to a building, taking some of the soil underneath out, and even placing balls on lead on the counterbalance side to try to balance it out. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the tower was straightened and stabilized. It’s incredible to see how still hundreds of years later the tower is still standing. It kind of shows how there is always failures in terms of construction, science, mathematics and just everything in life really. Despite the failures in the calculations to build it and correct the issues, the Tower remains a staple to visit in Italy for many people across the world.

From Pisa also came many other great things including two people that contributed greatly to science and mathematics. This was Galileo Galilei and Fibonacci. As someone who has been greatly interested in both science and mathematics for most of their life, being in the place where these two great figures lived and developed a lot of the concepts I’ve learned about throughout my schooling was amazing. Climbing up the Tower we passed the very spot where Galileo many years ago dropped two metal balls to see if they’d fall at the same time. We passed where Galileo lived and learned about the fact that he lived and even taught at the University of Pisa. Fibonacci also lived in Pisa and he is most known for his introduction of the number zero and the Fibonacci sequence which is linked to the development of the Golden Ratio that is observed through art and the natural world. It was a surreal moment to think about the fact that we were literally walking through the very places that these people walked through and lived their lives in.

Cinque terre as text

Photo of Vernazza by Samantha Villa/ CC By 4.0

“Reflections by the Sea”

By Samantha Villa of FIU on June 2, 2023

Throughout the majority of our study abroad program now, we have been following the path and journey that many before us long ago followed as well as part of the Grand Tour. The Grand Tour was a journey of education and enlightenment throughout the 16th to 18th century encompassing various locations throughout Europe but mainly in Italy where typically young wealthy men got to experience various cities and the ruins, art, and architecture corresponding to each city. Where normally this travel took months to years we have almost completed an expedited version throughout Italy in three weeks. Similar to those before us we spent time in Cinque Terre to be able to reflect and connect with everything we have learned and observed throughout our travels.

Cinque Terre if directly translated means “Five Lands” which is a direct representative name as what makes up the region are five different cities all separated by mountains. The five cities are Monterosso al Mar, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Each city brings their own unique aspects to the region of Cinque Terre from landscapes to different atmospheres. Monterosso out of all five cities is the one that has a long stretched out beach with sand and everything. Within this city you can experience the calm and contemplation that is brought upon by a typical beach paradise with the view encapsulating you, the wind and sun hitting you and the waves crashing. Vernazza resembles a fishing village with a natural harbor, boats all around and the picturesque colorful buildings. Corniglia is unique in terms of landscape as it is the only one of the five cities that does not have direct access to the sea and is found up on a cliff. This wonderful city is also known for its wine. Manarola is the second to smallest of all five cities and has beautiful pastel colored houses down the mountain. Lastly, Rio Maggiore is the smallest and southernmost of all the cities of the Cinque Terre Region and to me felt like one of the more calm cities at least walking through it.

One of the special things about Cinque Terre is the it is a UNESCO World Heritage site meaning it has been protected and preserved in the same state as it was when people visited it hundreds of years ago. The region exists in its natural state with the landscapes and set up of each of the cities. This allows a unique experience for visitors. As for us, Cinque Terre exists as it did in historical times and as it did when people doing the Grand Tour would go and take some time to pause and reflect. The beautiful scenery, serenity, and general ambiance of Cinque Terre allows one to take time to contemplate about everything we’ve observed, learned, witnessed and experienced. Looking at such a vast landscape at least for me made me contemplate where exactly I fit in the grand scheme of things, in the vastness of life itself. The fact the very landscapes, hikes, views and ocean we experienced are the same as those that took upon a similar journey made it feel somehow much more of a connecting experience, like a right of passage. This little piece of Italy that exists is a peaceful escape unique to the world. It was truly an amazing place to experience even for a short amount of time and it was like nothing I had ever seen before.


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