Flavia Argamasilla: Grand Tour 2022

“The Many Faces of Italy”


In writing this Grand Tour Redux reflection, I aim to essentially sum up the variety of my experiences abroad, while drawing connections between each city we visited and some rather modern concepts that we deal with in everyday life. Studying abroad in Italy and having the chance to visit countless Italian cities and regions is no doubt a once in a lifetime opportunity. Needless to say, Italy took my breath away every single time, and inspired me to look within myself to deeply analyze the connections between world history and our personal histories that should be distinguishably obvious to us, yet somehow aren’t always very clear to see. I could go on and on and on for days (trust me) about the awe inspiring sights, and the yummy food, and the tough culture shocks we experienced, and the intense hot days and breezy cool nights, and our spur of the moment weekend plans for our free days in Rome, but instead, I would rather share the specific experiences I had that go beyond that, the ones about discovery of oneself and the history that runs through us all regardless of nationality…

Images taken throughout Italy. All images taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla. CC by 4.0

Erasures in Ancient Rome

Our cultural and historical educational journey began in Rome. If every bit of Italy’s cluttered history is littered with past civilizations, along with the advancements, structures, civic systems, and religious beliefs they left behind, then this is especially true for the deeply rooted, yet beautiful city of Rome.

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, which- I cannot confidently say that I fully understood that ever so popular saying before traveling to the Eternal City, the Caput Mundi. Once I was adjusted to the city’s touristy hustle and bustle on the most famous streets, along with its peaceful, residential side as well, I ultimately understood the meaning behind the common saying. Rome truly is the root of all we know today. In the beginning, there was the great Roman civilization of ancient times, who persevered for hundreds of years. Saint Bede the Venerable seemed to agree, as he once said…

“Rome will exist as long as the Coliseum does;

when the Coliseum falls, so will Rome;

when Rome falls, so will the world.”

When Rome falls, so will the rest of the world… If the great Caput Mundi that we toured around for two weeks were to abruptly fall, that means the rest of the world is not doing well at all.

One specific big idea that continuously gleamed out to me sorely for the duration of our two week visit in Rome was how frequently, and often remarkably easily erased ancient Rome was in some cases. It surprised me that in ancient Roman buildings and structures that Romans once used as part of daily life and they held dear to their hearts, their religious beliefs of paganism, one of the very core foundation blocks of ancient Roman civilization, is wiped out completely, or attempted to be hidden away from world view, to be replaced with more contemporary religious views. As in the Pantheon, where the beautiful niches that were once filled by different Roman gods and deities, are now empty voids, waiting to be filled by Christian symbols, or not at all. The transformation of what was essentially a church for the ancient Romans, or a place of paganistic worship, into a Christian establishment where you can buy religious souvenirs, but of the wrong religion, is a distinctly blatant one when you realize what the structure once stood for. It is even more questionable when you add to that the fact that the shape of the building is still used today in so many non pagan churches.

It’s thought-provoking that we can manage to take so much from the past, and yet still stand strong in our attempts to erase it. Or maybe, the way humanity has always functioned and moved forward has involved some form or another of erasures of the past. Either way, the attempts are unsuccessful, because we still know, and learn about, the Pantheon’s truest roots, and its original purpose.

Art as Expression in Renaissance Florence

Our next stop on our Grand Tour Redux was the forever blooming city of Florence. As a city named after flowers, I was expecting the most beautiful sunsets, an exceptionally grandiose Duomo Cathedral, and lots of enchantingly quaint flower shops lining the streets. Indeed, I must say Florence did not disappoint. Not only did I receive all this that I was expecting, but Florence, the city that practically birthed the renaissance, also gave me a new outlook on how art and history intertwine endlessly, meshing together to tell one story as a whole. You will never have the whole history until you look at both the art, and the firsthand accounts of the time.

As it turns out, I am not the only one who came to Florence with wishes of seeing the beautiful pastel colors of the sun setting across the calm Florentine skies, behind the iconic silhouette of the Duomo, capturing the ever inspiring essence that the city has been known for for ages. It seems Mark Twain had the same idea…

“This is the fairest picture on our planet, the most enchanting to look upon, the most satisfying to the eye and the spirit. 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, and make a sympathetic one drunk with ecstasy.”

The more we learned about Florence’s history, it became more and more challenging to separate the Medici family from the city’s history. In fact, impossible would probably be a better choice of a word. The one family is so deeply tied and firmly engraved in the stories of events that transpired during the renaissance that it can be said that they were responsible for making it all happen. If that is the case, then we have the Medicis to thank for the early enlightenment period in art and culture for all humanity. It was through their funding of different artists that many of them got to live out their dreams of painting and sculpting for a living.

However, it is of upmost importance to note that even when the artist has no choice but to accept a commission, they can still breathe a nature of themselves, and their true feelings, into their works. This is true for Michelangelo’s work in the Medici Chapel in San Lorenzo, Florence. Michelangelo had a complicated relationship with the Medicis to say the least. He was very young when he was scouted by Lorenzo de Medici and was thrown into the Medici family circle. It couldn’t have been easy, but it’s thanks to this that he advanced his skills in art, science, and writing. Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt for the Medici chapel tombs, where he created the Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day, all perfectly and elegantly placed on top of the tombs of Medicis.

One thing that stands out about these sculptures is the expressions on their faces. To truly understand them, you have to first look at the history within them. At the time that Michelangelo was sculpting these works, his relationship with the Medicis was at a lower point than it had originally ever been. On top of that, the era of the renaissance was slowly coming to a close. The statues themselves represent a beginning and an end, which I found highly reflective of their own time, as we were transitioning into the Baroque era of art and sculpting while leaving the wild creativity of the renaissance behind. It is a sadder expression on Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day, explained by the complexities of human relationships, and human emotions that we can imagine Michelangelo was affected by. It’s fitting that Florence, this city full of wonder, houses such form of pure human expression coming through in artists’ works, like Michelangelo in the Medici Chapel.

Unmatched Authenticity in Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was our next stop on our Grand Tour Redux adventure, and I do have to admit that I hold this particular part of my study abroad journey close to my heart. Cinque Terre literally means five lands, and it’s a suiting name, as there are five mountainside villages. The absolutely unparalleled views, the exciting cliff jumping, and the approachable, lovely people all made me want to never leave the villages ever again. It is not hard to see how Cinque Terre is one of the most frequently visited spots by tourists in all of Italy. Yet, beneath the surface of one of the most postcard- picture perfect places on Earth, lies more than just tourism.

Manarola is the fourth mountain village we visited, complete with unreal views of the coastline and the variety of colorful buildings lining the hills’ ups and downs. The people who work and live in Manarola love their home, and they also have a spectacular sense of giving when it comes to sharing their native products with those who come from near and far hoping to get a taste of one of the many products that Cinque Terre’s five villages have to boast about. In fact, one of the most popular products of Manarola is a popular dessert wine called Sciacchetrà. As with all the other villages in Cinque Terre, Manarola does have farms and crops planted in its hills, worked by the many knowledgeable farmers who live in the village. The Sciacchetrà wine is produced right there in the village, later to be served in its many restaurants. In this way, even throughout the record breaking tourism that Cinque Terre undoubtedly experiences, it manages to keep its sense of authenticity and originality. Take one walk down the main street, where you’ll find reasonably priced real seashell bracelets, flavorful gelato, fried seafood specialties, and most importantly, some sweet Sciacchetrà wine, and you’ll realize just how true to its roots Manarola, and the rest of Cinque Terre, are.

Small Town Charm in Venice

Our last stop, Venice, felt like we were on a floating dream of a city. There were a lot of mixed feelings during this last stretch of the trip. In Venice, anything felt possible, but knowing these were our final days of absorbing Italian culture nonstop made me appreciate it more. As Alexander Herzen, the Russian philosopher, describes it…

“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.”

The fact that this entire city, Basilica and all, is built on a special pine wood and Istrian stone is insanity. One of the six sestieri, or neighborhoods, is Cannaregio, the furthest up north. It’s significantly farther from the tourist bubble in the major parts of Venice and has the most peace and quiet that the city has to offer its visitors. It was quite a different experience to walk through the supermarket and grocery store filled streets of Cannaregio after experiencing the other, more heavily populated areas of Venice. It felt as if I had just peered into the ‘real’ Venice, the one with residents who buy groceries and eat out during special occasions, rather than the constant ‘Ristorante’ lined street corners that border San Marco’s Basilica and Palazzo Ducale. This warm, small town charm feeling felt more true to Venice, more suiting, than the busy, over- crowded tourist streets. It was an unforgettable experience to see Venice’s ‘real’ side.

Flavia Argamasilla: Italia America 2022

The Influence of Ancient Rome on the American Legal System

By: Flavia Argamasilla


Italy’s roots lie in ancient Rome, and as it seems, so do America’s. As you may already know, there are countless notions we experience in our day-to-day lives in America that were adopted from ancient principles that were originally Roman in descent. We have all been taught at some point in our schooling that we stole ancient Rome’s concept of government for ourselves in the United States. After all, we do have the famous separation of powers, with multiple branches of government including a congress and no singular, all- powerful position. As a matter of fact, the Roman, Julius Caesar thought he could fit into that role, and we all know what happened to him. Nonetheless, the truth is that we took a lot more ‘inspiration’ from ancient Rome than solely the concept of having a free Republic. If you look closely enough, you will notice that bits and pieces, if not whole chunks, of Roman ideals are scattered throughout our very country’s most principal foundations, just like crumbs under the couch of our country.

As someone who is studying towards a political science minor and a pre- law skills certificate, I’ve learned throughout all my classes to perceive the world in a different manner. Pre- law studies have taught me to always take in both sides of an equation and put objectivity and impartiality above all else while deciding situations. In America, these two factors are arguably the most basic building blocks you discover when breaking apart our legal system. In fact, our own Lady Justice wears a blindfold representing this same principle of fairness that we know the country constantly strives for in legal proceedings. Yet, what is ‘just’? Although in practice it is true that plenty of unexpected imperfections often rise up from the cracks and flaws in our system, our concepts and beliefs on ‘justice’ and how it should function in the legal sense of the word are very much founded in Italy, or more specifically, they are founded in ancient Roman principles.

Furthermore, law in ancient Rome revolutionized many concepts during the civilization’s time. One of the stark differences between Rome and its geographical neighbors was the treatment women received. Roman women, although still not considered completely equal to men, had more legal rights than had been seen at this point in history. Romans let women practice certain rights, like divorce, owning a business, and executing their own wishes on their property, among others. For its time, these women’s rights were not popular, and the effect of letting women be far more socially independent no doubt revolutionized how we, to this day, see and put into practice women’s rights.

Legal Foundations – Italia

Roman law stretched so far into all aspects of daily life that, like modern day law, it can be difficult to catalog. One key feature of Roman law was the attention to the precision of language used in writing the laws, very similar to America’s convoluted legal terminology. It all started with the Roman Twelve Tables. They are, as the name provides, 12 bronze tablets created in Rome in 451 and 450 BCE. At the time, there was a growing pressure from the plebeians, the ordinary Romans, to establish a set of laws that would reduce the influence that the wealthy, patricians, and priests had on the administration of law in Rome. This new set of laws would have to better represent the ordinary people. A committee, or decemviri, composed of 10 aristocratic men or Roman patricians, was established and put up to the task. They came up with 10 tables, adding two more in the following year, of ius civile, civil laws, that they felt would help prevent abuses and help govern themselves better.

Philosophically, these tablets stand for a lot more than the laws the Romans established to please the plebeians. It was an attempt to codify law and apply it to all citizens, wealthy or not. It now allowed legal principles to be looked at and cases to be decided based on a certain standard. The decemviri had the charge of determining which principles they wanted to codify into everyday Roman law. Plebeians and patricians alike would have to follow them, and its key features would be known to all of Rome and beyond for years into the future. What standard were they intending to set for the future of Roman legal practices? The Twelve Tables showcase a just and fair approach to civil law, many of the lines starting with the words ‘any person’ or ‘no person’. It established the Romans’ concept of justice across the civilization for years to come and functioned as the first guiding document for Roman society and legal practices.

Afterward, new laws continued shaping Rome as its needs and people changed. Roman law was cumulative, meaning that statutes, senatorial decrees, decided cases, and edicts could all be added to or supersede any existing law, much like in the United States today. Additionally, there was eventually a need for laws that covered difficult topics such as businesses and commercial purchases. When Roman citizens began interacting with non-Roman citizens in transactions and financial deals, contract law and international law came to be. During the second half of the Roman republic, legal jargon had reached technicality levels that everyday citizens could no longer interpret, triggering the rise of ‘legal specialists’ or jurists. The job of jurists was to be consulted by anyone who needed legal advice or had questions having to do with Roman law. In a way, these jurists were the closest thing to modern day ‘lawyers’ that Rome had.

Roman congress. Image is in the public domain

Legal Foundations – America

The United States of America is known for its prime example of democracy and its complex legal system. What is less popularly known is how much of the legal system is inspired from Rome. In terms of legal frameworks, the most important American document is, of course, the Constitution. The lengthy document established the guiding principles and fundamental laws and rights in the United States, just as the Twelve Tables did for Rome. What principles did America’s Founding Fathers intend to instill on the future of both their country and its legal foundations? The same ones the decemviri instilled onto their Twelve Tables: fairness, impartiality, justice; the parallels between the two groups are difficult to ignore.

The Founding Fathers’ idea of justice, founded in Roman ideals, comes through in their writing: creating a congress to represent the rights of all citizens, not just the wealthy, along with spelling out which legal rights they believed one should be entitled to from birth. It was the guiding document on justice in America that deeply resembled the same Roman ideals in the Twelve Tables, from the creation of a separate body of power to the notion of treating citizens justly. The various glaring similarities between both civilizations’ establishing documents are deeper than the surface level. They both created what would go on to be considered the collective standard of law for each of their respective societies in the future. Currently, the United States Constitution is still protecting the rights of U.S. citizens.

The United States Constitutional Convention. Image is in the public domain.

As in Rome, our earliest laws have also been added to or changed by different court decisions, statutes, bills, amendments, and executive orders. As for court decisions, it’s called precedent, meaning when a higher court decides something, all future cases tackling the same issue have to be decided in the same way, allowing our laws, the very pillars of society, to be revised as time and innovations move along. This notion that laws could not possibly stay the same forever due to a society’s changing needs first occurred to the Romans.

The adding and amending of existing laws inevitably led to more difficulty in cataloging all the different areas of American law. Similar to Rome, legal jargon in America is also complex enough to require ‘legal specialists,’ which today we call ‘lawyers.’ The very profession was first necessitated in ancient Rome. Nowadays, about two-thirds of the world’s lawyers are American lawyers. I think it’s safe to say that it is an extremely popular profession within the country, having its roots in Rome.

Symbols of Justice – Italia and America

Our pictures of justice and equality are numerous throughout our legal system. One of the most recognized symbols of justice in the United States is Lady Justice, a woman depicted holding the scales of justice perfectly balanced, with a blindfold over her eyes. What isn’t recognized is that in Roman mythology, Justitia was the woman blindfolded holding scales and a sword. Our own Lady Justice is actually Justitia, one of the four Virtues in Roman mythology who represented the equal and impartial carrying out of justice without corruption, greed, or prejudice. She is the personification of the moral forces at play in all legal decisions. Justitia was first introduced by the emperor Augustus as a symbol of the morals and virtues that every emperor wishes to be associated with during their rule, in this case justice. In the United States, statues, paintings, and plenty of other depictions of Lady Justice with her sword, blindfold, and scales line the halls and chambers of government buildings, from the Supreme Court to the White House, from the Capitol building and beyond, both inside and along the steps outside. Her constant depictions are as if symbolizing the principle of justice that the government itself wants to be associated with, much like emperor Augustus.

Justitia, Roman goddess, also Lady Justice. Image is in the public domain

Another Roman mythological goddess is Veritas, who stands for truth, and is most known as the Latin word used to represent a core value in American politics and the legal system. Both Roman goddesses, Veritas- truth, and Justitia- justice are deeply engraved in countless corners of our legal depictions and teachings in the United States yet are completely and authentically Roman concepts dating back to very ancient times.

The ideals of how to achieve justice and put objectivity into practice in the legal system are rooted in ancient Rome. They practiced our same ideals, such as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and the right for an accused person to be defended. A huge pillar of the American legal system is the fact that you are not automatically guilty. The burden of proof falls onto the accuser, and those who are accused do, in fact, have the right to defend themselves against their accusations. Moreover, Roman legal specialists would often defend others and present their case for them during trials. People had the right to present their side and have their case heard before being decided. As in ancient Rome, the United States practiced justice in a way where everyone’s rights were protected, including the accused’s rights to have a fair trial without delay, and the right to have a defense, which today has been codified into the Sixth Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights, an indispensable part of the country’s legal framework and history.

Women and Law

An important point to note when speaking about rights within the legal system is women. Ancient Rome afforded more rights to women than most other civilizations had done at that time in history. Legally, women were allowed to manage their own finances, and even further, they could open businesses of their own. In fact, there were many women in Rome who became quite influential through their booming businesses and achieved it all on their own accord.

Moreover, as in the United States, women in ancient Rome had the right to legally divorce and be remarried. Having the ability to divorce a husband is important because it contributed to the overall societal independence of women. In ancient Rome, women, especially those who were wealthier, had many everyday societal freedoms. While not completely equal as of yet, the various rights that women in ancient Rome received at the time, especially the ability to request a divorce, were pretty much unseen.

All in all, ancient Rome and America have much more in common than is often led on. America has taken countless legal concepts that Rome did first and applied them to our legal frameworks and establishing documents. Our constitution serves the same purpose as their Twelve Tables, providing the country with the same guiding rights, laws, and principles that would set up the futures of both the civilization, and the country. Furthermore, it is also unchallenged that our many ideals and symbols of justice have always revolved around their original Roman counterparts.

Works Cited

Cartwright, Mark. “Roman Law.” World History Encyclopedia, 24 Nov. 2013, http://www.worldhistory.org/Roman_Law.

—. “Twelve Tables.” World History Encyclopedia, 11 Apr. 2016, http://www.worldhistory.org/Twelve_Tables/#:%7E:text=The%20Twelve%20Tables%20(aka%20Law,be%20treated%20equally%20before%20them.

Glendon, Mary Ann. “Roman Law | Influence, Importance, Principles, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 Nov. 2020, http://www.britannica.com/topic/Roman-law.

Kreis, Steven. “The Laws of the Twelve Tables.” The History Guide, 3 Aug. 2009, http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/12tables.html.

Lisbdnet. “How Did Roman Law Influence Us Today.” Lisbdnet.Com, 6 Feb. 2022, lisbdnet.com/how-did-roman-law-influence-us-today/#:%7E:text=Rome’s%20laws%20have%20influenced%20democracy,be%20protected%20by%20the%20laws.

National Archives. “The Constitution of the United States.” National Archives, 19 Jan. 2022, http://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution.

PBS Learning Media. “The Roman Empire in the First Century.” PBS, PBS.org, 2006, http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/women.html.

Pennington, Ken. “History of Innocent Until Proven Guilty.” Legal History Sources, 1999, legalhistorysources.com/Canon%20Law/PresumptionInnocence.htm.

SCOTUS. “Figures of Justice.” Supreme Court, 22 May 2003, http://www.supremecourt.gov/about/figuresofjustice.pdf.

Stager, David. “Are There Too Many Lawyers?” Canada-United States Law Journal, vol. 6, no. 17, 1983, p. 245. Canada-United States Law Institute, https://doi.org/10.2307/3551001.

Flavia Argamasilla: Italia as Text 2022

Flavia Argamasilla is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Pre-Law Skills. She was born in Havana, Cuba, but has called Miami home since she was six years old. After graduating, she plans on furthering her education by attending law school.

Roma as Text

“A Beginning and an End” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Roma on May 15, 2022

Back when we were in Miami preparing for our Rome study abroad trip by firstly exploring all the historical sites and looking out for the things that make the city we call home unique, Professor Bailly specifically pointed out that we had to draw inspiration from the history of the land and how it affects us today to truly see how there’s no place in the world like Miami. Well, that may be true, but it’s also true that there’s no place in the world like Rome either.

There is, in fact, some specific structures that sparked my interest that I’d like to hone in on. Imagine, we wake up in the morning and after a short, two-minute walk (at Bailly speed), we have a breathtaking view of the ancient Roman ‘Aurelian walls’, including Porta Maggiore, which played a very significant role in Roman civilization during its time. This structure alone can tell us worlds about what was happening in history, if we’re willing to listen. What type of city needs walls for protection? A weak one.

Porta Maggiore was the grand entrance to a city surrounded by walls for protection against raids and other civilizations’ schemes and plots. Sadly, in Porta Maggiore we not only see what was once a booming city capable of building enormous structures with concrete and travertine, and a population that surpassed a million, but we also see Rome’s slow fall from grace when it started becoming weaker and needed walls to maintain its stability. When I thought of Rome before coming here, I always romanticized how great and mighty of a civilization it must have been at its peak, with its modern advances in construction, politics, and social customs. I never stopped and thought, “wait… what was Rome like right before it fell?” Porta Maggiore offers insight into this very question.

Ancient Roman aqueduct and Porta Maggiore. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Another structure that does that job is the ancient Roman aqueducts by the Italian countryside. After long hours of bike riding up and down ancient roads, and a couple of bike chain mishaps, we made it to a tranquil resting place right under the aqueducts. At first I wasn’t sure what they were used for, but as our lecture went on, I realized that these aqueducts are similar in meaning to Porta Maggiore. They show strength, in what Rome was capable of at its peak, a system for clean water for their entire population. However, it also displays the very end of Rome, as the barbarians managed to defeat Rome by breaking off the aqueducts, forcing Rome to surrender at around 537 AD. If there’s any clear message beaming through in all of the sights we’ve seen, it’s that all good things must come to an end. Rome was massive and powerful, until it was not. Doesn’t it kind of make you think about todays civilizations? And where their futures might lie?

Pompeii as Text

“A Modern 2,000 Year Old City” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Pompeii on May 16, 2022

The ruins of Pompeii showcase the tale of a magnificent city forced to freeze its snowballing progress in time forever. Mostly preserved thanks to the ash and stone that fell on it after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, we can see a city reaching a peak of technological advancement and ingenuity. Pompeii is a prime example of how Rome is still, to this day, all around us. Rome is embedded so deeply into who we are, that we don’t even notice anymore.

The advancements that took the ‘modern’ world years to create and adapt were commonplace to Pompeiians 2,000 years ago. Roads that helped you see at at night by having reflectors on the ground are an invention that changed the way we drive at night, especially on highways. They play a pivotal role in preventing accidents on the road. Clearly, Pompeii also saw their value early on. The holes on the sidewalk to tie your donkey while you grabbed a quick snack at a bar are basically the equivalent of our parking lots.

A terracotta bowl for maintaining food temperature; a Pompeiian mansion; a street in Pompeii. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Don’t even get me started on Pompeii’s system of avenues and streets. The avenues run from North to South and the streets run from East to West, seem familiar? The toilets on the first and second floors of homes and shops, plumbing systems throughout the streets, their terracotta food heating bowls, and even the street that resembled a mall all mark the earliest of beginnings to every convention we enjoy now in the modern world. Furthermore, in terms of social commodities, Pompeii was more ahead than anyone else during its time. They had the equivalent of street signs on the floor that would point men to the nearest brothels, where women were never shamed for their craft. Maybe we can learn a thing or two from Pompeii. In many ways, it is still the city of the future.

Tívoli as Text

“The Complexities of Love in Roman Times” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Tívoli on May 13, 2022

There’s definitely more than meets the eye when touring Hadrian’s Villa. The Roman emperor built his huge retreat in Tívoli as an escape to be among nature, where he could relax and enjoy his time. He built it over the foundation of what was originally a pre-existing villa belonging to his wife, Vibia Sabina. The halls and columns scream of Roman riches. Hadrian had baths, stages for entertainment, tunnels for his guards, and a private oasis with a moat and drawbridge. However, what was more fascinating altogether was the love story that we saw play out in Hadrian’s Villa- one for the books. Hadrian was, in fact, married, but as we all know, in Rome, many marriages were negotiations and political schemes.

Hadrian’s marriage to his wife was more of a business deal than it was love. We see that in his wife’s written recollections of daily life, she never seem bothered about her husbands escapades with others, particularly with who I’d say was the love of his life, Antonius. When Antonius died, Hadrian spent the rest of his life mourning him. He built statues upon statues of his deceased lover, making sure he would be reminded of their cherished memories together as he roamed through his villa. He even went as far as to declare him a god, although the Roman people were not too fond of the idea of such a common man becoming a god. Hadrian’s blatant public disregard of his marriage and his marital obligations to his wife is something we do not often see in history.

Statues and columns in Hadrien’s Villa. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The dynamics of marriage and infidelity were much different in Roman times. You could easily get away with ‘cheating’ on your spouse, as long as it was with someone below your own social class. It’s an interesting concept, that of how and where the line was drawn when it came to extramarital relationships. Perhaps it was because the lower classes weren’t seen as valid threats to the establishment that is a marriage, they were just side ‘entertainment.’ However, Antonius was clearly much more than entertainment in Hadrian’s eyes. Walking through his villa, seeing statue after statue, you can almost feel the emptiness Hadrian felt now that his lover was no longer with him. It’s mind-blowing that a structure that so vividly celebrates infidelity, with Antonius statues and all, was built that far back into history- 117 A.D. There was nothing secretive about the infidelity here. Nowadays we could never see our world leaders build something like this for their extramarital lovers, especially in the United States. The way we view marriage has changed drastically through the years, and Hadrian’s Villa is proof in 4K.

Firenze as Text

“We Built This City on Art and Sculptures” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU in Florence on May 25, 2022

Rarely do we see families in history as influential as the Florentine Medicis. They managed to work their way up from originally being commoners, to ending up with lavish office buildings, their own private chapel, and loads of works of art. It would certainly not be an exaggeration to say that the Medici family was the reason Florence became a hotspot for art and culture that would eventually lead to the renaissance.

Florence is defined by its art, with artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli, and Vasari all living within its walls at one point. The city represents the very beginning of looking at the world around us and interpreting it in different mediums. Painting and sculpting were two of the most popular methods of capturing and displaying the essence of life at the time. The Medici family sponsored so many works of art and architecture, that they are largely to blame for the majority of art during their reign. It’s mind-blowing to think about how a single family managed to take over Florence and beyond in political, religious, and artistic ways, all starting with the creation of a banking system.

Art made for the private Medici Chapel. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Cosimo the father started the Medici bank in the late 1300s, and marked the very start of the family’s incredible power. The banking system made it so easy to buy goods that even the Papal States started using it. The handlers of everyone’s money became the Medicis. All the newfound ease of moving money around and regularly buying items grew the Medici wealth and significantly contributed to Florence’s renaissance rise.

Furthermore, Cosimo’s successor, Lorenzo de Medici had an eye for spotting talent. He took in Michelangelo like a brother, and housed and supported him through his funding of his art. Imagine if Michelangelo was never supported financially to be able to work on all his art… His magnificent contributions to the world of art and sculpture and his tremendous impact on the renaissance would never have developed fully. Plainly, we have the Medicis to thank for the renaissance and all the enlightenment that came along with it, both artistically and religiously.

Siena as Text

“A Little Healthy Competition” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Siena on May 27, 2022

Throughout human history, we have seen that time after time, competition drives innovation forward, and sparks new beginnings. As you walk through Siena, you are reminded of not just everything that makes the city unique, but everything that would not exist if not for their constant rivalry with the nearest booming city of Florence. Worldwide, Florence is known as the city that birthed the renaissance and continued to add fuel to the artistic, economic, and cultural fires that were burning at the time. After all, the Medici family, who were the ones that contributed greatly to the renaissance, were centered in Florence.

Yet, Siena had contributions to humanity of its own during the renaissance too. It was one of the cities on the pilgrim’s route, seeing millions of people come and go. Eventually, it led to the early beginnings of what banking looks like today; pilgrims traveling with very little would deposit their money in Paris and once they made it to Siena, they could withdraw. It’s hard to ignore the financial and economic impacts Siena had on Europe during the renaissance.

Furthermore, it does have amazing art and sculptures that often go unnoticed, with people instead looking solely to Florence for high renaissance art. One of the most detailed, beautiful, and well-made stained glass windows in the world called a Siena church ‘home’ for years. I am referring to the stained glass originally found in the apse of the Siena duomo. It was Siena’s very own Duccio who worked on this masterpiece, now considered one of the most important works of his life, and in all of Italy.

The Siena Cathedral and Duccio’s stained glass window. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The main focus of this work of art is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Duccio used his creative means and his talent to serve religious purposes, telling three stories from her life through the stained glass: the Burial, Assumption, and Coronation. On top of this, he portrays the four patron saints of Siena and the four Evangelists in his glasswork. With this in mind, it highlights what the renaissance is: humans making art, religion, and culture come together, meshing and clashing them in every chaotic way possible. A prime example of this is in the Siena duomo, where religious symbols clash and juxtapose each other at every turn. The sheer ornate nature of the church makes it difficult to focus on just item at a time, a staple of renaissance works.

All these works tell a lot about the impact Siena had during the renaissance. It expanded human capacity, as well as encouraged Florence forward through their rivalry. If a strong rivalry between both cities contributed to works of art such as the stained glass in the Siena duomo, then it’s nothing more than a little healthy competition helping to move art and culture forward during some of the most enlightened years of human history and development.

Cinque Terre as Text

“A Joyful Mesh of Agriculture and Tourism” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Cinque Terre on June 2, 2022

It is obvious that Cinque Terre is breathtakingly beautiful, with its simple, pastel-colored buildings paired with jungle green window shutters, its deep blue ocean waves hitting the rugged rocks below, and the endless gelato and quick food spots. Yet, there is more than meets the eye in these five UNESCO world heritage site villages. The farming and agricultural work that occurs behind the tourist scene is significantly tied to the villages’ self-worth and meaning. The trails that we hiked to see these five mesmerizing villages wind up and down, taking you around Monterosso Al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Each village is unique, but what brings them together is the work that is done at a local level by those who live in the very town. The only challenge in Cinque Terre is blending the farming work with the tourism industry. As it seems, they have done it seamlessly. Tourists can stop by the small grocery stores along their way to the villages and buy some lemons, or some ‘nespole’, which I thought were apricots at first, but are actually a different fruit, native to Cinque Terre.

Farming land in Cinque Terre’s Vernazza and Manarola. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The foods, wines, and fruits are unique to the area, and shine through as the real identity of Cinque Terre. It is not the beaches, or the colorful views that define Cinque Terre, but rather the products of its land, like the ‘nespole’, wine, and lemons that are unique to them. Cinque Terre has found the perfect balance between work and play, agriculture and tourism. It invites you take a deeper look at what your favorite views really are, because the most beautiful sights are those that represent the hard work that goes on in the villages where the tourists are not around.

Venezia as Text

“A City for Dreams” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Venice on June 5, 2022

Venice is in many ways a wondrous city. As I walked the busy streets and turned through the countless alleys, I would find myself in random dead ends, and looking out onto what seemed like a different part of the city every time. I thought to myself, “how is it possible that someplace so small can house so many vastly different neighborhoods… and structures… and churches… and people, all at once?” Then it hit me. Venice is a city where anything is possible, from building a massive basilica on wood and Istrian stone, to losing a dead body during the construction of said basilica. The basilica I’m referring to is San Marco’s, which has much more history to it than I could ever cover in one sitting. What did stand out to me during our time in Venice was how anything is possible here.

The wonders of Venice. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

A prime example of this sense of possibility is Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, otherwise known as the first woman in the entire world to achieve graduation from university on June 25, 1678. To state the obvious, I was starstruck by the plate honoring this woman. How could I not feel connected to Elena, when I am a woman in university, so close to achieving graduation and we are visiting Venice so close to the anniversary of her graduation? It is simply inspiring, and quite frankly, fitting, that this city, one full of wonder and diversity, was the home of the first woman who ever achieved this milestone. Walking these streets reminds me of home in Miami, not just because of the humidity, but because of that feeling of endless opportunity and possibilities that carries you through the city’s sites, taking it all in, capitalism, hedonism, multiculturalism and all.

Flavia Argamasilla: Miami as Text 2022

Flavia Argamasilla is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Pre-Law Skills. She was born in Havana, Cuba, but has called Miami home since she was six years old. After graduating, she plans on furthering her education by attending law school.

Deering as Text

“Two Americas” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at the Deering Estate on January 28, 2022

It was a perfectly breezy day to visit the Deering Estate and take in the history that runs through its grounds and structures. As we all walked into the Stone House, it was abundantly clear that we had just walked into the 1920s era home of a millionaire. The Stone House was specifically built to be the winter home of Charles Deering, complete with an at-home elevator, inches of poured concrete, and Miami limestone on its exterior walls. One of the aspects of our tour around the Stone House that stuck with me most is that the era of prohibition did not stop Charles Deering from enjoying his drinks and ‘roaring’ parties. In fact, during the time, the general working-class public had to find alcohol from bootleggers or find their way into a speakeasy. It was all very secretive so that law enforcement wouldn’t know. All the while, Charles Deering’s estate boasted an impressive cellar, hidden behind a bank vault and a false shelf. The cellar housed bottle upon bottle of illegal wine and liquor.

Charles Deering’s hidden wine and liquor cellar. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

It is safe to assume that, even by 1920’s standards, he threw the best parties of his entire friend group, being able to offer everyone as much alcohol as they wanted. We saw firsthand the stark difference between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy right there, in Charles Deering’s wine cellar. Although seemingly such a simple idea, in actuality, the cellar represents the contrast that, arguably, still exists in our legal system and how our laws are applied to the different classes. There are two different versions of the same America, the one the wealthy live in, and the one everyone else does, and this is true for our past as well as our present. It took me by surprise to see that we can learn so much about our country’s past and present by touring a millionaire’s 1920s estate.

Vizcaya as Text

“Something’s Missing. Hint: It’s Everywhere” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on February 18, 2022

If you’ve ever been inside Villa Vizcaya, you know that the mansion is exceedingly extravagant, with its multitudes of paintings, and chandeliers, and statues, and fountains, and ocean views, and stained glass; the list goes on. A particular aspect of the décor is so subtle, it might go unnoticed: the abundant number of children depicted throughout the home. It’s interesting because James Deering never married or was associated to any women. One can’t help but question whether seeing children everywhere in his home wasn’t a constant reminder of that which Deering did not have: a wife, real children, a family of his own to roam the halls of his spacious winter home. It would certainly explain why, so often, he had guests over for big get-togethers, and how lavish he wanted everything in his villa to seem. From fake, hand-painted marble, to having an entire ceiling imported, Deering certainly kept his home as expensive and elaborate as he could. The entire estate, gardens and all, screams ‘rich.’ However, was it always solely for entertaining guests and maintaining a reputation, or did he ever aim to one day sit in his study and stare at a painting of his own children instead of random ones?

Depictions of children inside Vizcaya. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Or maybe in a way, the statues and paintings didn’t serve as a constant reminder, but as a distraction for what he was missing in real life. Maybe his headspace was so caught up in all the children décor, that it was his escape, a chance to forget about that unfilled space in his life. After all, mansions like Villa Vizcaya don’t just decorate themselves overnight. Who needs any persevering family ties when you have an enormous mansion by the bay with all the art you could possibly buy?

Downtown as Text

“An Imperfect Bowl, Shatteredby Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at downtown Miami on March 11, 2022

On that strikingly hot afternoon, our very walk through Miami’s downtown reflected the diversity of the city- students of all different backgrounds, from a university whose middle name is ‘International’ walked through the crowded city streets. Miami is a meeting place for many different races, ethnicities, social groups, etc. Everywhere you look, you see something that doesn’t seem to fit ‘perfectly’ in the environment. I remember, as we were walking back towards our parking garage, passing a Cuban pork restaurant that was right next to a phone repair shop. At that very moment, I realized that Miami is truly a melting pot filled with personality. The randomness that the city has to offer is completely unique; you’ll never find the combinations you find here anywhere else.

Art structure outside government center. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The art piece we stopped by in front of the government center best describes this. A bowl of orange peels fell to the ground, shattering the bowl, and releasing the peels to every which way. In Miami, all of us are the orange peels, we’re constantly interacting with each other and coming together into a shattered bowl of cultures and differences. The city itself is one of the only ones to have been founded by a woman, Julia Tuttle. On top of this, the first registered citizen was a man of color, Silas Austin. Nowadays, this may not come as a shock, but for the olden times, this was a sign of what Miami would be. It was already displaying signs that it would become a spectacularly diverse place. While it’s not perfect, the best way I can describe the city I love so much, is as a perfectly imperfect mess.

South Beach as Text

The Woman Behind South Beachby Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at South Beach on April 1, 2022

Most people would agree that it’s hard to come up with any names when asked about the women who have shaped Miami throughout its years. Unfortunately, even I had no clue about Julia Tuttle or Marjory Stoneman Douglas before these walking lectures. However, it’s important to remember these women, and what they did for this city. More specifically, we must recognize the activist behind South Beach’s Art Deco neighborhood, a woman named Barbara Baer Capitman.

Art Deco architecture and Capitman’s statue. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

When you walk around South Beach, down all of Ocean Drive, you can’t help but wonder if something similar to what you’re seeing exists somewhere else. The answer is: no. The people, the art, the climate, the architecture, the colors, knowing there is a beautiful beach a couple of steps away, and the sun beaming in your face all blend together and form the environment at South Beach as it is. Barbara Baer Capitman saw the beauty and uniqueness in the Art Deco architecture of South Beach. After all, this neighborhood is what tourists come looking for, it’s what Miami is famous for, shown in all the movies and music videos we are popular for. She knew this piece of uniqueness had to be preserved for future generations to enjoy and she was the reason for the naming of South Beach as a National Historic District, the first to be within the 20th century. Her efforts certainly did not go unnoticed at the time, as she even managed to create the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). However, history failed her in other ways. Most people who visit or even live in Miami probably couldn’t tell you her name, or her importance, yet she’s the reason why we enjoy these beautiful pastel-highlighted ocean liner-inspired buildings. It’s not enough to have her statue on the street, we must also tell her story everywhere we can. Those who come here for the views can’t leave without knowing about the woman whose idea it was to preserve them…

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