“Adventures in Change” by Hannah Singh
Though it may be fair to be comfortable in the familiar, as we all are in one way or another, it is important to embrace change as it comes; It is truly a wasted effort to resist something that is completely unavoidable and always nearing closer. I have never been an individual that would shy away from a shift. In fact, I often find myself craving it, always looking for some way to console the insatiable hunger for a new adventure, in whatever form it may come. Not only was my grand tour of Italy certainly an unforgettable adventure, but it also gave me tangible evidence of the positive outcomes that can arise from change, even if that change seems negative for the time or for a particular group of people. When you live in the moment as I do, all you have are the pieces that you’ve collected thus far, which can make it difficult to see the bigger picture. Visiting these places, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice, and learning of the changes they experienced, as well as the impact these changes have had, has taught me that the pieces I gather do not have to be from my path alone, especially when we’re all part of the same picture.
A perfect first adventure on my grand tour, the legacy of Rome resonates through history for a multitude of reasons. One of these reasons, and perhaps the most generally known, is that it was a seemingly untouchable empire that eventually fell to the efforts of the Barbarians. But this is old news, I was aware of this long before I stepped foot onto Italian soil as it is not a niche piece of information. A massive change that certainly sent ripples in time but it is not what caused a shift in my perspective.
During my time spent in Rome, I had the opportunity to explore the Roman Jewish Ghetto, otherwise known as the Ghetto di Roma, which was established in 1555. One of the oldest known ghettos outside of the Middle East, life in this area was defined by crushing poverty and suffocating restrictions placed upon Jewish individuals by the Papacy. From the lack of fresh water to the imposition of disease due to poor sanitation, a change was needed for the survival of those who resided within the ghetto. Although there were conflicting shifts of power for the Jewish Ghetto between the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Papal States were eventually permanently dissolved in 1870, which lifted the restrictions placed on Jewish individuals in Rome and they were then free to live outside of the ghetto and do as they pleased, free from the threat of religious persecution by the state. A change considered to be a major loss for the Catholic church, yet one that brought forth the freedom for thousands of those who had been trapped within the confines of the Jewish Ghetto. Now, the ghetto is brimming with life and is home to the largest synagogue in Rome, the Great Synagogue of Rome.
My next adventure was characterized by the House of Medici and their inclination to indulge in the finer things in life, specifically their love of the arts. Florence is home to some of the greatest pieces of art and architecture in history and it is because of the patronage on part of the Medici family that works such as The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli and David by Michelangelo. The Birth of Venus currently resides in the Uffizi Gallery, which was also sponsored by the Medici family and is home to hundreds of major artworks from the Renaissance.
In 1492, the Medici family was exiled from Florence to Rome, a major shift in power and political influence for both states, which lasted until 1512. Although this change brought forth major unrest in Florence under the rule of Savonarola, along with a significant loss to the humanities due to the Burning of the Vanities, the Medici family continued to be a patron of the arts while they resided in Rome. The most notable of these patronages on part of the Medici family is the altar of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, a truly incredible and incomparable work of art that would not exist if the Medici family had not been exiled from Florence. The Medici family was eventually able to return to Florence, where many of the artists they repeatedly commissioned are buried, specifically within the Basilica di Santa Croce, a significant monument both architecturally and symbolically.
My grandest adventure on this tour took place in Cinque Terre, an experience almost indescribable in fear of not providing it justice. Within the context of this grand tour, Cinque Terre was an outlier in several ways. Unlike the hustle of every other city I visited, time seemed to slow down and it was okay to take things slow, fully experiencing every step that was taken. The hike through the major path along the five towns, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was an all-day event, beginning when the sun rose and ending as it set. Although I was not able to complete the hike due to time restraints, ending in Manarola, the oldest of the towns within Cinque Terre, I would not have changed the pace with which I experienced it.
What also differentiates Cinque Terre from the other major locations on this tour is that it is the only one that has successfully been able to resist change. Unlike Rome, Florence, and Venice, Cinque Terre has done little to modernize itself alongside society, remaining true to its historical roots thanks to the locals’ resilience. In a rare instance of successfully resisting change, Cinque Terre has retained an ability to create change within those who are lucky enough to visit.
The final adventure on my grand tour took place in a city known for being in a perpetual state of change due to its geographical location. Venice is a city unlike any other, requiring consistent maintenance due to the annual flooding and the salt saturation within the limestone at the base of the buildings throughout the city. Despite the near-constant state of deterioration, Venice is still strongly afloat atop the lagoon and is championed for the creation of many things, such as glass blowing, the modern window, and, thanks to their historically strong mercantilism, capitalism.
The Republic of Venice was able to develop a thriving system of trade in part due to their authority over the waters that surround the city, which was aided by their mastery of quickly and efficiently building ships. In the sestieri of Castello lies the Arsenale, what was previously the largest naval complex in Europe and was known for building ships in as little as one day while it was in use, a skill infamous enough that it was mentioned in Dante’s Inferno:
“As in the Arsenal of the Venetians
Boils in winter the tenacious pitch
To smear their unsound vessels over again
For sail they cannot; and instead thereof
One makes his vessel new, and one recaulks
The ribs of that which many a voyage has made
One hammers at the prow, one at the stern
This one makes oars and that one cordage twists
Another mends the mainsail and the mizzen…”
Although the Republic of Venice had a strong naval force, the republic eventually fell to Napoleonic rule in 1797, which led to the dissolution of the Arsenale. Under the rule of Napoleon, the use of this area was transformed into what is now the Biennale Gardens, now used to hold La Biennale di Venezia, which I was able to attend and was my personal highlight of the trip. This year’s exhibition is titled The Milk of Dreams and, coincidentally, thematically focused on the metamorphoses we experience with the Earth, with technology, and within ourselves, an experience catalyzed by a change that occurred hundreds of years prior.
I can say with the utmost certainty that the person I was before my adventures in Italy is not the same as the person that writes this now. Unlike Cinque Terre, I was not resistant to the change, but rather welcoming and encouraging. In every city, every day, I was a new me. Born in the year of the snake, I was shedding the skin I had worn the day before and warming myself under the Tuscan sun. And the changes I saw paved my way onto other paths, picking up more and more pieces as I went along. Every day I get closer to seeing that bigger picture, the final mosaic of the Italian adventure.