Nathalie Herrera: Grand Tour 2022

Glimpses Through Time

Our modern-day Grand Tour of Italy was one of excitement, exploration, passion, and most of all, self-reflection. The excitement of visiting such a beautiful country for the first time with several of my peers. The desire to explore everything from the giant monuments to the hidden side streets. The passion to learn the history and culture of Italy through first-hand experience. The self-reflection of recognizing where I stand in this vast world and the grand scheme of things.

As a first generation Cuban American, I have spent almost my entire life in Miami, Florida and have sparsely traveled. In Miami, I feel that I am in a bubble: surrounded by comfort and belonging. Yet, something was missing in my life. Once I heard about the month-long adventure in Italy through FIU, I was hooked. It was a chance to get out of my comfort zone and expand my world view.

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We began our journey in Rome. As the first city I have ever visited in Europe, I was in awe. A lot of things felt familiar: the crazy streets and traffic, graffiti, apartment buildings, and tourists everywhere. Yet, it did not take long to realize the key differences. Rome is a grand and ancient city. Ruins lie all around in plain sight. Within only a few miles from each other, there is the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish steps, and the Trevi fountain – and these are just a few of the major monuments. By seeing all this grandeur in person, it makes me wonder how life was like 2,000 years ago at the height and fall of the Roman empire. I decided to put myself in the shoes of the people who walked these cobblestone streets and dirt paths before me. As we walked into the empty Colosseum, I closed my eyes and imagined myself a fearsome gladiator. The year is 192 AD in Rome. The Colosseum was no longer empty – the stands were packed to the brim. The amphitheater was roaring with excitement as thousands chanted my name. I step forward through the sand and rock all around me and wonder who (or what) my next opponent will be. I am willing to die for Rome.

Rome was a city and empire of undying loyalty. Citizens were proud to be Roman, and people from around Europe wanted to be a part of this empire. They allowed religious freedom, as long as Roman gods were also worshipped, and provided protection from outlying states. To this day, these principles still apply. Around the city are the most lavish and ornate Catholic churches. However, the ruins of ancient Roman temples are also scattered around, most notable of which was the Pantheon that we visited. Not only that, but the Jewish Ghetto offered a look into a culture and religion that doesn’t usually come to mind first when we think of Rome. This area has been home to Jews since ancient times, and to this day serves as a religious and cultural community, as seen by the Great Synagogue of Rome and the restaurants lining the streets serving falafels and artichokes in all forms.

I find this analogous to the United States from even before it was considered a country. Pilgrims flocked to the new world because of an idea of religious refuge from the persecution they were facing across Europe. Today, people from Latin America and around the world chase the “American Dream.” As a daughter of immigrants, I understand this need to pursue a better life by moving to the states. The United States offers protections of personal freedoms and allows the opportunity to move up in the world. America has always been seen as the chance for growth and a new start: a melting pot of diversity. Rome was very similar in this aspect. Take the great Constantine for example. He was born to a low-class mother and his father was an army official. Through great work in his military career, he was able to ascend to the position of Emperor of Rome, and one of the most important ones at that

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The year is 1510 in Florence. As the morning sky awakens, I cross the Arno River through Ponte Vecchio and see the store owners setting up shop for the day. The gold and silver jewelry shimmer against the morning sun. On my commute through the city, I always take a little detour in order to pass through Piazza della Signoria before going about my day. Michelangelo’s David, in all his glory, firmly stands his ground at the square. The 17-foot tall statue gazes towards Rome, a symbol of the strength, beauty, and independence of Florence.

Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. The capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, it is a cultural hub. Brunelleschi’s Duomo rises above the surrounding buildings as a great architectural feat. Within the Uffizi gallery walls are the famous works of Botticelli such as the Birth of Venus and Primavera. Throughout the city, I was able to physically distinguish the shift that took place centuries ago from a spiritual perspective of the gothic era to a more human one of the Renaissance.

During the Middle Ages, spirituality was the main focus of everyone. The artwork and architecture were all based on the underlying theme of religion, specifically Christianity. As we hopped from church to museum, I observed Madonnas and Pietas all around me. The figures were surrounded by gold linings and had little dimensionality. The purpose of these works was to highlight Jesus and the Virgin Mary’s spirituality. They were not something to relate to, but rather what people were supposed to worship and look up to. As time progressed, the artworks gained the dimensionality they were missing and lost the elaborate gold decorations. They became more human and relatable with the rebirth of classical ideas – the Renaissance.

The Renaissance did not only affect art, but it also affected the culture of Florence. People no longer dedicated all of their time to God and worship. New trades began and spread around Florence. Thanks to the Medici family, the Ponte Vecchio bridge became a place to window shop and purchase beautifully ornate jewelry such as bracelets, rings, and more. Leather making was popularized and refined here. People were becoming more focused on worldly aspects of life.

We see the two influences (spirituality and excess) side by side throughout the city. For example, standing at the Piazza Santa Croce, the first thing to catch my eye was the Basilica di Santa Croce. The Catholic church was beautiful with its white and pink marble façade and the striking blue star in the center. However, taking a look around, you notice that the plaza was lined with leather shops selling purses, wallets, and belts. A brief walk only a block away led us to the Scuola di Cuoio (the leather school of Florence). The school sells high end leather products that are made on site by highly trained artisans. The neighborhood of Santa Croce perfectly exemplifies the dichotomy of Florence.

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         The year is 1258 in Venice. I simultaneously feel the cool breeze across my face and the scorching heat from the flames of local glass blowers perfecting their craft. I cross bridge after bridge, canal after canal to reach Piazza San Marco. As I sip on my morning coffee, I take a look around. Boats float on by and people are constantly on the go. The Basilica looms over me and the bell tower leans over me. This city is sinking, but it is also rising to new heights.

         Venice is a one-of-a-kind city. It has been given several nicknames over the years: the “city of bridges,” the “city of canals,” and the “floating city” just to name a few. Though now a major tourist spot, at its peak, Venice was a commercial city through and through. It is a city built on water, specifically on submerged tree trunks placed in the lagoon. Because of this, the city is basically sinking and always in need of repairs as the saltwater rises up the infrastructure. At St. Mark’s square, I even noticed the indentations in the plaza’s stone from water damage. Due to its location and insurmountable naval capabilities at the time, Venice took control of all major trading routes.

         Centuries ago, Venetians would travel along the Silk Roads, exchanging goods and ideas. Anything and anyone who wished to utilize these routes would have to cross Venice, in turn contributing to its economy and power. Its commercial and capitalistic tendencies are comparable to the United States today. The U.S. is known for its multimillion-dollar businesses such as Amazon and Walmart. These large-scale businesses mass produce items and cater to large populations. Venice is also similar to United States in its smaller scale craftsmanship. Today, small businesses grow from their niche products and selective audiences. With help from the internet, these creators could reach consumers from around the globe. The Venetian equivalent of this is the glass blowing industry. As I walked through Castello on the main island, the glass products were on display in every street. The small island of Murano has been famous for this craft for centuries, but for a long time, their techniques were kept secret. No one who was knowledgeable in this craft was allowed to leave the islands, and they were hunted down if they tried. This barbaric practice is obviously no longer used today, but still Venice and the United States share many capitalistic ideals.

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Cinque Terre

         The year is 1693 in Cinque Terre. I sit atop a rock by the seaside. To my left are the local fishermen taking inventory of their catch of the day: mussels, octopus, shellfish, and of course anchovies. Their colorful boats match the red, pink, and yellow buildings surrounding us. I take a look at the mountains hugging me from behind and turn back to look at the vast expanse of ocean ahead of me as the waves hit the rocks by my feet. I’m not quite sure where the ocean meets the sky. The quiet sounds of nature engulf me, and I get lost in thought for what seems like hours.

          It seems as though not much has changed in the years since Cinque Terre’s founding. The five towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore are all connected by the coast and mountain range. They are world famous for their seafood, lemons, and pesto, all of which we were able to enjoy during our stay.

Spending a few days here was quite a change of pace from the hustle and bustle that was navigating the populated cities of Rome and Florence. It was a chance to take a step back and observe the world from a different standpoint. Instead of differentiating the various architectural styles or deciphering famous artworks, I was able to appreciate nature in its rawest form and reflect on my experiences so far. The hours long hike through the mountains to all five towns was far from glamorous. It took strength, perseverance, and several water bottle refills, but as I stood atop the mountains and took in the view of Manarola, it was all worth it.

         When I say, “it was all worth it,” I don’t only mean the arduous hike. Yes, that was definitely thought of in the moment. But it was much more than that. Our whole journey thus far was worth it. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the world has been put on pause. We encountered several challenges along the way leading up to that moment. We went from being unsure if this program would even happen to preparing for a month-long adventure in a matter of weeks. Even once we reached Italy, we encountered several difficulties with COVID restrictions and navigating a new country as a large group of primarily girls. Amidst these setbacks and challenges, however, I scratched things off my bucket list (cliff jumping!); I shared laughs with new and old friends; I gained perspective of how history repeats itself and evolves; I learned about myself and the world around me.

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Ciao, Grazie!

The year is 2022 in Miami. I have just been welcomed back home after finishing an incredible study abroad experience travelling through Italy. Although I wish I could extend my stay forever, all good things must come to an end. This is not a goodbye to Italy, but more of a thank you for all the memories and see you later, ciao grazie Italia!

Nathalie Herrera: Italia America 2022

Multiculturalism in Miami and Rome:

How Our Differences Unite and Divide Us

Over the course of the semester, we have explored the rich and forgotten history of Miami. From the Tequestas living off the land thousands of years ago to the recent immigration influx from Latin American countries, Miami has become a melting pot of diverse identities. With a variety of cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities, its multiculturalism highly resembles that of the Roman Empire thousands of years ago.

            Multiculturalism is defined as the presence and coexistence thereof of several distinct groups, such as cultural or ethnic, living together in a society. The Roman Empire is a perfect example of this coexistence. With the sheer size of the Roman Empire, how could it not contain such a diverse population? It spanned over 1.5 million square miles, from parts of the Middle East to North Africa to most of Western Europe; it even included most of what is today the United Kingdom.

With that being said, it is evident that the Roman Empire was home to many different races as it spanned three continents. This may actually come as a shock to some people. For example, in 2017, BBC came out with a cartoon depicting an interracial couple and mixed family from ancient Rome.3 People were infuriated with this “inaccurate” representation as they believed the empire was solely white, albeit that is not the case. Additionally, as a major source of entertainment, Hollywood does a terrible job at portraying the true racial representation of the Roman Empire. In modern depictions of these ancient times, we see movies and shows that predominantly cast white actors and actresses in every role. For example, Gladiator (2000) and HBO’s limited series “Rome” (2005) both have an almost completely white cast. Because of this, people tend to think the Roman Empire was homogenous.

This could not be further from the truth. As Nandini Pandey very elegantly states, “Rome was at its heart a nation of immigrants, built on a foundation of pragmatic pluralism.2” People from around the empire would intermingle through trading, travel, military conquests, and more. It was not divided by race nor place of birth, but rather united by shared common practices and similar values. The intense racism that has plagued the United States in the past few centuries since its conception was not a commonality at this time. For instance, there were four African emperors who ruled the vast empire.4 Yet, the United States has only seen one black president and two African American Supreme Court justices to date. It is interesting to see how a whopping 2,000 years earlier, the Roman Empire was more advanced in some social aspects where the United States is lagging to this day.

As previously mentioned, Rome was a hub for immigrants and people of all backgrounds. Conquered people across the empire had the chance to become partial or complete citizens and could continue their local customs and self-governance. The only thing that they had to do was pay taxes, acknowledge that they were under the Roman rule, and follow the law.5 Others who were not conquered people were intrigued by the business prospects and economic gain they could achieve. The diversity of people in all areas of the empire is what made it truly unique at the time. Similar to this, I feel that Miami today acts as a hub for people all over the world to come together, especially Latin Americans of all nationalities.

Since Miami’s founding in 1896, it has experienced a great influx of people who have helped shape it into the bustling city it is today. Most notably, after the Cuban revolution in 1959, waves of Cuban immigrants fled to Miami to avoid Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. The United States created the Cuban Adjustment Act, later amended to the Wet Foot Dry Foot Act, which granted any immigrants who entered the United States while fleeing the persecution of Cuba’s government a residency and fast-track to citizenship.9 Just like in the Roman empire, Cuban immigrants who entered the U.S. have all the same freedoms as the citizens as long as they uphold themselves to the same standards, like paying taxes etc. They have the right to practice their own religion, speak their native language, continue practicing their own customs, and keep their culture alive even in a different country. It serves as a beacon of hope and unity. Not only does it have a large Cuban population, but Miami welcomes all cultures, nationalities, and religions with open arms. For example, Little Haiti is host to the growing Haitian population. It displays the vibrancy of their culture through art, music, and food across the community.

Miami’s multiculturalism is not only rooted in the vast ethnicities and nationalities, but also the different religions practiced around the city. From Roman Catholics to Orthodox Jews, everyone is allowed to practice their own beliefs due to religious freedom. These differences don’t divide the city, but rather make the city a unique bubble as compared to the rest of the United States. Similarly, in Ancient Rome, religion was not forced onto people. Everyone was free to practice their own religion, and this is what kept the Roman Empire so strong.6 Aside from polytheism as the main belief, other monotheistic religions also arose within the empire, although in the minority. Judaism became legal and tolerance for it rose throughout Rome. Christianity also spread and was legalized by Emperor Constantine.7

However, it is important to note that these religious freedoms did not come as easily as they do now in the states because of our first amendment rights. The minority populations who practiced monotheism faced heavy persecution before their religions became legalized. Even then, their treatment was not equal to those who practiced polytheism. Since Jews and Christians believed in one god, they would not participate in the religious festivals and traditions that honored the Roman gods.8 Romans took this as a sign of disloyalty to the empire and increased tensions between the two communities.


  1.  Bailly, John. “Bailly Lectures.” Bailly Lectures,
  2. “The Roman Roots of Racial Capitalism.” American Academy, 20 Aug. 2021,
  3. Higgins, Charlotte. “Mary Beard Is Right – ‘Romans’ Could Be from Anywhere, from Carlisle to Cairo.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Aug. 2017,
  4. “Severus: Rome’s First African Emperor.” Sky HISTORY TV Channel,,transformation%20and%20founded%20a%20dynasty.
  5. “How Did Roman Authorities Treat Conquered Peoples?”, 4 Jan. 2022,
  6. History Guild. “Cultural Diversity – the Making of Rome.” History Guild, 24 Sept. 2021,
  7. Sutori,–g7Dsm9En6LpfwEUdgFHUAPVe.
  8. “Bria 13 4 b Religious Tolerance and Persecution in the Roman Empire.” Constitutional Rights Foundation,
  9. Florido, Adrian. “End of ‘Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot’ Means Cubans Can Join Ranks of ‘Undocumented’.” NPR, NPR, 15 Jan. 2017,

Nathalie Herrera: Italia as Text 2022

Nathalie Herrera is a senior at Florida International University studying Chemistry, Natural and Applied Sciences, and Biology. She plans on pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant in order to treat others and improve their quality of life. With a growing passion for the sciences, she would also like to expand her knowledge about the arts and cultures from around the world through travel. The Italia Grand Tour is a once in a lifetime opportunity for her to become immersed in a new environment.

Roma as Text

The Cultural and Religious Shifts from Ancient Rome to Christian Rome

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Roma

Rome is a juxtaposing city of modern and ancient. Side by side there are the ancient ruins of what life was like 2000 years ago and the new buildings of modern times. It shows us how time changes all aspects of life, and how we can build new things while still recognizing the old. For example, around any random street corner you can find a grandiose monument so casually amongst apartment buildings and restaurants.

Similar to these architectural differences, Rome highlights the cultural and religious distinctions that have arisen over time. Rome was a relatively very free empire. Its people were very liberal in the way that sexuality was something to be admired instead of shamed. Temples like the Pantheon were made to worship several gods such as Venus, the goddess of love and fertility. The pagans let people worship any gods they wanted — however, they still had to worship Roman gods in addition to this.

Over time, as Christianity rose and the empire collapsed, there seemed to be a regression in these ideals. Rome became more conservative and less free. Catholic Churches were built for one god only. Women were not celebrated as much as before. This shift implies a digression from the celebration of worldly pleasures.

However, one sculpture that combines the promiscuous influences of Ancient Rome with Christian ideas is Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa statue. This statue shows the spiritual and sexual pleasures that Teresa experiences with a divine apparition. Such a sculpture is almost unheard of during the Christian times due to its licentious nature. Ancient Rome and Christian Rome have such stark contrasts, but Bernini does an amazing job at combining the influences of both.

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Pompeii as Text

What Happens in Pompeii Stays in Pompeii

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Pompeii

Pompeii was a bustling city thousands of years ago before it’s tragic destruction. After being rediscovered and officially excavated starting from the 1700s until present day, its preserved ruins give insight into the day-to-day life of its people before disaster struck. Pompeii was a center for commercial, political, and religious reasons. There were stores to shop in, temples to worship in, and halls to host Senate meetings in during the Roman Republic. Amidst all of this, the infrastructure was very ahead of its time. Most notable was their ability to transfer water. The Pompeiians built a system of lead pipes which would transfer water around the city to different homes, shops, and public fountains. In this way, there was a more efficient transfer of clean drinking water to the whole population as compared to the previous practice of collecting rainwater through the roofs into basins. If a problem arose, the last pipe system standing would be that of the public fountains.

I find it interesting to see how this type of infrastructure is still used today, and in some cases even worse than in ancient times. Access to clean drinking water is a big concern for millions around the world as local water sources are severely polluted or “owned” by large corporations that do not allow locals to drink from them. For example, in Flint, Michigan, the running water is undrinkable; however, Nestle is bottling water from a very nearby source and selling it back to residents, creating an endless cycle of dependency for the citizens. I believe it is essential to take a look back in time at how the government of Pompeii recognized the needs of their people before their wealth.

One could say Ancient Rome was ahead of its time in many more aspects, such as sexuality — specifically female sexuality. In this day and age, female sexuality is a very taboo subject matter. People rarely recognize or talk about female pleasures and tend to look down upon these ideas. However, in Pompeii, these matters were completely normal and even celebrated. Phallic symbols carved into stone led the way to brothels that lined the city streets. Women known as “she wolves” would howl at men during the night to invite them into the lupanar, where frescoes on the walls depicted the acts of sex the men could pay for.

Additionally, the Villa dei Misteri tells the story of a woman being initiated into the cult of Dionysus (which is basically a sex cult). Today, such an image could be perceived as crude and vulgar, or as an exploitation of women. However, from another standpoint we could see it as the progression of a girl into her womanhood. The fresco takes us on a journey of a girl who faces challenges and fear during her initiation, yet she prevails and finds confidence and strength with her sexuality, not shame. I find this to be a beautiful example of how girls should not be ashamed of their bodies as our current society suggests, but rather proud of who we are.

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Assisi and Tivoli as Text

“God or Greenery”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU at Tivoli and Assisi

In Italian history, there are many shifts of focus from the natural world to the spiritual world and back. For example, Ancient Rome had a big emphasis on the natural world. They would appreciate worldly pleasures and inspire innovation in technology and new inventions. After Christianity is legalized and becomes widespread, the focus changes from this world to the spiritual world. Grandiose gothic churches are built to make people feel closer to God and heaven. Art is heavily inspired by stories of the Bible. Once the renaissance occurs, these ideals shift back to a more humanistic and natural approach. The towns of Tivoli and Assisi encapsulate these stark differences in ideology that exist between time periods.

Tivoli is a beautiful town in the outskirts of Rome. It presents a very distinct contrast from the ancient ruins seen all over Rome less than 20 miles away. The town looks like a landscape straight out of a dream. From Villa d’Este to Hadrian’s villa to the valley of hell, this town presents the beauty of the natural world. Hadrian’s Villa is home to many statues of Hadrian’s lover, Antinous. These sculptures show the immense love and passion between the two companions in this natural world. Not too far from the villa we took a hike down into the valley of hell, but it was the complete opposite of a fiery inferno. The greenery and waterfalls were a spectacular view to witness. 

On the other hand, Assisi is a beautiful town that focuses more on the spiritual realm. A gothic town, Assisi is home to several important Franciscan churches and is actually where Saint Frances is from. The patron Saint of Italy, Frances abandoned all worldly possessions. His only focus was on God and all of His creatures— which included animals as well. He would give away any gifts he received to others and only wore a tunic and rope. Today, several Franciscan churches stand in Assisi venerating him; monks still wear the same attire as him as well. 

Being able to see this complete 180 in ideologies is jaw dropping, but it begs the question: are we currently in an era of spiritual or natural focus? Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Pertaining to the natural focus, we have become more aware of our effects on this Earth as fossil fuels, pollution, and climate change threaten our future. In addition, people are more liberal in that sexuality has become much less taboo than in the past decades and centuries. However, people still place a big emphasis on their God(s) and the spiritual realm and use these ideals to dictate their actions. For example, some Christians in the United States fight for the overturning of Roe v. Wade because it is against their religion. Neither focus is better or worse than the other, but they both give great insight into what people find important at any given moment in time.

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Firenze as Text

“Renaissance in Pop Culture”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Firenze

Florence has been a cultural hub for centuries. The renaissance began in this city, and changed the course of art, science, and more for years to come. Meaning the rebirth, this movement started in 1401 as the medieval ages were coming to an end and people were shifting their focus away from the spiritual realm to more worldly influences like in classical times. Beginning with the famous feud between Ghiberti and Brunelleschi, there was a competition to see who could design the baptistery doors. A key difference between the renaissance and gothic art is the presence (or absence thereof) of linear perspective. Ghiberti’s doors were revolutionary in that he was able to convey such depth in the doors. 

Other prominent artistic figures of the time include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Raphael. They produced world famous sculptures and paintings such as the 17-foot tall “David” and the “Primavera.” The renaissance had so much of an impact on the world that people flock to Firenze just to witness these masterpieces with their own eyes. Not only that, but the era has influenced our modern pop culture. Elements of the renaissance are seen everywhere you go. For example, Rosalia’s 2022 Motomami album cover shows her completely nude except that she is covering herself with her hands. The pose and implications are very similar to that of the “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. 

The artwork as well as political and religious figures have impacted pop culture. Savonarola was a religious zealot who led a religious revival in Firenze. He rejected worldly possessions and outwardly opposed the grandeur and wealth of Florence and the Medici’s. He went so far as to begin a fire known as the Bonfire of Vanities where people would burn their worldly possessions, either in agreement or out of fear. When hearing of his actions and mindset, I instantly thought of the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones, a religious cult leader and main antagonist. Much like Savonarola, he empathized with the lower classes and was against the ruling class. He rejected worldly pleasures and used fear to keep his followers and others in check. Ironically, both had a fiery death as well. 

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Siena as Text

“Racing Through Time”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Siena

          Siena is a medieval town, with elements of the renaissance, stuck in time. Its buildings are almost all made of stone and brick, giving it a uniquely cohesive look. From above, you can see the beautiful “burnt Siena” city (which is where the name of the color comes from). In medieval times, the city was prospering. Pilgrims would pass through on their pilgrimage route. It was rivaling even Florence and Rome. After being struck by the Black Plague, 75% of its population had been decimated. Unfortunately, it never reached the same level of power and authority again. However, the city has kept many of its traditions alive for hundreds of years despite these setbacks. 

          One such tradition is The Palio, which has records dating back to the 6th century. The Palio is a horse race that occurs twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th. Rivaling neighborhoods, or contrade, flood the Piazza del Campo to watch the passionate race and cheer for their respective horse to win. The race may be the most important event for the people of Siena each year as their pride for their city and contrade is palpable. 

          Taking a look further back in time, the Ancient Romans would host chariot races. Most popular was the Circus Maximus racetrack, which could hold up to 250,000 guests. Not only was it a source of entertainment, but it also served as a political and religious center to honor gods and emperors. Today, we host similar events, most notably the Formula 1 races. The high-speed car races are watched all around the world as people cheer for certain drivers. The key difference between the three events is the type of race, but they all serve the same purpose. From chariots to horses to race cars, we keep these ancient traditions alive in different ways and dwell in the same political and social tendencies of the races.

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Cinque Terre as Text

“A Pop of Color”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Cinque Terre

Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These five towns have one thing in common: they make up the five villages of Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a beautiful area on the Italian coastline of the Ligurian Sea. This area is most famous for its lemons, wines, seafood, hiking trails, and of course, inventing the pesto sauce we know and love today. Throughout our travels in Italy, we have seen the ancient ruins of Rome and the gothic infrastructure in Florence. However, we have not seen anything quite like Cinque Terre. 

These five towns explode with color. All of the buildings are painted different shades of yellow, pink, orange and more. Bright flowers line the windowsills and streets. Docked boats add vibrancy to the shimmering coastlines. This is no new tradition. Cinque Terre has had this style for centuries now. Dating as far back as the 13th century, the towns have kept their original infrastructure thanks to the efforts of their citizens.

In recent years, the tourism industry in Cinque Terre has risen, and several bars used to line the beach, drawing in guests from around the world. However, it was negatively affecting the towns. By drawing in tourists, the relatively quiet area was in danger of urbanization through condominiums and large-scale hotels. This problem has plagued many cities and areas such as Miami Beach and the Amalfi Coast, making the architecture very boring and indistinguishable. The citizens were against this urbanization and have voted to close many bars as well as conserve the authentic buildings, saving Cinque Terre’s centuries-old style and original charm.

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Nathalie Herrera: Miami as Text 2022

Nathalie Herrera is a senior at Florida International University studying Chemistry, Natural and Applied Sciences, and Biology. She plans on pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant in order to treat others and improve their quality of life. With a growing passion for the sciences, she would also like to expand her knowledge about the arts and cultures from around the world through travel. The Italia Grand Tour is a once in a lifetime opportunity for her to become immersed in a new environment.

Deering as Text

Off the Beaten Path

by Nathalie Herrera of FIU at Deering Estate


Miami is known worldwide for its white sandy beaches and urban city life along the coast. No more than 15 miles from the modern bustle of downtown Miami lies the Deering Estate, a natural wonder that showcases not only one of the vast ecosystems of South Florida but also its rich history. Largely untold and unknown by the majority of Miamians, the Deering Estate has preserved this history, both the good and bad.

            Walking off the beaten path was an expansive system of mangroves and wildlife hidden amongst the trees. The Deering Estate has done an exceptional job at preserving eight different ecosystem types native to South Florida. On our hike, we were able to experience some of these habitats, which were largely untouched. This is not a common sight when walking through the busy streets of Miami, and perhaps it should be. The urbanization of Miami has caused drastic changes in our interactions with nature. Although South Florida is known for areas such as the Everglades and its beaches, on a day-to-day basis, Miami natives rarely interact with these areas. We should use the Deering Estate has a prime example of how to preserve the natural beauty of South Florida, and implement better infrastructure that does not destroy, but better includes nature in our everyday lives. Charles Deering’s focus on preservation stood out to me because much of Miami’s famous landmarks rely on modern art culture and architecture for their appeal, so this trail represented a change of pace from the norm. Deering Estate included these features but also celebrated the natural aspect of Miami.

Vizcaya as Text

“Living Lavish”

By Nathalie Herrera of FIU at Vizcaya

J’ai dit. James Deering’s infamous home on the water exhibits the indulgences and self-centeredness that plagues Miami. With over 30 rooms and 10 acres of land, each room in Vizcaya has something different to offer. As you walk through the back entrance, which is ironically where most visitors enter, you see a sculpture of Ponce de Leon over a globe with Florida the most visible at the very center. Without even stepping inside, Deering is already highlighting that we are the center of attention. Welcoming us into the beautiful home as you walk through the front doors is none other than the god of wine and ecstasy, Bacchus, inviting everyone to indulge in the pleasures of such a lavish lifestyle.

Strolling through the house, each room showed a different indulgence, pleasure, or reference back to the man himself, James Deering. The barge on the water displaying a mermaid with large breasts. A room dedicated solely to a telephone, a rare amenity at the time. A music room for pure display where music was never played. Deering was nothing short of lavish and luxurious. It is interesting to see how even though Vizcaya was built over a century ago, people still pursue the same material pleasures, especially in Miami. We buy the most up to date products and wear name brand clothing to show off faux extravagance. J’ai dit. Coming back to these famous words etched in glass, perhaps we should take a step back from ourselves and the need to impress, and rather look introspectively.

Downtown Miami as Text

“An Orange Slice of Life”

by Nathalie Herrera of FIU in Downtown Miami

Miami has always been an epicenter of diversity. As our class took a walking tour around the streets of downtown, we were surrounded by a variety of different cultures, histories, and people that make this city so unique. A perfect depiction of this is an impressive art installation in the center of downtown. It showed orange slices and peels bouncing out of a shattered bowl, symbolizing the chaos and craziness of the bustling city.

Well before the modern Miami we all know and love came to be, the city was founded by some great individuals that truly represent what Miami is about. In the 1850s, a couple named William Wagner and Eveline Aimar moved to South Florida. Almost unheard of at the time, they were a mixed-race couple who succeeded in being a middleman between the Seminoles, who were driven down south, and Northern settlers. Despite the harsh discrimination and hardships their family faced, they were able to be the common ground between two vastly different communities. Looking through the boarded windows of their small wooden home, I was taken back in time over 150 years ago. Their good nature and determination to be true to themselves at such a difficult point in time is inspiring.

Fast forward a century to the 1960s, another beacon of hope and unity lies on the Downtown Miami skyline. The Freedom tower is a beautiful 17-story building that served as a refugee center for Cuban immigrants who recently entered the country. Coming from a Cuban immigrant family myself, I felt connected to the building and what it symbolized for all those people years ago: the hopes and dreams to start a new life in a new place. Their faces on the walls of the Freedom Tower, I was reminded of my roots and how amazing it is to live in a city connected by hardship and hope.

South Beach as Text

“A Walk Down MiMory Lane”

by Nathalie Herrera of FIU in South Beach

South beach is the spot for locals and tourists alike to enjoy the crystal-clear waters and beaming sunshine. As we began our walking tour on the pier, we get a sight of what people all around the world flock to Miami to enjoy. Walking down the dock, we even got to see some fellow FIU Honors College students jumping off into water to cool off from the South Florida heat.

However, the beaches are not the only spectacle to enjoy at Miami Beach. Our class was able to walk down Ocean Drive in its entirety. Ocean Drive is a stretch of approximately 2 to 3 miles full of such distinct and fun buildings. The architecture in this area is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Specifically, it has three different styles: Mediterranean revival, art deco, and MiMo (also known as Miami Modern). The Mediterranean revival buildings were my personal favorites. They are heavily inspired by Western European buildings with all the attention to miniscule details. The MiMo buildings are exactly what I could have pictured from the name alone: buildings related to the water and beaches. These were boat-shaped structures with lots of windows and curvature.

Very distinct from this was the Art Deco buildings. They were color blocked buildings shaped like different types of machinery. It reminded me of vintage 50’s diners with neon lights and the like, which were most likely inspired by the Art Deco trends of the early 20th century. To me, the Art Deco buildings were very tacky and not appealing. However, the history behind it gives Ocean Drive a sense of unity and allure. From Barbara Baer fighting for the preservation of Art Deco to its transition to an iconic staple of Miami Beach, Ocean Drive is would not be what it is today without the presence and history of these buildings.

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