Italy | Water Fountains in Rome

When I talk about water fountains in Rome, I’m not talking about decorative fountains (although there are quite a few of those here in Rome), but about drinking fountains! At first, I was hesitant to drink out of these fountains, but was assured by some locals that it was safe to drink. Since then, these have been a god send in this brutally hot Roman summer when walking or running around the city. You can fill up your water bottle or, if you don’t have a water container, can put your hand under the stream to stop it and water will shoot out of a hole on the top of the water spout just like a water fountain in the US. Pro tip: if the fountain is running a little slowly, you can also cover this hole with your hand to up the pressure and the water speed.

If you look closely, you can see the hole in the top of the fountain spout where water shoots out to drink from!

The water comes from the mountains and follows the line of an ancient Roman aqueduct. (Say whatever you want about the ancient Romans, but those guys really knew how to move, heat, and use water well!) It’s tested for quality by the city multiple times a day in various locations, so its always fresh and its always cold!

You will basically see these fountains everywhere. They can be found in tiny alleys and big main roads. I still haven’t quite figured out the placement, and, to be honest, it seems a bit random. There are two main types of water fountains: the nasoni which are the “big nose” fountains that you see everywhere, and the fontanelle which are the less common, more decorative fountains. I definitely made a mental note every time I came across one, especially in central places such as in Trastevere, near the Pantheon, on my favorite running routes, etc. If you can’t manage to remember all the locations, fear not because you can actually get an app on your phone called “I Nasoni di Roma” that tells you where all of them are, which can be incredibly useful if you’re thirsty. You can also google it if you’re in a pinch, and the website for the city’s water provider should come up with a map of where they are.

When I first arrived, I was bit distressed to see that these fountains were continually running. The Californian in me panicked a little bit thinking “Oh my god that’s so much wasted water!” But some basic research informed me that the water that isn’t used for drinking is used for fountains, gardens, industrial purposes, etc, so please don’t think it’s just not being wasted after it runs through the nasoni! Additionally, because the water in regular, decorative fountains is recycled, its not recommended that you drink water from those fountains. There are, however, places at the Trevi fountain and at the fountain near the Spanish steps where they have nasoni attached to the fountain, and feel free to use those!

In a country that makes you pay for water every time you sit down to eat at a restaurant, the abundant free water in Rome is definitely appreciated. I’ve seen these in other cities in Italy (Milano, Torino, Catania), but no other place has as many or as cold of water as Rome does. Make sure to use it while you’re there! I know I will miss this city feature when I arrive home in Westwood.

Andrea Zachrich studied abroad in Rome, Italy, in Summer 2018:

Italy | Trevi Fountain


We went to Trevi Fountain on our first evening of our program here in Rome. I thought the history of the Trevi Fountain was fascinating, so I’m going to share it with you.

As with most things in Rome, the Trevi Fountain has an ancient, medieval, renaissance, baroque, and modern history. The ancient history begins with Marcus Agrippa, who was the right hand man of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. He built an aqueduct called the Aqua Virgo that began up in the mountains and ended in the spot where the Trevi Fountain stands today. There is a myth about the name of the aqueduct, which means “Virgin Water”. The legend goes that when Marcus Agrippa was looking for a source for the aqueduct in the mountains, a virgin miraculously appeared, led him to the water source and then disappeared. Professor Gurval believes that the myth was made up after the aqueduct was named, but I think I prefer this story.

The aqueduct was function for a few hundred years until the fall of Rome in the fifth century. Many historians think that one of reasons Rome fell was because many of their aqueducts were destroyed. The city simply could not support that many people without a lot of water, and population quickly dropped from 1 million to 50 thousand.

The aqueduct was mostly forgotten in the Middle Ages. The next time it makes an appearance was during the time of the Renaissance. Pope Nicolas restores the aqueduct and seeks to build an ornate fountain on the location. However, the pope dies before he can commission a fountain, and no fountain is built until the mid 1700’s. The one that stands there today was dedicated in 1762 and designed by a Roman architect named Nicola Salvi. Sadly, he didn’t live long enough to see the fountain finished. The fountain was not particularly popular until movies such as Three Coins in a Fountain and La Dolce Vita featured it. Now, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, and is currently the largest fountain in Rome.

The statue features the god ocean, and representations of abundance/prosperity and health as people. The facade behind the sculptures features an order of Corinthian columns with little apses for smaller statues.

The legend with this statue, popularized in the movie Three Coins in a Fountain, is that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder into the fountain, it will bring you back to Rome.

Andrea Zachrich studied abroad in Rome, Italy, in Summer 2018:

Italy | The Roman Forum


Visiting the Roman Forum was one of my favorite days of the entire program, but also one of the most difficult for me personally because it was ludicrously hot and I’m pretty sure I got some mild form of heat stroke (nausea, headache, all that super fun stuff). I know I’ve said this before, but it is blazing hot in Rome in the summer, especially because most days there’s not a cloud a sky. But, we learned a lot and got to see a lot of cool places that I’ve discussed a ton in my classes at UCLA. There’s nothing quite like being able to see the real thing after these past three years studying it, it’s surreal.

We started the day by splitting our class into two smaller groups, and then we got a tour of the Forum by Professor Gurval, and ended with a tour of the Palatine hill with Diana, our Teaching Assistant. This post reflects our schedule for the day – I start with some of the more notable and/or places in the forum I thought had an interesting history, and end with some information about the Palatine hill and the museum up there.

History of the Roman Forum

For most of ancient Rome’s history, the Forum Romanum, or the Roman Forum in English, was the center of life in the city. There was space here dedicated to civic, religious, commercial, and political activities. It served as the place for civil and criminal trials, elections, triumphal processions, and religious ceremonies. Unlike many other fora from antiquity, the space developed gradually over time and was not planned, making the layout a bit chaotic and confusing (in a good way).  Eventually, more fora were built next to this original one by the emperors as the city expanded, but the original Roman Forum remained the heart of activity in the city.

The Forum is one of the few places in Rome that has been almost completely excavated down to the ground level during the time of ancient Rome (which is about 2 – 3 stories below the modern level). You have to walk down a ramp/stairs to get into the archeological site.

Some of the main buildings and a brief history (with pictures!)

The Temple of Saturn

Pictured above is The Temple of Saturn. This building was rebuilt many times. The original one is said to date back close to the founding of Rome and built by one of the first seven kings. The second one was built during the Republican era. The third one, which is the ruins you see in the pictures, was completed after a fire in mid third century AD. This is one of the better preserved temples in the forum; it still has 8 columns, the base, and the frieze above the columns. The god Saturn for whom the temple is dedicated is associated with wealth, and in antiquity this temple was where the Roman treasury was stored (so basically the ancient version of our Fort Knox).

Temple of Romulus

Little is known about this temple, but many scholars believe that it is dedicated not to the first king of Rome but to the son of Maxentius – the rival emperor of Constantine – who had the same name as the founder of Rome. Romulus dies at a young age and his father decided to deify him and build this temple. Fun fact: the bronze doors that you see on this building are the original doors from the early 4th century AD when it was constructed. Nowadays, the temple is the vestibule of the Basilica Santa Cosma e Damiano (which is why it’s so well preserved), and you can go inside the church to see the inside of this temple.

Arch of Titus

This monument is interesting because it has one the first Roman depictions of a Jewish menorah ever recorded. One of the reliefs inside of the arch features a scene where Roman troops sack Jerusalem. The triumph over Jerusalem occurred in 71 AD and the arch was build 11 years later in 82 AD. The arch was incorporated into a defense wall in the middle ages (which is why the reliefs on the outside of the arch are damaged). In antiquity, Jews refused to walk under the arch because of what is celebrated and due to ancient ban. The arch is one of the last structures you encounter before you continue upwards to the Palatine hill.

Portico of the Harmonious Gods

This structure, which lies at the foot of the Capitoline hill at the edge of the forum, was built in 367 AD and was the last pagan shrine to be built in the Forum during the time of the last pagan emperor of Rome – Julian – a descendant of Constantine. The gods to which it was dedicated are the twelve gods in the Roman pantheon. It was excavated in the 19th century, and what you see today is largely a reconstruction from that time.

Temple of the Divine Faustina and Antoninus Pius

This temple was built in 141 AD to honor the wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius, Faustina the elder, after her death. The emperor deified his very popular wife following her death. After the death of Antonius, the temple was rededicated to include both of them and an inscription was added above the original one adding Antoninus’ name. The inscription essentially says that these two rulers were deified by decree of the senate. The original, and very pretty, marble frieze of the building still remains today, although other elements such as the roof have been replaced over the years. The structure was converted into a church called San Lorenzo in Miranda, which is why it still stands in good condition today.

Arch of Septimius Severus

This triumphal arch was dedicated to Emperor Septimius Severus (along with his two sons Geta and Caracalla) in 203 AD to commemorate his victory over the Parthians. Septimius Severus wish for his sons to rule as joint emperors, but Caracalla had Geta killed (as he ran into his mother’s arms, it was a messed up assassination) and then purged representations of him from public record. As such, the images of Geta that were on this arch when it was made were removed by Caracalla. The arch is made of marble with a travertine base. The arch was a military fort during the middle ages and there was a tower built on top of the arch. Half of the arch belonged to the church and was incorporated into a church and the other half owned by a private family (the ones who used it for a fort), and both are credited with keeping the structure in good shape. It is, however, pretty dirty right now (pollution builds up over time) as you can see in the picture above.

Temple of Vesta

Temples dedicated to the goddess Vesta were always round (but not all round temples belong to Vesta). Vesta is the goddess of the hearth and the home. This temple in the Forum is particularly important, because it was the temple that held the sacred flame of Rome, which the Vestal Virgins who lived in the House of the Vestal Virgins were sworn to keep alight. The Vestal Virgins were a group of six women who performed religious functions for the state of Rome. They were usually given the state by their parents at a young age. They were usually part of the senatorial or equestrian class – although in later times families did not want to give up their daughters and some Vestals were lower class or even slaves. They took vows of chastity that were strict – the punishment for breaking this vow was being buried alive (which did happen a few times, although some scholars suggest it was due to political motivations). After they served their time as Vestals, these women were released from their duties and had many rights that normal Roman women did not. They could marry whomever they wanted, could own land, and did not have a male guardian in charge of them or their finances. The Vestal Virgins were eventually disbanded when Rome became Christian in the 4th century AD.

The Column of Phocas

This column was actually the last monument dedicated in the Roman forum. It was dedicated to honor the Roman emperor in the East –  Phocas – in 608 AD. The column was likely recycled from an earlier dedication in the 2ndcentury AD. There is an inscription on the base dedicating the column, and then the column stands nearly 50 feet high. It’s one of the tallest structures in the Forum, and has become a bit of a landmark.

The Curia Julia

The Curia Julia was the name of the senate house in ancient Rome during the imperial ages. As you can see, the building is fairly well-preserved. A safe bet with ancient buildings is that if it’s well-preserved today, it was either put back together by a more modern restoration or that it was turned into a church so it was maintained and forbidden to rob pieces from it. The Curia Julia was turned into a church. This building was actually started by Julius Caesar after the old senate house burnt down and finished by Augustus. Caesar was actually murdered in the Theater of Pompey and not in the senate house because this one was under construction at the time. The original doors of this building are actually at the Basilica of St. John in Lateran (the original mother church before St. Peter’s was built).

The Palatine Hill


The Palatine hill has an extensive history and people have lived there since around the 9thcentury BC. The Palatine Hill, which is one the original seven hills of Rome (which did vary and change through history by the way), was the home of the elite during the Republican age, and the location of the Emperor’s palaces during the Imperial age of ancient Rome. Augustus was the first to build a palace here, and most emperors followed suit by either building their own palace or making changes to existing ones. On the other side of the Palatine hill is the Circus Maximus – the race track for horse chariot racers (a wildly popular sport in ancient Rome). Some emperors would even build boxes to watch the races on the top of the hill so they would not have to go down into the stadium (although the people of Rome never appreciated this very much). The word “palace” comes from the name of the hill “palatine”.

Nowadays, the hill is a sprawling archeological site open to the public. It can be a little confusing, as some of the buildings overlap, some are buried, and some are actually in pretty good shape. Our class used our SUPER ticket to visit the House of Livia (wife of Emperor Augustus) where the two of them lived. The tour included projections on the walls of what the frescoes would have looked like which was very cool. The Palatine hill also boasts great views out onto Rome and also overlooks the Roman Forum, which can be a picture – take opportunity.

The Museum

Also on the Palatine hill is the Palatine museum – a small building that houses statues and other artwork found on the Palatine hill. It’s kind of small, but it has some interesting pieces of art and it’s nice to take a break from the sun for a little while. I would go inside if you get the chance.

Overall, the Forum and the Palatine hill are interesting spots and they’re full of history. If you can, I would go with someone who has some knowledge of ancient history (like a UCLA Classics major). If you can’t, however, phones exist and the site is beautiful all on its own. It’s included in the ticket you purchase for the Coliseum, so you might as well go! The site is iconic of Rome and there is a lot to be learned here.

Some tips for visiting

Go early! It gets blazing hot and there is very little shade in either the Forum or on the Palatine hill. I think that most of the tour groups start their tours at around 10 am, so if you can manage to get there before that it’s nice because you won’t get stuck behind massive groups of people (I passionately believe that tour groups over 15 should not be allowed anywhere ever.) Also, make sure you bring a water bottle because there are a bunch of fountains where you can get water in the actual forum and on the Palatine hill. They’re connected to ancient aqueduct lines, and are incredibly convenient and cold. Also, your ticket will get you into both the Coliseum and the Roman Forum for 15 euros. If you get the SUPER ticket, you also have the opportunity to go inside some of the buildings in the Forum and do some virtual-type tours on the Palatine Hill. I don’t think its something you should get unless you’re a huge ancient history fan AND you plan on spending a ton of time in the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill. When I went back a second time with my brother, we just did the Coliseum in the morning and the Roman Forum in the afternoon without all the extras, and it was fine for my brother who doesn’t know a ton about the ancient Romans and isn’t as interested in the history.

I think the Roman Forum is a must see. You can learn a lot about Roman history by studying their buildings and monuments because it gives the modern viewer a sense of what was important to these people. Take your time and try to notice some of the details – the beauty that comes out of these ruined buildings when you give them a second glance just might surprise you.

Andrea Zachrichh studied abroad in Rome, Italy, in Summer 2018:

Italy | The Pantheon

By Andrea Zachrich

The Pantheon

I love the Pantheon, especially as a college student and a person who studies classics. As far as being a college student goes, its completely free which is awesome because many of the sites in Rome can get expensive. You can go back as often as you would like (I actually took 2 of my friends to the Pantheon while they were on vacation in Rome and my brother and went another time on my own). As a Classics enthusiast, the Pantheon is perhaps the best preserved ancient monument in Rome (and maybe even in the world). The structure, floors, and walls are all mostly original (with some restoration work and later Christian additions). While there have been some modifications in terms of the sculptures due to its conversion to a Christian church, what remains can really give you a sense of the grandeur and beauty of ancient Rome, which is difficult to imagine in many of the other ruins from antiquity, even in places like Pompeii and Ostia, where the buildings are very well preserved, because they have lost a lot of the stucco and marble facing that would have made them so incredible.


The Pantheon really has 5 main histories: 3 rebuildings in antiquity, it’s use as a Christian church from the end of antiquity onwards, and it’s modern history as a tourist attraction in Rome. This building was very influential during the Renaissance, and is one of the most popular sites for tourists (and locals) today.

Ancient Times

The word pantheon is actually Greek in origin. It roughly translates into “all the gods”. Pan means “all” and theon means “gods”. It is, as the name suggests, a temple dedicated to all of the gods. Some scholars, however, think that it was dedicated not to all the gods in the Roman pantheon, but to all the planet gods. Due to the removal of the Roman sculpture on the inside, however, we cannot be sure exactly which gods the temple was dedicated to.

The first Pantheon was built during the years 27-25 BC by Marcus Agrippa. Marcus Agrippa Agrippa was a powerful and influential man who was the right hand man of Emperor Augustus, and essentially served as co-emperor. He has a lot of building projects in the Campus Martius (which is where the Pantheon is). Originally, Agrippa had wanted to put a statue of Augustus inside the temple alongside all of the gods, but Augustus would not allow it, stating that he was not a god yet. Instead, Agrippa decided to put statues of Augustus and himself on the outside of the temple in order to show that they were favored by the gods.

This first Pantheon was destroyed in a fire in 80 AD, and rebuilt by the emperor Domitian. This second temple was again destroyed in 110 AD. Very little is known about these earlier buildings. No one is quite sure what they looked like or their decorations. Some ancient authors have written about them, but even these writings lack clues as to what the building may have been like. Some scholars have speculated that the original entrance actually faced in the opposite direction, but we really don’t know.

The Pantheon we can visit today was built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, sometime from 117-138 AD, although most scholars agree that it was probably finished at some point during the 120s. We’re not sure because Hadrian actually put up the original inscription on the new building that reads (in latin of course) “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, during his third time as consul, made me”. Most believe that he put up this inscription because he wished to associate himself and his rule as emperor with that of Augustus.

Middle Ages and Beyond

The Pantheon was given to the Catholic Church in 609 AD by Emperor Phocas, who was the Byzantine emperor in the east. The temple was then turned into a Catholic church. While the church left most of the exterior and interior marble decoration intact, they did remove the pagan sculpture from the inside. Eventually, the marble that covered the exterior brick you see today was taken, as well as the marble decoration from the pediment. We can’t be entirely sure, but many scholars believe that the decoration on the pediment was that of an eagle based on the holes left from where the decoration was nailed into place.

The interior and exterior dome of the Pantheon, as well as the interior roof of the porch used to be covered with bronze. This bronze was taken by the Catholic church in the mid 1600s during the reign of Pope Urban VIII and was actually used to make canons for the Castel S’ant Angelo (known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum to us Classics nerds), and Bernini’s bronze baldachin that you can see inside of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican today. It must have been a marvelous looking building before the bronze was stripped away (although it is still quite impressive without it).

During the 1600s two bell towers were built on either side of the porch, but they were removed in the late 19th both because they were fairly unattractive (they were nicknamed the “ass’s ears”) and because they did not reflect the original design of the building.

Today, the Pantheon is still used as a Catholic church, although they only have services on Sundays (Saturday evenings for English speakers), and also do not enforce the usual rule of churches in Italy where you must cover your shoulders and legs down to the knee. It is treated much more like an ancient monument and much less like a typical church. It is, however, free to visit because it is still a church.

The Building

The structural integrity of the building has not been compromised in the nearly 2000 years since it was built. The building has managed to survive fires, earthquakes, invasions of the city, and floods without any worry by modern engineers that it will collapse, which really is remarkable.

The building can be divided into two main areas: the porch and the interior (with the dome). The porch is beautiful. It features monolithic columns of granite imported from Egypt. The word monolithic means that these columns are each made using only one piece of stone! They each weigh over 60 tons, and it would have been an incredibly costly and time consuming process to import them. The pink granite columns on the left side, however, are from the Baths of Nero and replaced the original ones in the mid 1600s .

As stated earlier, the interior of the porch roof used to be covered with bronze, and there were two giant statues of Augustus and Agrippa in the niches on the porch. While the decorations from the pediment and the bronze have been stripped away from the porch, it is still a very imposing and beautiful building to look at from the front.

The Pantheon is, of course, most famous for it’s dome. It was the largest dome in the world until the mid 1800s, and is still the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. Roman engineers were able to accomplish this thanks to a well-made design and their choice of material: roman concrete. Roman concrete is particularly strong because it makes use of volcanic ash as one of the ingredients. The chemical reaction from using this material actually makes the concrete stronger over time. The design has also allowed the dome to stand for as long as it has. The supporting base of the dome is very wide, at 21 feet thick. As it climbs upwards, the concrete dome gets thinner and thinner until it’s only about 4 feet wide so that there is less weight to support as it gets taller. The dome is a perfect half sphere. The diameter across is as long as the dome is tall from floor to oculus. There is an oculus that’s about 8 meters wide at the top of the dome to allow in light and air. The photos show what the inside looks like today.

Two tombs of Italian kings (and one of their wives), and the tomb of the painter Raphael reside inside of the Pantheon. The tomb of Raphael is surprisingly simple for such a great painter; it simply has his coffin and statue of St. Mary that one of his students made. Even though his tomb changes the ancient design, it seems fitting that he would be laid to rest in such a beautiful place.

While we did not get to experience it while we were there, Professor Gurval says that his favorite time to visit the Pantheon is when it rains because rain will actually fall though the oculus (and all the tourists usually clear out). If you look closely, you can find drains built into the floor directly under the oculus. Originally, these drains ran out into fountains that lined the portico that surrounded the Pantheon.

Why I’m So Obsessed with it

The Pantheon is easily my favorite place in Rome. Besides having a courtyard on the outside with a fountain where you can fill up your water bottle and being close to my favorite gelato place in Rome (Giolitti’s), it really is one of the few places in Rome where you can really get a sense of the grandeur and wealth of ancient Rome. Most of the other buildings from antiquity are in ruins, and when they are not, they have been stripped of their decoration. The Pantheon still has all of its original interior marble decoration on the floors and the walls, and the impressive dome still stands in near perfect condition. It’s hard to walk into the forum, or even the coliseum, and fully grasp the wealth of Rome when all you see are dilapidated structures devoid of any sort of decoration, but walking into the Pantheon really shows you what ancient Rome would have looked like, and you get a sense of how powerful and wealthy the empire really was. It also helped me envision what the other sites would have looked like their prime, with beautiful, colored marble decorations and statues decorating the inside. The Pantheon may be one of the best preserved ancient monuments in the world, and it really allows you to get a taste of ancient Rome with much more accuracy than many of the other ancient sites.

Best Time to Visit

Unfortunately for those people who are not morning people, the best time to visit the Pantheon is right at 8:30 AM when it opens. I managed to drag myself here this early, and it really was incredible compared to the other times when I went in the middle of the day. There were maybe 20 other people inside with me (compared to the hundreds during other times). With less people there, you can really examine the floor and the walls (especially if you’re short like me), and admire the tombs and decorations without other people crowding you in. Additionally, with less people you really grasp just how large the structure is, it seems much smaller when you’re surrounded by people. The emptiness really allows you to take it all in.

In short, I love this place. It’s so well-preserved and really a beautiful site, and it’s completely free to visit. Definitely make sure to stop by if you’re Rome! It’s worth taking the time to see.

Italy | The Coliseum

By Andrea Zachrich

My first impression of the Coliseum was that it was smaller than the Rosebowl. My second thought after that was that the Rosebowl was unlikely to still be standing 2,000 years from now in the same way the Coliseum is. My third thought was awe at the fact that this incredibly large structure has withstood the test of time (not without damage, of course, but what’s left is still pretty spectacular).

The Facts

Its Name

I love the story of how the Coliseum got its name. During the reign of Emperor Nero, he commissioned a massive bronze statue of himself as the sun god that was often called the “colossus” because of its huge size. (It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). This statue, which was nearly 100 feet tall, stood right next to the coliseum (with various reworkings of the face for different emperors) until an earthquake in 1000 toppled it, but by then the name of the amphitheater had already been determined. So the name Coliseum comes from the word colossus and essentially refers to a structure that is near the colossus statue of Nero. The true name of the amphitheater is Amphitheatrum Flavium in latin, or Flavian Amphitheater in English, because it was constructed during the Flavian dynasty. That name, however, is rarely used, and the word coliseum with a lowercase “c” has even come to be used for other amphitheaters from the Roman world.

Ancient History

The Coliseum was started around 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian, and was completed by his son Emperor Titus in 80 AD following Vespasian’s death. The name Flavian Amphitheater comes from these emperors, who were a part of the Flavian dynasty. It was paid for by using wealth acquired from booty during war. According to ancient sources, the inaugural games of the Coliseum lasted a full month, and 9,000 animals were killed and there were hundreds of gladiatorial fights and other spectacles. Some scholars even believe that the amphitheater may have even been filled with water and used for mock naval battles, but other scholars believe that this may have only happened once at the inaugural games or not at all (the Romans did have these mock naval battles, called naumachia, but the location usually made use of existing bodies of water and thus the Romans may not have needed/wanted to use the Coliseum for this purpose). It could seat around 50,000-80,000 people depending on the amount of wooden seating at the top and how packed in the people were. The structure has a series of underground tunnels (you can see them today because the wooden floor no longer exists) that would be used to raise wild animals into the arena or sometimes gladiators from special trapdoors. It also had a canvas cover on the top of the amphitheater called the vela or velarium, the latin word for sail (like from a sail boat) that served to protect viewers from the sun or rain. All of the games at the Coliseum were free to attend and were usually paid for by the emperor, but you had to secure a token with a seat on it prior to the event in order to be allowed in. But, if you were an elite, you didn’t need this token. The emperor had his own box, the senators had marble seats (you can still see this section of seating today), and many elite families had their own boxes in the Coliseum from which to watch the games.

Materials and Architecture

The Coliseum is really a remarkable structure, and has stood for nearly 2,000 years with minimal damage aside from deliberate material robbing. The Coliseum is the largest amphitheater from antiquity. It is mainly made of concrete, tufa (a volcanic stone common in Roman building), and travertine (another stone commonly used by the Romans). It was faced with marble and had statues facing outwards in all of the archways in antiquity. It has three stone layers of seatings (with ionic, doric, and corinthian capitals on the outside) and used to have a top, wooden layer of seating that was the Roman equivalent of the nosebleed seats which most likely burnt down. These wooden seats required near constant maintenance in antiquity, and were frequently subjected to fires and other damages that come from being outside. The structure had a central wooden platform (now completely gone – probably because it rotted away over time) that would have been covered with sand where all the spectacles took place. As discussed earlier, there is an extensive system of tunnels under this floor that were used to place animals and people into the arena. Below are some photos that show the series of tunnels under the floor.

Modern History

During the early medieval ages, the arches of the Coliseum housed shops and were used as housing. There was also a chapel built in the structure at this time. Around 1200 AD, the Frangipani family took over the entire Coliseum and used it as a fort and to house their family. In the mid 1300’s, an earthquake toppled much of one of the sides, and the stones that fell were reused in other buildings around Rome. Similar to many other buildings in Rome, the bronze clamps that held the stone together were actually dug out of the stone, and you can still see the holes that this left on the structure today (and makes it even more remarkable that the Coliseum is still standing). In the mid 1700’s, Pope Benedict XIV declared the site to be sacred and forbid further quarrying because he claimed that Christians had been martyred in the structure. While the Roman did prosecute Christians for much of their history, there is no historical evidence that executions took place in the Coliseum, and many scholars believe that no Christians were ever killed there for the crime of being Christian. There is, however, still a large cross inside of the Coliseum, and this Pope’s declaration did help save the amphitheater from further damage. The Coliseum was finally fully excavated under Mussolini, and underwent a massive restoration project from 1993-2000. There used to be a ton of cats that lived in the Coliseum, but there aren’t as many today. I saw one when we went as a class, and none when I went with my brother. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, and draws in massive amounts of revenue for the Italian government.

Random fun fact: gattara is the Italian word for an old lady who takes care of cats on the streets, and its one of my favorite words I learned in Italian (along with cucchioli which means puppies or kittens which I learned when visiting my Sicilian family and their puppy!) Writing about the stray cats in the Coliseum reminded me about this word.

The Gladiators

Now we get to the good part: the gladiators of the Coliseum. Contrary to popular belief, only about 10 percent of gladiators ever died in battle or from their wounds in battle. It was still a very risky profession, but not as dramatic as is often depicted in movies. Gladiators often did not battle to the death because a gladiator is an expensive investment for their ludus, or gladiator school, because they must be trained, housed, and clothed. It would not be economical to own gladiators if your investments die half the time they were used for a fight. Most gladiators were slaves, although some people did choose to be gladiators. They occupied an interesting place in society. Many were wealthy, as they often got paid large sums to fight, and good gladiators had a type of celebrity status in Rome, but they also were denied the right to citizenship, and many were slaves (although they could often afford to pay for their freedom with their battle fees). They could not marry Roman citizens (although there are stories of particularly famous gladiators consorting with senator’s wives), and had tattoos to signify that they were gladiators. The fame and wealth accompanied with the loss of rights meant that gladiators occupied this strange limbo ground in Roman society.

Going There

Honestly, getting into the Coliseum is really quite a process. As with most tourist attractions in Rome, I would recommend going early and maybe even getting in line before they open. I would also get tickets in advance, or get the super ticket from the Forum the day before so that you don’t have to wait in line to buy a ticket here. When we went as a class, we got there quite early, maybe around 8:30 and only had to wait in line about 30 minutes. My brother and I went a different time and got there around 9:30, and had to wait in line for a little over an hour before we even got to buy our tickets. It takes so long because they send you through security (of which they should have more open) and then have you purchase your ticket after, which, as you can imagine, is a slow moving process. The price of the ticket isn’t terrible, i believe its only 15 euros to visit both the Coliseum and the Roman Forum.

I really enjoy learning about the Coliseum. It is an iconic symbol of Rome, and reminder of the wacky types of entertainment the ancient Romand enjoyed. It’s name, history, construction, and the gladiators that fought (and died) here are all fascinating, and learning about them really enhanced my visit to this awesome place. It was even cooler to take my brother back a second time and teach him all of things that I had learned. In many ways, the Coliseum is symbolic of the ancient Romans: its massive and beautiful and opulent with a violent and bloody history.

Italy | Some handy Italian (and Rome) Tips

By Andrea Zachrich

I thought it might be useful to make a guidebook of things I learned in Italy and differences between the culture there and in the U.S. so that you don’t look like an idiot tourist like I did. Not all of these are super strict guidelines, and some only apply to Rome, but I hope they can help you in your future travels!

  1. You almost always pay after you eat (or drink, if its coffee), regardless of if you eat in a more traditional sit down restaurant, or a walk-up to the counter and order kind of place. Basically, they just trust you to pay after you finish eating. Trying to pay before usually leads to a lot crazy looks and most places will just tell you to wait.
  2. That being said, however, if you’re ordering something quick like a gelato or a drink, they often ask you to pay before you eat it, and then you walk up with your receipt to get your order. Giolitti’s, my favorite gelato place in Rome, functions like this. I would default to the first way of paying unless you see a register near the front of the store or notice someone else paying first.
  3. Grazie – this is the word for thank you. You will use it a lot. For the love of all that is holy, it is not pronounced “gra-zi”, but rather “gra-zi-aye”. I realize that sometimes it will sound like the first pronunciation because Italians often talk rather quickly, but they make fun of Americans who pronounce it the first way.
  4. Italians don’t really have a concept of lines or right of way, so often times if you’re tying to order something you have to be a little assertive and make sure you are heard. I don’t think its them being rude, but rather they assume that everyone behaves like that. Same goes with crossing the street. Drivers won’t stop for you unless you’re already in the street. True Italians just make eye contact with the driver while stepping in the street in front of traffic and assume the cars will stop.
  5. People in Italy eat pizza with a knife and a fork. This took a little getting used to, but I think it makes it better because you can get a better bite of pizza. I also saw my Sicilian relatives cut up parts of the pizza with a knife and fork, and then eat it in pieces with their hands, but I wouldn’t do that unless you see other people doing it (that could have been a more casual way to eat because we were with family too).
  6. For some reason, Google maps worked a lot better for me than Apple maps while I was in Rome. Apple maps would often take me to the wrong address, while Google maps was much more accurate. I’m not really sure why this is, but to save yourself the hassle of going to the wrong place, I would just start with Google maps. You can also use Google maps to figure out which public transportation line to take if you tap on the symbol that looks like a train (super useful!)
  7. If you’re in Rome, I would start with an English “hello” when you walk into a store or restaurant and not a “ciao” even though this goes against everything I stand for in terms of not looking like a tourist. The reason is that if you start with ciao, and you look Italian (as I do because my grandparents are from there), people will start rapid fire speaking to you Italian, and then have to repeat themselves in English after they realize you don’t speak their language when you blankly stare at them, and that’s frustrating for everyone involved. If you start with a hello, they know to start in English, and then if you’re trying to work on your Italian you can always tell them that and ask for some tips.
  8. Download the Italian language dictionary of google translate onto your phone so that you don’t have to use your data. Many museums won’t translate the placards by the art, so the app is useful to have to know what you’re looking at. Ditto for restaurant menus so you know what you’re ordering (at least at first until you get the hang of it).
  9. Watch your stuff , especially on public transportation, because there are a lot of pickpockets. (The amount of times I had an older Italian lady on the tram motion at me to close my bag was absurd. When I was in Catania, Sicily, an old couple even stopped their car in the middle of a busy street to tell me to close my bag, so clearly pickpocketing is an issue in Italy).
  10. Meal times are different there. Lunch is around normal time (usually 12 or 12:30 to 2:00), but dinner is later at around 8:30. If you can’t wait until then, you can head out and grab aperitivo, which is pre-dinner drinks and snacks. It usually starts at around 7:00 (honestly, its a great concept). Breakfast is usually something very simple such as a coffee with a small pastry.
  11. It’s hot in the summer. Like really hot, with humidity on top of it. Visiting sites in the morning and the late afternoon, with an A/C break and nap mid-day, is the way to go. You might feel like you’re missing out, but trying to move around in the middle of the day is miserable and makes you feel terrible.
  12. Get an Italian SIM card for your phone if you’re going to be there any substantial amount of time. It’s the easiest and most stress-free way to communicate. Yes, you do get a different phone number, but your friends and family can use Whatsapp with your old phone number to get in contact with you. Also, Vodafone offers amazing deals on internet usage I got 8GB of data for 10 euros (essentially unlimited data at that amount)! That’s unheard of in the US.
  13. Bring a reusable water fountain to fill up at the nasoni fountains that are all around town and save yourself some money!
  14. Always have cash on you. Many smaller gelato and coffee places only take cash, and even some bigger places act like its a huge inconvenience when you try to use your card. You can get cash at ATMs. Look for one that has a flat fee to pull out money. Make sure not to keep all your cash with you in case it get stolen. Also, get a travel credit card. Bank of America offers an awesome one that covers all international transaction fees.
  15. If you know Spanish, it will really help you in Italy. There was one person in our study abroad group who would just speak Spanish to waiters and servers, and they almost always knew what he meant. I’m not sure they appreciated him speaking Spanish, but it was an effective way to communicate. Most places in Rome have at least one person working there who speaks English, but Spanish may be better to start with if you’re fluent.
  16. Some useful words and phrases:
    1. “Ciao!” is hello and goodbye. I like this word a lot.
    2. “Prego” is translated into “you’re welcome”, but it’s used in more ways than that (although its still used as you’re welcome frequently). Often times, it could be better translated into the word “please” or “go ahead”. When servers are ready for you to order or a hostess takes you to your table, they will often say “prego” to let you know that they are ready for you to speak or that this is where you’re sitting.
  • To order: “per me, ________”, which means “for me, _______ and then whatever you want to order.
  1. The bill is “il conto”. Servers in Italy don’t get tipped for their service, so they generally care less than servers in the US. Don’t be surprised if you have to ask a couple times for the bill. You’re also kind of expected to sit and chill after you eat, so often times they won’t think to bring the bill right away if you don’t ask.
  2. How to say excuse me: this one is particularly useful. There are three phrases in Italian for the one English phrase of “excuse me” and I was a little confused about the usage of the different phrases at first…
    1. “con permesso”: excuse me when you are walking past people (very helpful on public transportation)
    2. “mi scusi”: excuse me when you are trying to get ones attention (such as in a restaurant)
    3. “scusa”: sorry to apologize for something (usually used by my clumsy self when I bumped into someone)
  3. “Dove il bagno?”: where’s the bathroom. You can also just ask “il bagno?” and they’ll usually point you in the right direction.
  • “caldo” and “freddo” are hot and cold, respectively, which is useful for when you’re trying to order coffee.
  • “andiamo” is let’s go! Professor Gurval used this often while trying to get our class places in Rome.
  1. And lastly “allora”. This is one of my favorite words in Italian. It’s basically a placeholder word, and functions as “um” or “well” does in English. If you hear someone say this, they’re probably thinking about what to say.

That’s all I can think of for now. Rome is a pretty easy city to figure out, between Google maps, the internet, and the fact that many people there speak English, you will be a-ok. Good luck on your travels!

Italy | Roman (and Italian) Foods You have to Try

By Andrea Zachrich

Just like many large cities, Rome has some food that is distinctly Roman. Unlike many big cities, everything I tried that was distinctly Roman was delicious, so I thought I would made a list of my favorites. I have also included some Italian foods on this list that you should also try while you’re in Rome or Italy. A lot of these things you can only get in Rome (or they are done the best there), so be on the look out on menus for these items. I don’t have pictures of everything, as I’m not really one to take photos of my meals, but I tried to snag some when I remembered or when it looked particularly delicious.

  • Suppli – THIS IS MY FAVORITE FOOD IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Basically, it’s a ball of risotto rice that’s breaded and fried and it’s bomb. There’s often cheese or meat in the middle. My favorite flavor is just the classic red sauce with cheese, but they come in all kinds of flavors such as cacio e pepe(cheese and pepper). Another variation is called aracini (found in Southern Italy and Sicily), that’s shaped more like teardrop, but is basically the same concept – a fried ball of risotto rice. The picture below is of aracini from Palermo because I ate the suppli too fast everytime to get a picture. It’s usually served as an appetizer or you often find them as snacks in to-go restaurants for around a euro. My Italian friend recommended them to me, and I think I had one just about every day.
  • Cacio e Pepe – a fan favorite for dinner in our study abroad group. This dish can be best described as adult mac ‘n cheese. It’s spaghetti noodles with cheese (usually grana or parmesan) and black pepper mixed with a little bit of the used pasta water to make in more creamy. It sounds simple, but its very good.
  • Gricia – This is cacio e pepe but with meat added – usually pork belly or pork cheek. It’s not as common as cachio e pepe, but I like it more because the meat adds a kind of smoky flavor.
  • Carbonara – very similar to Gricia, but with egg added in the sauce. This is more common on menus and considered distinctly Roman.
  • Amatriciana (fun word to say) – This is another pasta dish similar to the ones described above, but it’s made with a red sauce instead of a cheese sauce. There’s usually pork belly or pork cheek in the sauce (although it often says bacon on menu translations into English).
  • Fried artichokes (carciofi is the Italian word for artichoke) – These are very good. I couldn’t tell you why, but these kind of taste like potato chips, but better.
  • Saltimbocca – I was a little skeptical of this at first, but it grew on me. It’s veal with ham and herbs (usually sage). It can be a little more expensive, but it’s pretty tasty.
  • Pizza – you can’t go to Italy without eating pizza. Many places actually serve pizza by the weight instead of by the piece (it’s awesome and usually a really good deal). As you can tell by the photos below, we ate a lot of pizza!
  • Pasta alla Vongole – If you like clams, this dish is for you. Before I came to Italy, clams weren’t really my favorite. I thought they tasted like you stuck your head in the ocean and opened your mouth. BUT, I really enjoyed vongole whenever I had it in Italy. It’s in-shell clams in a simple garlic sauce tossed with pasta. Best part of about eating it in Italy is that it’s usually not more than a euro more than the rest of the pasta dishes, unlike in the US where clams can get expensive!
  • Charcuterie Board – You cannot go to Italy without eating some meats and cheeses. There’s various different names for this kind of appetizer in Italy, but keep your eyes out for something with a bunch of different meat and cheese names on the menu. Or, go to a salumeria (meat shop), get the ingredients to make your own, and go sit down by the Tiber or another scenic spot and have a picnic.
  • Bruschetta – a classic. Toasted bread with olive oil, salt, and toppings. Often fresh tomatoes or olives. Some restaurants get creative, but I prefer the classics tomato and olive oil.
  • Focaccia – This bread is everything good in life. It’s a flat, simple bread often flavored with herbs and olive oil. The most classic ones will just have olive oil and salt, some have herbs such as rosemary, and some even get more creative and bake olives or cheese into the bread. The best ones have a slightly crispy outside and a soft, fluffy inside.
  • Gelato with panna – well, of course! You probably know what gelato is, but I view it as basically upgraded ice cream. Panna is the Italian version of whip cream, it doesn’t have the pressurized air, so you’re basically getting another scoop of gelato.
  • Tiramisu – If you’ve never tried tiramisu, you’re missing out. It’s ladyfingers that are dipped in coffee and layered with a creamy filling. Good news too – you can make this at home fairly easily!
  • Canolis – This is more of a Sicilian specialty, but I had some delicious ones while in Rome too. I grew up eating canolis. My great-grandma used to make a million little tiny ones for holidays. It’s a shell of dough that’s fried until its crunchy filled with a ricotta cheese and sugar filling. Sicilian ones (which are the ones you want) often dip the shells in chocolate and have sugared orange slices on the filling.
  • Cornetto – This is the Italian version of a French croissant. They’re usually a little less sweet, and can come in more flavors and with more fillings such as marzipan and nutella. When my brother and I visited relatives in Sicily, this is what they served us for breakfast every morning (we were very spoiled) and I think it’s usually viewed as a breakfast food.
  • Granita – picture a slushie, but it’s actually made with real, fresh fruit, and you get a granita. These things are so freaking good. My favorite flavors are strawberry and lemon. I especially like them because they’re not too sweet (with the exception of chocolate, I usually stick to more sour and bitter desserts). In Rome, you’ll usually see them in a spinning slushie machine similar to ones in the US. In Southern Italy (where they’re better, honestly) they scoop them like gelato out of metal containers in a freezer. They’re both delicious, and a nice, cheap treat to cool you down in the Roman summer heat!
  • Cappuccino – Coffee in Italy is amazing. Again, you probably already know what a cappuccino is, but if you don’t, its espresso with steamed milk usually topped with a little foam. You can often find them for under two euros in Rome, but only if you eat at the counter of the bar instead of sitting down (which you should!)
    • SIDE NOTE: Italian servers will correct you if you do not pronounce espresso correctly. It’s es-press-o with a “s” in there, not ex-press-o (no “x”).
  • Crema di Cafe – I think I might have touched on this in an earlier post, but this was my second favorite new food item I found in Rome (with suppli being the first, of course). Picture a really strong and not overly sweet coffee milkshake that’s often so thick you eat with a spoon, yum!

This was the best Crema di Cafe I had in Rome, and it was in a cafe inside a church! Weird.

Go forth and eat lots of good food! There’s amazing food to be found all over Italy, and I had some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life while I was there (and writing this post really made me crave some!). Make sure to try these Roman and Italian dishes while you’re there, because some of these you can’t get in the US (or, at least, I haven’t found them yet)!

Italy | Public Transportation

By Andrea Zachrich

Coming from Los Angeles, where the public transportation is seldom used and pretty inconvenient, I thought the public transportation in Rome was awesome. Yes, it was almost never on time, and yes, it was often crowded with people who couldn’t seem to figure out a bus map, but the whole month I was there it got me where I needed to be mostly on time.

So there’s three kinds of public transportation in Rome: the subway, the busses, and the trams. We mainly used the busses and the trams. There are only a few subway lines in Rome because every time they attempt to build a new line, some ancient monument or site is found and they have to stop construction. They’re attempting to build a new one by the Coliseum at the moment, but it has been slow going. They also don’t have any subway lines that go under the river and into Trastevere. I only used the subway twice the entire month I was there, so I didn’t find it particularly useful, but it could be if you’re staying near a stop. The trams are awesome, but there’s only 2 lines – the 3 and the 8. BUT, both lines go to very convenient places. The 8 ends in one of the main piazzas of Rome – Piazza Venezia – and goes to Trastevere, and the 3 has stops near the Coliseum, Largo Argentina (where Julius Caesar was murdered!) and other ancient sites. Another advantage of the tram is that it’s almost always on time. If the tram gets you to your location, it would be my first choice of public transportation to use. The busses are the most extensive type of public transportation in Rome and can get you almost anywhere in the city that you want to go. The one downfall to them, however, is that they are constantly running late. Sometimes they’re running so late that you think they’re on time because they get there at the time it says the bus after them should be there. There’s a ton of tourists on busses, because this is the form of transportation that stops at many of the main tourist sites, but as long as you’re not going as peak hours it’s usually isn’t unbearably crowded.

What I did

So, I was there for a month, and I knew I was going to be using public transportation extensively. If we ever used the bus as a class, those tickets were covered, but everything else was our own responsibility to pay for. So I decided to get a month long unlimited bus pass. Our program director offered to reimburse us the cost of all the tickets we would use as a class (16 euros) if we decided to purchase our own pass (which was 38 euros). It was a great deal. I definitely used the bus/tram more that the 15 times I paid for (in terms of individual tickets) and it was nice to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing I could always use it if i needed it. Also, with our apartment a 20-25 minute walk from where we met every morning, the bus pass was a god send. I used it to get around town when friends visited, my brother was here, or I just wanted to go out and explore. It made exploring Rome easy and fast, and I’m very glad I purchased one.

What you should do

If you’re just there for a few days or a week, and know you’re going to be using the public transportation system a lot, I would get one of the passes that will let you have unlimited rides. I think they have 1 day, 2 day, 3 day, and 1 week passes. If you don’t think you’re going to be using public transportation that much, then you can also buy individual tickets. They’re 1.50 euro and are good for 90 minutes. If you’re there for a month like we were, I would get the month pass. It really depends on the length of time you’re going to be there and the amount of public transportation you think you’re going to use.

Where do you buy bus tickets?

Italy is very unique in that you cannot buy bus tickets at the bus, and you cannot buy bus tickets at the bus station (unless you’re at one of the main ones such as Termini). You have to get them at Tabacchi. In English, these are translated into Tobacco Shops, and, even though they sell cigarettes, they also sell a lot of other items as well. Tabacchi are the place to go for stamps, snacks, bus tickets, occasionally SIM cards etc. It’s basically just a very specific convenience shop. Look for a white “T” enclosed in a blue square, and they should have public transportation tickets!

A photo of a typical Tabacchi shop I stole from the Internet

Some tips for the public transportation

Part of the reason using public transportation in Rome is so easy is because you can use Google maps to tell you the route you have to take. This is awesome, because in many places the public transportation system isn’t mapped out on an app like this. You type in where you want to go, and Google maps will tell you how to get to the station, how many stops you have, which stop to get off of, and how to get to your destination. They also usually provide more than one option of how to get there. I included some photos below.

So the way the tickets work is that you get them stamped by a machine as soon as you walk on the bus as a way to start the 90 minute time. You should always stamp your ticket. I know it seems like you might be able to get away with not stamping it and then reusing the ticket, but one of the students on my trip got a nearly 100 euro fine for not stamping her ticket (even though she had one!) If you have the passes for more than 1 trip, the officer will scan it to make sure its still valid (but they’re not really looking for you because most of the times tourists with those tickets don’t abuse them).

Another tip: watch you stuff closely. They’re aren’t a ton of pickpockets on the streets of Rome, but they are a lot on the busses and trams! One of the students in our group got here wallet stolen by a group of pick pocketers who had a baby with them, so don’t assume that just because people look like a family on vacation that they won’t take your stuff. Always zip your bags and hold it in front of you.

Public transportation in Rome is super easy! Have fun and be safe 🙂

Italy | Pompeii Field Trip

By Andrea Zachrich

The Pompeii Forum! That mountain is Mt. Vesuvius

This was definitely my favorite weekend of the trip. As part of the class, we got to take a bus to Pompeii, stay in a motel (with a pool), and visit the ancient site for a day and receive lectures. Having an opportunity like this is honestly so cool. Everything is planned out for you (all you have to do is hop on the bus). You don’t have to worry about tickets for the site or transportation or getting a tour guide or looking up information. Also, our professor encouraged the class to look into visiting one of the islands off the coast of the Bay of Naples after the field trip, so some of us went to Ischia, and it was amazingly beautiful.

Class Set Up

We left for the field trip on a Friday morning and then the site visit was on a Saturday. It takes about three hours to get from Rome to Pompeii by bus, so we got to the motel around lunch time. You get to pick your roommates in advance. The motel is pretty nice – nothing super special but it was clean, had AC, a pool, and breakfast, and the beds were comfortable. It’s also within walking distance to the entrance of Pompeii. You get to pick what you want to do that first day (I’ll talk about the options in a second), and then that evening we went to dinner as a class. Personally, I was not a fan of the food at the dinner, but it was nice to eat in all together in a big group. Then, we all went to bed fairly early because we were walking down to the site the next morning at 8 am.

Options for Day 1

So for that first day you’re there, you basically have three options.

1.Visit Herculaneum with the professor – I did not take this option (although normally this is something I would do) because my brother and I were planning on going here when he flew out in a couple weeks, and I didn’t want to visit it twice. Herculaneum is amazing though. It’s much better preserved than Pompeii because it’s excavations were carried out in a much better and more systematic way. It’s also much less crowded. My brother and I went on a Saturday and there were barely any people there. The site also gives you a very detailed and very useful information booklet, but if you go with the professor you (obviously) wouldn’t have to worry about that. Getting here from Pompeii or Naples is pretty easy. You have to take what we named the “World’s Hottest Train” and I think it’s about a euro or a euro fifty each way. We named it the “World’s Hottest Train” because it was incredibly crowded and there was no AC and that made it blazing hot. Be prepared to break a sweat. Below are a bunch of pictures of my visit to Herculaneum with my brother.

  1. Take a bus to the top of Mount Vesuvius – This is another really cool option that you have for that first day. I didn’t do it with the class because I knew I would be back, but it’s awesome. Basically, you pay 20 euro (10 euro for the bus ride and 10 for the Mt. Vesuvius park ticket) and a bus company with take you up the mountain and deposit you fairly close to the top. There’s great views and you can even look into the crater of the volcano. Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano and it was smoking when I went.
  1. Chill by the pool and/or wander around the town – this is the option I chose to do because I knew I would be doing the first two later. I’m not sure if I would recommend it unless you know you’re coming back. But it was very relaxing for us. We found a surprisingly good pizza place next to a parking lot, and then wandered through the town and got more e limone (blackberry and lemon) granitas (peep at my post about food to try if you don’t know what that is). Then we took a nap and hung out by the pool. It was a nice break honestly.

History of Pompeii

At the time Pompeii was buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, it was a medium-size Roman town right on the coast in the Bay of Naples. About 10,000 people lived there (plus al of their slaves). The eruption actually made it so that the town is now about 2km kilometer away from the ocean, but in antiquity it would have been right on the water. Being on the coast and near a river (Sarno), it was a center for trade and commerce and had a thriving agricultural sector.

We’re not entirely sure who founded the city, but we think it’s been around since the 8th or 7thcentury BC. The Etruscan lived in that area, the Greeks say they had a colony around there, and the Samnite people live in the region also. Either way, by it was definitely a Roman town by the 2ndcentury BC.

In antiquity, the town was mainly known for the products it produced. One of the more famous was garum, a fermented fish sauce used extensively by the Romans. Italian food doesn’t reflect this taste today, but garum was essentially used as salt to flavor food. Some of the best came from Pompeii. The town, being right next a volcano, had incredibly fertile volcanic soil in which to grow produce. Pompeii was also well known for its grapes/wine, figs, olives, nuts, and other types of food. The area was also a place where many wealthy Romans would have vacation villas where they would go during the summer to escape the heat of the city. As you can imagine, Pompeii was a fairly well – off city.

The beginning of the end for Pompeii started in 64 Ad, 15 years before the fateful eruption. In that year, there was a gnarly earthquake that the town was still rebuilding from when the eruption happened. Earthquakes continued to occur in that time frame before the eruption, but it doesn’t seem as though they did as much damage as the original.

In 79 AD, the people of the Bay of Naples woke up to a really loud bang. They didn’t know what had caused it, but it was the magma of Vesuvius breaking through the surface. By about mid-day, there was a massive mushroom cloud in the sky. Ash and small pumice stones began to fall like rain. It was at this point that many people left the city. Soon after, buildings began to collapse due to the weight of the stones falling. At this point though, almost everyone in the cities were OK (unless a building fell on them or something). Many went to bed thinking that they would wake up in the morning and the raining rock would be over. That night, pyroclastic surges – incredibly fast gushes of heat and ash – began to run down the mountain and wash through the town. It was these that killed people and leave the famous plaster casts you can see today – the surge would suffocate someone almost instantly.

It is believed that the emperor at the time, Titus, tried to send a rescue mission where they found no survivors. There is also a theory that this rescue crew may have dug up the treasury and some of the art from the forum of Pompeii, because that has yet to be found during excavations (although it’s possible that it’s in a part of the town that has not yet been excavated). The rescue crew deemed recovering the city a lost cause, and eventually, the buried town was forgotten by history.

But, in the late 1700’s, when they were digging a well, Pompeii was re-discovered. Massive excavations were done (none too carefully I might add). People were fascinated with the town. It still had much of its frescoes and mosaics and shops and homes very well-preserved. Nowadays, Pompeii (and Herculaneum) can provide scholars with some of the best evidence to learn about day to day lives of ancient Romans. From the election notices on the walls to the dirty graffiti to the brothels to the homes in Pompeii, there is a ton to be learned about the ancient Romans here.

Side note on the plaster casts of people: they still have them, but there are a lot fewer than there used to be and they don’t really have any plans to make more, which I think is a good thing. Honestly, I think it’s barbaric to use the exact moment of someone’s death in a brutal and catastrophic way as a macabre form of entertainment for tourists. Would you want your moment of death, especially in one as scary as this, to be looked at by millions of people hundreds of years later?? But, I digress.

My favorite things about Pompeii

Being with professor Gurval, we learned quite a few fun facts about Pompeii that I really enjoyed, so I thought I would list a few facts and my favorite places there.

  • If you see red painted letters on an exterior wall, it’s probably an election notice. Pompeii has some of the best evidence for these. Through these, we learn that women did have influence over and participate in politics by promoting candidates even though they could not vote. It was awesome to go with our professor because he could translate them for us.
  • Many of the mosaics on the floors of shops will tell you what they are. If you see a ship, it could be a shipbuilder or a merchant. If you see wine, it’s probably a wine shop. Also, the Romans had bars and fast food very similar to us today. They would keep food or drinks in little holes cut out of the bar, and many places even had furnaces to keep them warm.
  • Ancient Rome had a ton of brothels (like really, there were a lot). In Pompeii, we have a particularly interesting example that has different sex acts painted over the doors to rooms. Some have speculated that patrons to the brother would pick the type of sexual encounter they wanted based on the picture above the door, but others think it was just decoration (or maybe inspiration for the customers) in the brother.
  • The House of Vetii – this house is awesome and in very good shape. It was built by two freedman (ex-slave) brothers who lived together. It’s got gorgeous frescoes of mythological scenes, and a few interesting representations of Priapus (the god of male fertility who is almost always depicted with a massive phallus).
  • The forum – this is your pretty typical Roman forum, but I found it particularly interesting because the largest building there, a slave market, was actually built by a woman. Pompeii actually caused a lot of Roman scholars to rethink their (sexist) views that women were not players in Roman society. Based on evidence from Pompeii, it’s clear that many had influence and were very wealthy in their own right.
  • You will see stones that span the width of the roads in many places. These are there because Pompeii did not have a sewage system, and people would use these to cross the street when there was rain water or sewage or anything else in the streets. There’s spaces between them so that carts, usually pulled by horses or donkeys or even people, could fit their wheels there.
  • There are a decent amount of stray dogs in the site. As someone who studies Classics, I know it probably isn’t a great idea to have animals in an archeological site, BUT THEY’RE SO CUTE! Here’s one from Pompeii.

Tips for Visiting

Go in the morning as soon as the site opens. And go on a weekday. This place got packed by the time we were ready to leave around 2. Also, unless you don’t mind paying for the overpriced food in the café that on-site, bring snacks. You can also bring in a water bottle – they’ve actually run pipes back into some of the ancient fountains so you can drink that. I would also have some plan of what you would like to see in advance. As you can imagine, it’s quite a large site and you could save yourself some walking by not having to backtrack.

As I mentioned earlier, we had the opportunity to go to Ischia following our visit (and I know some other people in the class went to Capri). I would recommend Ischia because there are a lot less tourists and most of the tourists there are people from Naples. The food is delicious, they don’t over charge you for food, it’s not as crowded, and the beaches are gorgeous. There’s also a really cool castle right off the coast that you can walk across a bridge to get to. The castle has a ton of buildings and even a torture museum! We had a great time on Ischia, so if you have the chance to go, I definitely would.

This was a great part of our trip. I feel very fortunate that it was included in the program and I feel like I learned a lot of ancient Rome by visiting Pompeii.

Italy | Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

By Andrea Zachrich

This was one of the most fun museums we got to visit, mostly because we got to go through it at our own pace. We goofed around a little bit with some of the art, and they had some really interesting exhibits as well.

A little background

The Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is one of four Roman National Museums. The other three are the Baths of Diocletian, Palazzo Altemps, and Crypta Balbi. Our class also visited the Crypta Balbi and the Baths of Diocletian (as an optional trip), but I’m not sure I would go to the other ones. The Crypta Balbi (which is over by the Largo Argentina) is cool because it goes through a bunch of layers of excavations, from an ancient stone theater to medieval and Renaissance pieces, but it is fairly small. The Baths of Diocletian mainly has ancient Roman inscriptions, but unless you have someone like our professor who can translate ancient Latin (or can do it yourself) it might not be the most interesting place to visit. We didn’t get to go to the Palazzo Altemps, but I’ve heard its mainly pieces from the Renaissance, which would be cool but was outside of the scope of our class. This museum is located near the Baths of Diocletian and the main train station in Rome, Termini. It’s pretty easy to spot because it’s a big, yellow building. The building was constructed during the 19th century, and was originally a Jesuit college, until 1960 when it was given to the city of Rome. In 1981, it became one of the buildings of the National Roman museum.

A little about my favorite pieces

This museum is massive, and there’s a lot of art, like a lot, like four entire floors of it. Here’s a few of my favorite ones.

The entire bottom floor is Roman coins, which is awesome. You can really learn a lot about the ancient Romans from their coins. During the Republican era, wealthy Romans would commission coins to glorify their actions and their family, often using them as a way to gain publicity before an election. During the imperial era, emperors would commission coins with monuments they built, their face, or symbols of popular actions they took as a way to remind the people of their power or increase their popularity. The coins can also be useful in determining what certain ancient monuments that no longer survived looked like. For example, we know the Temple of Deified Julius Caesar, of which there are only foundations left today, had a star on its pediment because we’ve found a coin with a representation of the building.

The statues there are also amazing, and there’s an almost overwhelming amount. The Boxer, a well-preserved bronze statue of a boxer, is very cool and amazingly detailed. You can really see how exhausted the boxer is, and if you look closely, you’ll notice that the sculptor even included scars on his subject’s face. They also have a couple of copies of The Discus Thrower, a commonly copied statue. The original in Greek. Additionally, they have many busts of Emperors, including a particularly cool one of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus (the head priest of Rome). There’s also many statues of gods and goddesses. Below I included some examples of statues from the museum.

Augusuts as Pontifex Maximus, and Mike as Augustus

Something unique about this museum that not many other museums have is mosaics. This place has a ton of mosaics, and there are some really beautiful ones. My personal favorite is one that depicts a scene from the Nile river in Egypt, and even has a hippopotamus!

Lastly, the crowning jewels of this museum is their huge collection of frescoes, many of which are beautifully preserved with vibrant colors. They display these frescoes in a really unique way by placing them on the walls in rooms exactly how they were found and, in some cases, allowing you to walk around in the room to get a sense of what the room they were in looked like. Our Professor even gave a lecture in a room of frescoes from the Villa Livia in Primaporta – a villa owned by the wife of Augustus in the Roman town Primaporta, and they are gorgeous.

Tips for visiting

The combined ticket for this museum, which costs 12 euros and is valid for three days, will also get you into the three other Roman National Museums discussed earlier: The Baths of Diocletian, Palazzo Altemps, and Crypta Balbi. The singular ticket that just works for the one museum is 10 euros, so if you’re thinking about visiting any of the other museums, getting the combined ticket would be the way to go. This museum wasn’t crowded (like, at all), but as with many museums in Rome, it doesn’t have air conditioning, so the earlier you can go, the better. The hours are from 9:00 am to 7:45 pm most of the days, so I imagine an evening visit would be nice as well. They make you check your backpacks and large bags, but they have a free coat check, so it’s really not an issue.

Where to eat after

Eataly! (Get it, like Italy but you’re eating). If you live in West Los Angeles, you might already know what Eataly is because the Italian company recently opened a store in the Century City Mall. Eataly is a meat shop, cheese shop, coffee shop, pastry shop, market, and restaurant all rolled into one large building. In the one near the Palazzo Massimo, the restaurant is on the top floor, and the market and coffee shop are on the bottom. It’s a fun place to go to grab a coffee, pastry, some meat selections, or even eat a meal like we did. They have a massive selection of items (I think the pizza list had around 40 different pizzas listed) and it was good. It was also fun to go because now we know that the one in Los Angeles is authentic and we can compare the two when we get back to school!

Pizza from Eataly!

In short, if you have some extra time in Rome, this museum is definitely worth a visit. I don’t know if I would put it at the very top of my list because it’s a little out of the way and not necessarily as iconic of Rome as the Pantheon or the Coliseum or even the Capitoline museum, but it was fun to visit because they have a wide variety of pieces, it’s not very crowded, and it’s right by a delicious restaurant. If you have the time, and you’re a fan of ancient Roman art, its worthwhile to go!