Bufalini is not a dog, nor a cheese (that’s Buffalo… and also a large hairy animal known as Bison). He was a 16th century Italian mapmaker and our guide – so to speak – on our introduction to Rome, with our inestimable Urban Historian, Dr. Antonella de Michelis. Friday kicked off with a student orientation at the Accent Center and a practical guide to living in, getting around, and getting to know the Eternal City. We spent the morning with ACCENT staff at the Piazza dell’Orologio and followed that a crash course introduction to Rome’s history from its founding by Romulus to the signing of the Lateran treaty that created the Vatican. If you’ve been following us for the past couple of years, you’ll know Dr. De Michelis – one of the phenomenal instructors here in Rome that we’ve been fortunate to have link up to our program. Antonella lead us on a walk through the Centro Storico, using Bufalini’s map to guide us through and long old roads and piazzas, across bridges and along the Tiber. We learned about Palimpsest and the Via Papalis, about Popes and the Pilgrim’s Road, about the urban history and layers that make Rome a living city, with ancient and modern side by side (and usually on top of each other too). Our time with these instructors (you’ll meet more later) is to help contextualize the term project for the semester – a Bufalini/Nolli-ish new drawing of Rome that explores its space and architecture, its landscape and buildings, its urban complexity and experiential qualities. We’re going to borrow from paleography and cartography, from history and narrative, from our experience and our research to learn about the space of the city through understanding it in drawing. Stay tuned for updates on the evolution of the drawings!
We followed up (after a quick lunch) with an afternoon of sketching (and more walking). We began at one of the many gems in the city – Bramante’s Cloister (there’s an Escher exhibit on until the end of February) where we spent some time (almost) completely alone and followed up with a visit to Borromini’s spectacular St. Ivo and spent some more time in the quiet serenity of that beautiful courtyard with Borromini’s Babel-esque tower spiraling up and out his brilliant dome. We ended the afternoon of drawing at the Piazza della Rotonda and wrapped up our official school day with a walk through the Pantheon at dusk. The piazza was full of people, sitting on steps near the fountain, posing with a couple of portly gladiators, inundated with local sellers (mono-pods, or “Selfie Sticks,” are the goods of choice it seems), chasing after students and couples; ad-hoc bands and musicians (Dire Straits was the music of choice for the evening) and others spilling out of cafes and pizzerias). We struck out for the Trevi Fountain as a way to cap off the evening, but unfortunately, the fountain itself is under renovation. All water has been turned off and the fountain cordoned off. The enterprising Italians however, built a walkway across the fountain, which brings you over the fountain itself; you could almost reach out and touch Salvi and Bracci’s works, close enough to see little details in Triton and Oceanus. A few students threw coins into the fountain, too, to seal the deal on a return trip to the Eternal City – over the left shoulder of course.
In anticipation of getting the course project going, we spent Saturday morning at Saint Peters. We went to the top of Michelgangelo’s Dome in order to orient ourselves to the city. It was a brilliant morning and we spent some time looking out over the Eternal City, then again down into the Basilica, where we saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, and (some of) the work of Borromini’s rival – the genius Gianlorenzo Bernini, his monumental sculptures in the columns supporting the Dome of San Pietro and his dramatic tomb for Pope Alexander VII – his last major commission before his death. We tied together our complete study abroad in one morning, with a visit to the papal tombs beneath Saint Peters, traveling back in time almost 12 centuries from Bramante and Michelangelo to the 4th century. Below 16th century floors we could see part of the original foundation of the Basilica commissioned by Constantine before his departure to found Nuova Roma on the Bosphorous, the Marmara and the Golden Horn.
We’re going to turn the blog (mostly) over to students as of tomorrow, so keep checking back in here to see what’s going on in the Eternal City. They’ll be updating the blog regularly. Buonasera from Roma!