Spring 2016: Program Description

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Rome: The Eternal City + Istanbul: City of the World’s Desire 

This semester study abroad program will take students to Rome and to Istanbul – two of the world’s greatest cities. Students will spend approximately 5 weeks in Rome (with field trips to Florence, Orvieto and, time-permitting, Venice), and 11-12 weeks in Istanbul (with field trips to the original Ottoman capital cities of Bursa and Edirne, as well as as a week long excursion through Central Anatolia and into the spectacular geologic landscapes of Cappadoccia and the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts).  Courses will be taught primarily by UofM faculty, with the active participation of Italian and Turkish academics, designers, researchers and historians.  This study abroad will explore the challenges of these cities as “Tradition in Transformation.”  The program will also benefit from the participation of our graduate students from the “Cities on Water” program, and will include shared outings, collaborative studio work and more!

Rome and Istanbul are profoundly connected through the shared histories of the Roman, Christian and Mediterranean worlds.  Both cities offer a rich palette of history juxtaposed with modernity; both are profound and enduring palimpsests of culture, of religion, of politics, art and architecture.  While they share common intellectual and architectural histories, they are also individually unique and vastly different, each with their own particular challenges and opportunities.  Rome is distinctly and firmly European, while stanbul is still seeking a dynamic equilibrium between its multi-faceted pasts (Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman)  and a projective, hopeful, and vibrant future.  Both of these remarkable cities engage with  timeless questions of space, faith and identity.  And both cities are excellent field laboratories to investigate and explore space in transformation.

RomeCOLforumRome serves as the grounding introduction to our time in Istanbul. Much of Istanbul’s foundational history is connected to Rome; indeed both Rome and Constantinople were considered the Western and Eastern capitols of the Christian World.  From the Roman Forum to the Hagia Sophia, Rome (and the idea of Rome) is an essential thread that links these two great cities. Our time in Rome will consist of an immersive drawing course and seminar on how space and politics inform, and are inflected by, each other.  The course will include practical exercises in drawing and sketching at some of the most famous historial sites in the world – The Colosseum, the Pantheon, St. Peters, The Roman Forum, the Campidoglio – as well as through the legacy of the Renaissance itself in the works of Bernini, Borromini, Bramante…  We will also visit the sites of Ostia Antica, Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa and the cities of Orvieto, Florence, and time permitting, Venice.


The primary subject of our study in Rome (through an intensive drawing class) is to investigate the “Via Papalis,” the historic route taken by Popes at their inaugurations as they travel from St. Peters to St. John the Lateran.  This route passes through some of Rome’s most distinct neighborhoods and by the city’s most famous monuments – some still visible, others buried or half visible in the ever encroaching modern fabric of the city.

“The most powerful conquerors in the world have ruled these lands, from the legendary Agamemnon to Alexander the Great, from Darius and Tamerlane to Mohammed II Fatih, from Genghis Khan to Suleiman the Magnificent.  A battle ground and focus territorial ambition, without doubt; but it was equally important a mystic and religious land. Here, it is said, Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, the Didyma oracle, which attracted thousands of pilgrims, was here; St. John the Evangelist settled with the mother of Christ at Ephesus to write the Book of Revelations, Paul of Tarsus came here to preach, and St. John Chrysostum – a Doctor of the Church – to chastise adulterers; Jalal-ud-Din Rumi founded the order of the Whirling Dervishes at Konya, and Anchorites came to take refuge in the remotest places, meditating on the world’s vanity and worshipping their God. The most ancient cities of the world took shape in this region, among them Homer’s Troy; the Greece of Asia Minor, Byzantium, the Seljuks and Ottoman Empire all flourished here; groups from many different cultures still attempt to live together.”


Istanbul, like Rome, was built on seven hills and during its history served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.  In 330, the ancient city of Byzas became “Nuova Roma,” or Constantinople, inspired by a prophetic dream of the Emperor Constantine.  Following the division of the Empire in 395, Byzantium, as the Eastern Roman Empire – last for almost a thousand years, until Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453. That city was renamed Istanbul and became the last capital of the Ottoman Empire for over 620 years.  Istanbul is a city characterized by its rich and layered historical past and its contemporary life as a major cultural, commercial and political center. It is a city that straddles Asia and Europe – both physically and intellectually. It links three continents and its vibrant cultural history is informed by a dialogue over 2000 years old. It is the living heritage of over 20 centuries of architectural tradition and it’s streets and skylines have been indelibly shaped by the architect Sinan – who was a contemporary of Palladio and has been called, by some, the Michelangelo of the Ottoman world. Istanbul’s history is never complete without mention of Kemal Ataturk – the secularizing reformer of the early 20th century who radically altered Turkey’s trajectory. He instituted a sweeping set of reforms which colors and impacts – to this day – Turkish life.  Recent political events have put Turkey in the world’s spotlight, and in particular, the Gezi Park and Taksim protests of this year – an incredible instance of the relationship of identity politics to public space (one of the objects of study for our study abroad).  This, in addition to Turkey’s refusal to allow the US access to it’s airspaces during the war in Iraq, the relationship of Turkey to the Armenian and Kurdish communities, Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and its current Olympic bid, continues to make manifest this perennial discussion of culture and belonging.  This study abroad will explore (through a design studio, seminar course on the visual culture of the city and history class) Istanbul as a city in flux.  Students will explore the unique issues of cultural boundaries and public space in a city that has one foot in Asia, the other in Europe; one foot in the East, the other in the West.

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In Istanbul, students will explore one of Europe and Asia’s most vibrant, dynamic and engaged cities – a megalopolis of over 16 million people, Istanbul is constantly in a state of change – architectural, urban, demographic, transport, landscape.  It is a city that is made simultaneously static by its monuments and remarkably kinetic by the scope and scale of transformation palpably evident in it’s streets and neighborhoods.

Please follow our blog to receive the most current news about our program!  We’ll update information here as it becomes available.  Check back in the coming weeks for more specific information about our registration, coursework, field-trips, housing and funding opportunities.  Looking forward to seeing you in Italy and Turkey in Spring 2016!

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