One of the most beneficial aspects to my time in Rome so far has definitely been the excursions and class trips that I’ve gotten the chance to be a part of. Being in three art history classes has allowed me to be on site in Rome every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning from 9-12, visiting different museums, churches, and monuments. These classes all include a weekend excursion outside of Rome, and the first of my trips occurred this past weekend.
The trip for my ‘Art and Culture of Ancient Rome’ class was introduced by our professor in the beginning of the semester as ‘The Death March through Naples and Pompeii’, so you could definitely say this trip had quite the reputation. Professor Gadeyne, a top Ancient Roman scholar and archaeologist (and probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met) warned us this trip would be exhausting and I believe he used the word ‘brutal’, but also that it would be crucial to our understanding of ancient Roman architecture and city planning and that we would get the chance to see things that most people never see in their lives- boy was he right!
The trip began Friday morning, when we departed Rome at 7 a.m. and headed for the town of Terracina, where we visited the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. This temple, built in the 1st century B.C. overlooks the sea and was a great example of how artificial terraces were used to elevate ancient temples, making them seem more threatening and powerful. We hopped back on the bus and took a short ride to the beautiful coastal town of Sperlonga. Here we visited the Villa of Tiberius and it’s museum. This villa was located directly off the sea and included a number of caves in which huge sculptures once stood. These sculptures were based off of characters from The Iliad and The Odyssey, and are housed now in the museum present at the site.
After the villa, we ate lunch in Sperlonga and enjoyed the gorgeous view, then headed back on the bus and made our way to the town of Stabiae, just outside of Naples. Here we saw two villas, The Villa of Ariadne and The Villa of San Marco, both preserved by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. This area of Italy was the most important resort area of ancient times and was made up of a large number of luxurious living spaces. These villas marked the end of our first day, and we headed towards the town of Paestum, where we would be sleeping for the weekend. The Poseidonia Mare Hotel has been taking care of Temple students on this trip for the past 15 years or so, so it was definitely a great place to retreat to after a long day of walking, note-taking, and chasing after the brisk pace of Professor Gadeyne.
The second day of the trip was the ultimate test of our knowledge, stamina, and skills- we woke up bright and early and headed to the extremely well-preserved ancient city of Pompeii and remained there until almost 6 p.m. Our professor is famous for making fun of and avoiding tourists, so he was able to take us off the beaten path of cheesy Pompeii tours to locations we never would have seen on our own, some not even open to the public. We spent the day learning about different styles of wall paintings, layouts and plans of homes, and ancient urban planning methods.
That night we headed back to our hotel, had a fabulous dinner, and were all pleasantly surprised by a cake and champagne toast for completing the trip. We explored the beach near our hotel and sleepily called it a night pretty early. Sunday morning was another early wake-up call, but the day was significantly less busy than the others. We first explored the ruins of an ancient Greek city in the town of Paestum, where our hotel was located. We had time to explore on our own and for once this weekend weren’t required to take notes! We boarded the bus and headed to our last site for the weekend,The National Archaeology Museum of Naples. We spent about two hours looking at large collections of ancient Roman and Greek sculpture, and got to see a lot of artifacts from houses we saw in Pompeii. We had an hour to grab lunch before we departed for Rome, and we all had pizza on the brain. Naples is infamous for their pizza, and we all thoroughly enjoyed ours!
Overall this trip was an amazing experience. Parts of it did feel like a death march, but I think the entire class came away from this weekend with so much more knowledge than we ever expected and had fun in the process. Now our Thursday morning site visits in Rome will be a breeze!