Wabash Blogs Classics - Italy & Roman Urbanism -

May 24, 2007

Looking Back on Trip to Pompeii, Rome Trip

Patrick Smith '08 - As our time in Rome came to an end, the group – which had lived and traveled in close quarters for a week – began to unravel. The Professors Day left for Greece, several students left to continue their travels in Europe (to places like Genoa, London, and the cities of Mitteleuropa), and a core of us set out for the United States. Arriving home in Crawfordsville, emptied of most students and beginning to become populated by the summer interns and workers, the trip seemed like a blur. Now, with a little distance and a lot of sleep, the journey through Italy begins to snap into some focus.

We felt like we knew some of these places, having read so much about them and their denizens all semester. Not only did we know their physical topography, but we knew the social environment and the academic issues surrounding them. However, being in the country – seeing the buildings, streets, and works of art that had populated our coursework for at least a semester – it changed. These were no longer abstract structures, they were real. The people were no longer nebulous entities, controlled and supposed by academics, but flesh and blood residents of streets and neighborhoods that we could see.

This trip allowed us to see these places, and it allowed us to experience life in the successors to ancient Roman cities. Journal articles, books, and websites provide a wealth of academic knowledge; however, there is no better supplement than being on site and walking streets that have seen thousands of years come and go. This trip, while it dealt with the ancient Roman city, also hammered home the Wabash experience – both in a broad sense and in various unique ways. We all realized how special it is to attend a college that will facilitate on-site learning for students. This trip also emphasized community. A diverse group of men lived, traveled, and relaxed in close quarters.The trip was a microcosm of the Wabash community, both in the concept and arrangements. Men learning and living together, not only on campus but also around the world.

In Photo: The group learns about the monumental Baths of Caracalla, a gift to the people of Rome from the infamous third century C.E. emperor.


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Reflecting on Rome, Italy

Patrick Smith '08 - They say that Rome is the eternal city, which is probably true; if time does not stand still for Rome, then nothing will. It is a city in constant motion. In modern Pompeii, the traffic ceases after a certain hour, as though controlled by a switch. Rome affords the visitor no such luxury. Even, as some of us did, wandering around the neighborhood of Trastevere late at night, one can find a crowd. It should go without saying that the city is positively steeped in history – from the grandeur of Imperial Rome to the ignominy of fascist Italy. In Pompeii, we learned about the Romans; in Rome, we learned about the city.

Driving up from the Bay of Naples, Rome seemed to explode out of the bucolic countryside. Every corner of the metropolis seemed to teem with activity and movement. In contrast, Naples seemed relaxed, and modern Pompeii seemed as devoid of activity as the ruins. Our hotel was in the very center of things, right off the Campo de’ Fiori and a short stroll from Piazza Navona and Largo Argentina. Our hotel had, indeed, long been in the center of things: it was built over the site of the Theatre of Pompey, where the Dictator was murdered.

The next day, we saw such monuments as Augustus’ Ara Pacis, or Altar of Peace, his mausoleum, and the Pantheon. While Pompeii afforded us the opportunity to look at things we had read about in class, this was the first day when we saw things we’d read about our whole academic lives. Standing in front of the Pantheon, the temple to all the gods, now a Catholic church, it began to sink in: this is Italy. Built by Augustus’ associate Marcus Agrippa, the Pantheon is an impressive building that has seen a lot of history and a lot of change.

The same day, proving that Wabash men can keep a pace that would impress a Roman, we traced the ancient route of triumphant Roman generals through the city. As the great historian, Cornelius Tacitus, noted at the very beginning of his Annals, Rome had kings at the beginning, until Lucius Brutus brought liberty and the consulate. However, when voted a triumph, a victorious Roman commander came as close as anyone to the monarchy – until Caesar and the Augustan revolution, to borrow from Sir Ronald Syme. Looking at the Circus Maximus, the Forum Romanum, and the various monuments along the way, the might of Rome became apparent through her public buildings.

Ostia, the ancient port city of Rome, was our next stop. Unlike Pompeii, preserved by Vesuvius’ devastating blast, Ostia was inhabited throughout antiquity, until it was abandoned. It is both better preserved, in some regards, and less interesting than Pompeii. Far from being a snapshot of an ancient city, it is a place where one can trace the development of the European city through history. Ostia, through the wisdom of the often-maligned Claudius, was the primary source of food – i.e., grain – for Rome. It provided a look at urban, commercial space for the class; as opposed to Pompeii’s rural environment.

The Vatican was our next stop. Books, to say nothing of blog posts, could be written about the country (by virtue of the Lateran Treaty). The power of the Catholic Church and the papacy was made manifest in a collection of art that would awe anyone, and buildings no less awesome. The most important men in Europe at times, the popes managed to assemble an art history textbook and call it “home.” The important works we saw are too numerous to mention. Standing inside St. Peter’s though, it became obvious that we were no longer students of the Roman city: we were participants, though briefly, in the successor to that city.

The next day, we visited the Baths of both Caracalla and Diocletian. The Baths of Caracalla served, no doubt, to make everyone feel very small. These monumental edifices were offered by the emperors of the late Empire, as the city of Rome began to dwindle in importance, in favor of Milan and Constantinople, to the people of that city as public amenities. The soaring arches and vaults stand, as ruins, as monuments to the engineering genius of the Romans. While it is nice to read Cicero and Vergil and see the rhetoric of republic and empire, it is really powerful to see the brick-and-mortar accomplishments of men and women who died two thousand, more or less, years before any of us were born.

Far too much happened in Rome to give a blow-by-blow account. However, it is safe to say that everyone was impressed by a city that manages to be ancient and vibrant, European and cosmopolitan, and – above all – huge. Everything in Rome, from buildings to experiences, is on a monumental scale. The smallest churches and piazzas manage to pack a surprisingly stout wallop. The Romans even do gelato on a big scale: Giolitti, the famed Roman confectioner, had more varieties of gelato than anyone (that is, anyone ignorant of their wares) could have imagined. In a city that takes ice cream seriously, is it any surprise that there are wonders around every corner?

Probably not.

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May 21, 2007

Photos From Classics Trip to Rome, Pompeii

Students in Professor Jeremy Hartnett's Classics class are back from their trip studying ancient Pompeii and Rome. Click here for photographs from the May immersion trip.

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May 14, 2007

Thrilling to Explore Pompeii

Austin Kline '09  - I have been to Pompeii and Rome before and visited many of the same places that we are getting to see, but until this trip I have never before been a traveler. I now see that there is such a difference between visiting sites as a tourist in comparison to experiencing and immersing yourself in the local culture. Dr. Hartnett has exposed us to amazing archeological remains and also introduced us to Italian cultures that could not be appreciated by simply visiting this country. It is great to see him interact with the people and also to personally visit some of the places not normally experienced by tourists.

We started the day by heading back to Pompeii for some last observations of specific sites we had yet to see. Dr. Hartnett had prearranged for us to enter some sites that are normally blocked off to the general public; including the House of the Menander. These sites were spectacular and offered some detailed wall paintings and intact construction that wasn't present in many of the other houses located throughout the city. After a morning full of Pompeian houses and further inspection of the city we had a spectacular lunch (which will be explained later in today's blog) and headed to Rome. I think the group was a little tired from the sea of information and miles of walking that was thrown at us and the bus ride was a needed break. Upon arriving in Rome the tiredness quickly wore away and we started to become extremely excited to see the city. Tonight we were granted a quick walkthrough of our neighborhood and got a taste of the sites that will be experienced over the next several days. I think everyone is looking forward to experiencing more of Rome and what the city has to offer.

Phillip Merriett '08 - Our trips have not been without excitement. At the end of the night, we have the opportunity to experience Italy on our own. We walk through the towns, eat at the local establishments, and have the opportunity to meet the people. We have met people from every walk of life; from the local nuns to the store owner down from our hotel. Each has their own personality and hospitality to share with our group. Unfortunately not all of our experiences with the locals have been hospitable.

During our second trip the excavation site at Pompeii, we ran into complications with admission. However, we had the opportunity to see Professor Harnett at his best. We all watched and listened as he argued with the admissions officer, in order for our group to be allowed to complete our itenerary. He was able to get us through, to enjoy the exclusive sites in Pompeii. After this, we all gathered to eat lunch together in the basement of the hotel. We all worked together to put it together from the various stores from around the area. We enjoyed a wonderful feast of fresh breads, olives, fruits, cheeses, desserts, and wines native to Italy. Then we began our journey to Rome. The driving time was about 3 hours, and we made one stop. We took our time to grab various items of food and drink. We all had a laugh at the various items offered in the bathroom vending machines. We are all learning American ideals and Italian ideals are quite different.

Then we continued on to Rome. Once we arrived, we settled into our rooms and began the Rome Experience. We were given a short tour and then we split into groups and found dinner for the night. This is the city which never sleeps. It is bustling and vibrant, during the daytime the streets are lined with food vendors and merchants. By night these very same streets are bustling with the local restaurants and bars. The crowds are continuous and large, but we are all enjoying the time learning about and experiencing Rome.

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A Wally Odyssey

Chris Serak and Will Arvin - Our trip began at 10:00 am on Monday, May 7 in front of the Pioneer Chapel. From here we made our way east to the Indianapolis International Airport to embark on what would prove to be an exhausting series of plane rides, luggage hauling and bus transfers. The beef of this journey was the second leg, which had us on an 8-hour plane ride to Milan. Needless to say, this was a bit trying as we left Monday morning and watched the sun rise over the Alps as we approached our intermediate destination. Sleep was a commodity that little possessed.

Finally transatlantic, our first priority was Italian cappuccino. In ordering this essential, Jeff inadvertently learned the Italian word for two, and was out few extra euros; while Larry Joe struggled to grasp the language and proved entertainment for the queued natives. After the caffeine infiltrated our blood stream, spirits were high and our final destination seemed close.

Two hours later we reached Naples were a bus was waiting. The Polizia, however, took pleasure in forcing our driver into several different loading zones before we finally boarded. After about 20 minutes of Neapolitan bureaucracy, we discovered the chaos that is navigating the noisy, congested streets, streets that took courage and a sort of, “walking like you mean it” to traverse.

We finally arrived in Pompeii an hour later, and were comfortable in our hotel by 4 pm. Following an hour of cleaning up and settling in, we toured the beautiful streets of Pompeii, and got our first taste of Italian culture.

After the walk we were quite hungry, and our noble leader thought Pizza in Sorrento the perfect cure. We boarded a train for the coastal city and arrived shortly after. Here we broke up into groups to explore the winding streets and alleys. In this journey my group was lucky enough to stubble upon an unbelievable ocean view as the sunset blazed red and orange over the peaceful Mediterranean. The words, “Sorrento is Beautiful,” gracing the front of a post card home, summed up the experience quite well.

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May 11, 2007

Visiting Acient Sites

Derek Wood - Today was our first visit to the archeological site.  The final project during the semester was an individual project in which each of us investigated a specific aspect of the Roman city.  Throughout the day I found these individual projects were helpful to the entire group as almost everyone added something to the experience.  The learning was truly a team effort today. 

Several people gave presentations today, which gave me the experience of a lifetime.  I gained an expansive knowledge in the following areas: deviancy, public entertainment, mystery cults, and aquatic infrastructures. These presentations were so informative that many European and American visitors stopped listening to their tour guide and paid attention to what the students had to say. I am very glad that Prof. Hartnett required copious amounts of out of class studying from us during our course at Wabash. This amount of studying made our learning experience last eight hours, eight hours of my life that I will never forget.

It is mind-blowing to think that I was touching something that someone two thousand years ago was touching maybe not mind-blowing as much as it was humbling. I am very thankful for this visit.

Geoff Calvin - Walking in the city, the early morning sun growing hot, what strikes me is the enthusiasm of the group. After a semester of learning about this ancient city, the men in the class struggle to keep up with our instructor as they become distracted by the many sites that they find familiar from our classes. Every building that we pass, the streets themselves ring true with instant recognition by the members of the ancient city class. Later in the day presentations begin. One of the speakers falters, unable to answer a question about the Roman altar. A member of the class who wrote his paper about altars explains the features of the altar right away. This leads to other members of the class to offer their own opinion. The questions kept coming as everyone offers his point of view, and the conversation evolved under the pounding sun.  We watch the other tourists groups listen without question to their tour guides, even when they say things that grossly over-simplify the complexity of Roman society, or otherwise misrepresent information about the site. After these encounters, the class ruminates among themselves what the difference is between scholars and tourists.

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May 04, 2007

Preparing for Pompeii

Welcome to the first entry of the Pompeii-Rome immersion trip blog.  The trip is the culmination of a semester-long study of Roman urban life, and my students and I await our departure with intense excitement.  In this pre-trip entry, I want to fill you in on what we’ve been studying over the course of the term, and I’d like to grant a sense of what lies in store for the trip.

Let’s start with where things stand right now.  I’m waist-deep in papers and final exams, and, though I’m doing my best to work away at them, the stacks don’t seem to be getting any smaller.  This lack of progress can be traced, I think, to a pair of factors: my students’ eagerness and hard work.  The guys have been pouring into my office in a steady stream; some have questions about what to pack (Q: “Will I look silly in Italy if I wear flip-flops?” A: “Yes.”), some are picking up their graded research papers (a sample topic: how does Rome’s agrarian heritage have an impact on Roman urban self-presentation?), some are dropping off their take-home final exams (a critique of a popular book about Herculaneum), and virtually all stick around for twenty minutes or half-an-hour to chat about the trip.  This has left little time for grading, not that I’d really trade their palpable enthusiasm for more time.  Moreover, student engagement with the material of our course is evident in their work, which has been of a consistently high level.  Another reason my stack of papers isn’t shrinking is my desire to respond to the students’ work with the same commitment with which they approached it.

The trip is designed as the climax of our work throughout the semester.  The course description reads, in part:

Scholars estimate that, at the height of the Roman empire, as much as 25% of the population around the Mediterranean lived in cities – a level not again reached until the Industrial Revolution. This course is dedicated to studying the phenomenon of Roman urbanism, particularly in Italy. Classics 212 will cover a number of issues related to Roman cities, from their principal monuments and layout, to their economy, sanitation, and social hierarchy.  Readings, discussions, lectures, and papers will center on four principal case studies – Rome itself, Ostia (the port city of Rome), as well as Pompeii and Herculaneum (two cities buried in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79).


Well, looking back, I think we’ve done what we set out to do and more.  After a couple weeks introducing the case studies and thinking about how cities work, we dedicated one day of class to each student’s ‘area of expertise,’ which included (in addition to the three listed above) housing, deviancy, entertainment, and six others.

Roman cities have started to come alive to us as interesting, lively, and complex places, but I think that nothing will substitute for being on-site.  So far, on campus in Crawfordsville, our tools have been books, articles, groundplans, and photographs of sites and artifacts.  Despite the best efforts of this professor, the objects of our examination – once noisy and bustling cities whose inhabitants have been silent for centuries – can seem like part of an intellectual game.  That we are studying real people with real problems doesn’t always sink in.

In Italy, this cognitive distance will be shrunk radically and inalterably.  Standing amidst the sprawling remains of Pompeii, a city of some 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants, it will be hard not to consider the names, faces, lives, and passions of those who once populated the city’s markets, homes, streets, and amphitheater.  In an empathetic and interactive experience, we’ll be able to put ourselves back in Roman sandals and experiment with the sights and other sensory phenomena of an ancient city.  What’s it like to walk along the streets? To hear a stage whisper from the upper reaches of a well-designed theater?  To be dwarfed by a looming and gleaming temple? To enter the carefully-scripted environment of a Roman house?

Our trip has two main parts: three days staying in Pompeii and visiting ancient sites around the Bay of Naples, and five days studying ancient Rome and its port city of Ostia.  Along the way, each student will give three reports related to his area of expertise; along with the help of Professors Leslie and Joe Day, I’ll lead us through sites and museums related to our topic; and many more discussions will undoubtedly unfold about any number of topics: scholarship and ideas, the meeting of cultures, the difficulties of expressing one’s self in a foreign land, and the likelihood that we’ve just eaten the best pizza on the planet, to name only a few possibilities.  For these twelve diverse Wabash students – Hoosiers and Texans, classicists and pre-meds, the few inveterate travelers and the many neophytes – modern Italy will provide as many lessons, I suspect, as its ancient counterpart.

Over the last few days, during the tough slog to the semester’s finish line, I’ve been reminding myself and the students that, within one week, we’ll be on-site in Italy.  It’s been heartwarming to see their reactions and to anticipate sharing with them what I’ve learned to love, yet sometimes taken for granted, over many trips.  I hope you check in to follow our adventures and to hear from the students in their own words.

--Professor Jeremy Hartnett

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