By Maria Sara Valle of FIU
Tivoli as Text
“The Valley of Hell and the Hike to Heaven“
We cannot understand true pleasure, love, and divine paradise until we understand pain, heartbreak, and hell. The Valley of Hell or “Valle dell’Inferno” located in Parco Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli, Italy was one of the most beautiful and yet difficult hikes I’ve done in my entire life. This beautiful view includes a waterfall with fierce, white water from the Tiburtine canyon, ancient ruins, and a myth of a portal that seems to go straight to hell. This breathtaking view was a common stop on the Grand Tour for European students pursuing a classical education. Many documented their time there in journals and drawings capturing the beauty of the waterfall and the history of the Temple of Vesta and the Temple of Sibyl. The Valley of Hell gets its name from tragic stories of flooding and drownings caused by the ferocious Aniene River that killed many citizens and destroyed countless houses. It wasn’t until 1835 that an engineer by the name of Clemente Folchi designed artificial canals known as the Gregorian Tunnels which divert the rivers power away from civilization. Pope Gregory XVI called for the reconstruction of the park around the now artificial waterfall and thus the park was named Villa Gregoriana.
For me this experience was one of kind. It combined my eternal love of waterfalls, breathtaking landscapes, and nature with my immense dislike for strenuous hiking. As much as I love exercising and staying healthy, hiking is one of those activities that literally takes my breath away but not in a good way. My apple watch activity tracker calculated that we climbed a total of 90 flights of stairs and walked 14.42 miles that day, my highest activity achievement. It was a difficult and steep climb/descend with many worn down steps and uneven surfaces. The tears nearly filled my eyes as my sore muscles moved my body forward. Yet, I did it! I never gave up and although my body begged me to quit, to turn back, I knew that the true Hell would be my regret if I didn’t finish that hike and experienced the satisfaction of reaching the bottom of the Valley of Hell. The light at the end of the tunnel was seeing the waterfall from the bottom, its immensity surprised me and took my breath away. I was shocked. I stood there and stared for a few minutes thinking to myself how proud I was of not giving up and how many things the human body is capable of as long as we believe. The experience of going inside a cave for the first time was something I will never forget. All in all, it was a spiritual experience for me. In that view I found my strength, in that view I found a new love for hiking and exploring, and in that view I saw my destiny. Nothing that comes easy is worth having and I am not afraid of continuing to work incredibly hard to reach my dreams!
Roma as Text
“Twenty in Roma”
Rome housed the greatest empire in the world, nurtured Catholicism, and birthed the renaissance, and now Rome has also witnessed me grow immensely as a person. Rome is the city where the impossible becomes possible. Through the Colosseum and the Roman Forum we realize how advanced and successful Romans were at acquiring territory, building beautiful structures, and creating the system of government we utilize today. In the assembly and holiness of the Pantheon we can see the love of architecture and art of several Roman emperors such as Hadrain, a very well-travelled emperor of Rome during 117-138 AD. The Pantheon was once a monument to all the Gods and is now one of the most beautiful places for Catholic worship in the world. From every peak and angle Rome’s skyline is like no other I have ever witnessed before, filled with history, culture, and in all honesty, pure magic and blessings.
Although I love my country and my city of Miami I have never ventured outside of the city walls on my own. I adore having the safety of my parents embrace. Being far away from my family and friends has forced me to think about who I truly am and the type of person I want to be. For me, Rome has helped me connect to my spirituality. My whole life I have been conflicted between my religious beliefs and science. I have always been certain that I am a woman of science and for many years I felt like these two could not overlap, so I neglected my faith. I have had so many blessings and miracles in my life that science cannot explain. I found myself always turning to God and the Saints when I felt lost or alone. Since then, I have realized that my belief in God and in science can coexist, they can even complement each other. During my religious pilgrimage through Rome I have realized that my connection with God is something no one can take away and that I never want to lose again. The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs built inside the ancient Roman Baths of Diocletian was designed mainly by Michelangelo Buonarroti in the 16th century and proves my newfound belief that we can be humans of science and religion. My favorite part of this church was the scientific influences made by the astronomer and mathematician Francesco Bianchini who built a meridian line inside the church for Pope Clement XI to check the accuracy of calendars, predict Easter, and provide Rome with a sort of sundial like the one in Bologna’s cathedral all while praising God. Now I am certain that I can believe in God and the church while still loving and advocating for science.
My first day in Rome I turned twenty years old and by my fifth day in Rome I had fractured my big toe riding bike on the Appia Antica, the oldest Roman road. Basically, in only five days Rome had already seen me smile from ear to ear, stare mesmerized several times, and cry my eyes out. This injury also helped me see the kindness of the Italia people. A lady offered me water while I sobbed about my toe underneath a historic aqueduct, a couple helped us call a taxi to take me back to the apartments, and then in San Giovanni Addolorata Hospital the doctor took us to see Roman ruins where the original statue of Marcus Aurelius, which is now in the Capitoline museum, was found. There is nothing more momentous and unforgettable about this city than finding my faith and my inner strength to continue exploring Rome as an unstoppable force.
Pompeii as Text
Mount Vesuvius, an enormous, active volcano that measures 30 miles at the base and is 4,203 feet high.1 This dangerous volcano is found only 9 km from Naples in Campania, Italy.1 Since its most infamous eruption which caused the destruction of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius has erupted over two dozen times and killed hundreds of others, but the volcano has remained inactive since 1944.1 The giant now sits silently waiting, and its power continues to grow and grow. With only one major highway out of Naples, a surprise explosion would be devastating for this city, similarly to how the volcanic eruption in 79 AD flooded Pompeii with ashes and volcanic rock for 18 hours, practically trapping it in time. Here, it is like time never passed. The bodies of the victims remained covered in pumice and ash for over a thousand years leaving behind voids after their bodies decomposed. Using plaster archaeologists were able to fill in the voids, capturing the emotions of the Pompeii victims in their last moments. Scans of the teeth from the victims reveal healthy teeth structure, most had no cavities.2 Dentists believe they had healthy eating habits of vegetables and fruits, and high fluoride content in the water.2 Now, we can see this city for what it truly was. Brothels, restaurants, and bakeries filled the streets in a dynamic city. Despite the beautiful scenery, my heart broke. The castings capture the emotions of the victims as they took their last breath while their world collapsed among them. All I wanted to do was help them, but it was too late for them to escape nature’s fury. The story of every single person broke my heart in half. There was a child next to their parent in a deep embrace, knowing it was their last moment together, dying in each other’s arms. The photograph above is of a man who died covering his nose delaying the inevitable. I stared at him forever, wanting to take away his pain, to dry his tears, to bless his soul. Every heart and dream was crushed in the timespan of 18 hours. I cannot even begin to imagine the fear of the children, the despair of the adults, and sadly we cannot control mother nature. Catastrophes plague our world, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and tornadoes threaten our happiness. In Miami I have seen hundreds of houses and families destroyed from the wrath of our Earth. As global warming continues to affect our home we are putting ourselves more and more at risk each day. All I hope is that we learn from our mistakes and can prevent losing the lives of thousands of people in the future.
Firenze as Text
A gloomy darkness that overwhelms every bone, muscle, and nerve in your body leaving you completely paralyzed. Creeping up behind you and stealing your happiness like a thief. Your pulse intensifies, your eyes water, your body shakes. You cry and beg God to take the pain away to no response. Being so close and yet everything you hoped for disappears into thin air like a fleeting dream. Failure, a fear that is as necessary as it is despised. What defines success? Is it money, happiness, love, faith, or is it the feelings you inspire in others during your lifetime? Similarly to success, failure is relative. A master of the Renaissance once felt like he had failed too but his hard work, devotion, and talent clearly shine through in every sculpture, painting, and architectural design. His work has inspired hundreds of artists and continues to astonish every person who has the pleasure of witnessing his genius art. The Deposition, also known as the Bandini Pietà, found in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Firenze, Italia is the last sculpture made by Michelangelo. This sculpture is particularly dark as Michelangelo created it to go on top of his tomb but destroyed it several times and eventually sold it. He began working on this sculpture later in his life, at the age of 72. The most interesting part is that Michelangelo made the face of Nicodemus as a self-portrait. Here he is holding Christ up with great sorrow and regret. Michelangelo himself was struggling similarly to how Nicodemus is in the sculpture as in the end of his life he felt like he had failed and wished he would have done more. He was a very religious person who believed God had chosen him and given him his talent as a gift; thus at the end of his life he wanted to have dedicated himself more to the spiritual and less on Earthly things. In his final sculpture he gets to play a part in helping Christ. It seems like only Jesus Christ is fully finished in the sculpture and maybe that was his objective. My interpretation is that only Jesus Christ is perfect, so he made sure he was the main focus of the structure. Michelangelo was a master blessed with talent, yet he was always tormented, unable to realize how much he had accomplished. Depression and feelings of failure is a plague that generations have struggled with forever. It is important to always drown the darkness in this world with all the beauty that surrounds us, and Firenze is just the place to do it. Below is a poem for the place that inspires the most beauty and happiness on Earth.
“To Firenze With Love”
Don’t listen to the whispers in your head that say you aren’t enough.
Believe in your progress and your strength; you are tough!
Even the greats once doubted themselves.
Their accomplishments now framed and exhibited on shelves.
Feel the inspiration that radiates through the walls of this great city.
Take your time to enjoy everything that is pretty.
Here is where art flourished!
You can be art too, don’t ever be discouraged.
Artists like Botticelli took a risk and began showing the beauty of women.
The Birth of Venus continues shocking us, as modern women still face criticism for showing their abdomen!
The apprentice of Verrocchio drew the perfect angel in The Baptism of Christ and a master he became.
Even Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished piece Adoration of the Magi can help you realize why he earned such great fame.
Here is where Michelangelo made the greatest sculpture in the universe.
In the beauty of the David our hearts and imagination can immerse.
All these masterpieces can be found in the city of Florence.
The most wonderful city and the greatest ambience!
Just like Firenze that gave the world more beauty and light,
Be yourself and don’t ever forget that you are worthy and bright!
Siena as Text
“Money = Power”
Control from the top 1% of the population continues to be a reoccurring topic throughout history. In modern times, many countries, including those with democracy, are run mostly by rich men in suits who do not understand the daily struggle of the common people. In the United States this is extremely relevant as we have mostly rich politicians making decisions on policies that monetarily, physically, and mentally affect the entire population. A good example is health care policies which are made by congressman who can afford to pay overpriced medical care while the middle and lower classes unfortunately face health disparities and improper access to healthcare. It is unbelievable that approximately 50% of the U.S. Congress is made up of millionaires while U.S. demographics shows that less than 6% of the total population consists of millionaires. In hundreds of years and thousands of miles in distance this unfortunate story of money being equal to power has not changed. Siena was a small hill town in what is modern day Tuscany. Their government structure was a republic and they were proud to be different from the nearing cities. Florence and Rome were huge rivals; thus, Siena proudly presented a new story that also involved a she-wolf. The twins in this representation are said to be Senus and Aschius, the sons of Remus who fled after Romulus founded Rome. The city is named Siena after Senus. Unfortunately, the power of Florence was too strong after Siena was strongly hit with the plague. Florence seemed to have unlimited money and rapidly growing in power as the Medici, a family of bankers, funded and colonized land all around the Tuscan hillside. As the house of the Medici took over different lands they would leave their mark by including sculptures of their families or branding the city with their coat of arms. In Siena, the Torre del Mangia and the Palazzo Pubblico fill the beautiful Piazza del Campo, adding a harmonious touch to an impressive open area. The Torre del Mangia was even made the be the same height as the tower of the Cathedral of Siena to show that the state and the church had equal power. As the Medici took over Siena they branded their coat of arms in the lower center of the Palazzo Pubblico as if they had a part in the construction. The Medici had so much power that although they were not nobility their coat of arms has a crown on the top and they would conquer land like kings. The Medici family started as simple bankers and then became the most powerful family in Tuscany. Although the Medici took over many places, stripping away many of their liberties and government structures, they also funded most of the art during the Renaissance bringing masterpieces into the world. The Medici also helped make clearer separations between the church and the government, a practice which we still use in the United States today. As Americans it is important that we realize the positives and negatives of each person in our government. Voting during every election is crucial to picking the candidates that will accurately represent our needs and we must always fear those who consider themselves or act as nobility. An unfortunate reality is that money often brings power but heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Cinque Terre as Text
“Sweat, sunshine, and self-realization”
Beautiful, green landscapes painted in the distance. Every flower so perfectly shaped it seems like they were made by angels and placed on each terrace, ready to be admired. The colorful towns shine through the trees keeping my eye on the prize, reminding me of where we are headed. My muscles hurt, they burn, but my smile never fades because the beauty that surrounds me could encourage me forever. The sounds of the birds flying overhead and the ocean in the distance create the perfect space for meditation and self-realization. After three weeks of absorbing immense amounts of information, Cinque Terre is the perfect place to take a breath of fresh air and realize all we have learned and grown. During the Grand Tour this was the stop for reflection but for me it was more than just that. Before this hike I was uncertain of my physical strength and potential. I fractured my toe two weeks before the hike and one of my greatest fears was that the pain would not allow me to prove that I was capable of completing the hike. In preparation for the hike I began to increase my confidence in my physical abilities by pushing myself to walk more and more each day, even beyond class time. During the hike through all five villages I saw a complete change in my mentality. At the beginning I was scared, but once we reached the bottom of Monterosso al Mare, only thirty minutes into the hike, I was certain that I would reach the finish line. Just like that every ache began to fade away. Along with all the sweat, my fears and insecurities dripped away too. The more I walked the longer I could go. I was capable of so much more than I had thought I was the night before. This hike and this trip in general have taught me more about who I am and who I want to be than I have learned in the rest of my life. I want to be able to stop and smell the roses more often, explore nature, and possibly even hike. I live a fast paced, Miami life. Always rushing from one place to the other with millions of things to do. Although I love my life and I enjoy how hard I work and how much I study, I realized on this beautiful hike through paradise that sometimes we need to stop and enjoy the moment before its gone. Having the time to walk at my own pace and absorb the views was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Eighteen miles, ten hours, five villages, and liters of sweat, it was the hike of a lifetime. There is no greater happiness than feeling accomplished and proving to myself and to everyone else that no matter the circumstances, I am strong and can do anything I set my mind to!
Venezia as Text
“One of its kind”
Comparable to no other city in the world, Venezia practically floats on the Venetian Lagoon, bringing beauty to the world with its unique elements. This captivating city is built on submerged trunks of alder wood which is known for being water resistant. There are no roads and no cars, only boats and gondolas in the canals and pedestrians that fill the streets. Venezia dates back to Ancient Rome when it was established as a way to escape Barbarians that continued to steal from Roman families. On the water, they were untouchable. The diverse elements of Venezia and Venetian architecture sprout from all the cultures that surrounded and traded with Venezia. Due to its importance in international trade Venezia became one of the first thriving financial centers in the world. Although now it is more of a tourist destination than an important trading ground, the chaos and constant hustle of Venezia has not been lost. Tourist from all over the world flood the streets, thrilled to see the main sites. The unfortunate part is that the majority of these tourists come from cruise ship excursions. Instead of creating revenue for the city by spending in Venezia, they often eat on the cruise ships and do not consume enough in the actual city to supplement for the constant wear and tear caused by these tourists. The immense globalization of this small city is a huge problem that is causing Venezia to lose its identity in the process of conforming to the rise in tourism. During my time in Venezia, a giant cruise ship had a mechanical issue and hit a river boat and a dock in Venezia injuring five people. It was shocking to realize that this happened only a couple miles from where I was at that moment. The lagoons in Venezia are quite shallow and narrow which is a huge part of why the city continues to attempt to ban cruise ships. Through this experience I realized the damage that we, as tourists, can cause to the overall infrastructure of the places we visit. All over Italy people vandalized on the walls and even on historic monuments! It is baffling how little respect people can have for these places that open their doors for us to admire their beauty and historical significance. It is crucial for tourists to also respect the common culture of each city, something I learned a lot about as we went through each city of Italy. Once we reached Venezia I was already well versed on consuming at an establishment before using their bathroom and on asking about the local customs beforehand. Traveling does not only help us understand history and witness amazing places, but it also exposes us to different cultures and teaches us to be more respectful in general. One of my favorite parts of visiting Venezia was that I no longer saw it with the eyes of a tourist, I enjoyed it like an Italian, immersed in their culture and understanding the problems the Venetians are facing.
Born from the sea.
What a beauty to see.
People say there is no place like home,
But they have not seen the inside of St. Mark’s dome.
Covered in gold,
I was instantly sold.
One minute from my apartment was the Rialto Bridge, what a wonder!
At night when the tourists left I would sit there and ponder.
How beautiful life is, how lucky I have been,
To have made such great friends and enjoy the sites we’ve seen.
In Venezia my study abroad adventure reached an end,
But my love for exploring just began and from all over the world postcards I will send.