Tivoli as Text
An entire day in Tivoli.
We met Hadrian, we felt the Spaniard’s power, and sensed his intelligence in the air as we walked through his massive and breathtaking Villa.
We walked through the labyrinths and sat by the roaring fountain of Neptune in the Gardens of Villa D’Este.
And then the professor asks “Would you like to see The Valley of Hell?”
Students look at each other, already with tired eyes, but eager to see more of this unique town.
The descent was a tough one, for some, even painful. But that was nothing compared to the intense energy that was emitting through the air as we got lower and lower into The Valley. Deeper into Hell.
Dirt and rocks filled our shoes, grime stuck to our skin, but every time I paused my descent and looked around, The Valley was alive, it was speaking, encouraging me to carry on, the best was yet to come, and so I descended.
We reached a cave and climbed inside, into what I considered to be the depths of Hell. But what I felt was not an inferno, it was paradise.
In that moment, I was sitting in a Valley that when flooded, would claim lives and disappear bodies.
And yet, all I felt was love for the trees I was seeing, the birds I was hearing, the incredibly fresh air I was breathing and the cold stone I was sitting on.
Tivoli is a town filled with beautiful villas and the lingering power these leaders left behind. But The Valley of Hell is more than just a Villa with beautiful scenery and history, it’s an experience. It left me sitting there, as the minutes passed, feeling an indescribable emotion. All I knew is I didn’t want it to end.
Roma as Text
A Letter to Rome
When we first met it was cold and wet. I was lost, overwhelmed, and alone.
Straight from Miami, I entered a world I had never imagined I would ever get to see. Roma: the world of rebellious gladiators, Spanish emperors, unfaithful senates, Vestal Virgins, and populations larger than ever believed possible at the time.
I entered Il Colosseo through the Gate of Life. Climbing as high as I could to the highest levels to watch the game, as the women would have done before me. From there I can see the gladiators fight, the victor stands tall while the sand swallows the blood of the unfortunate soul and his body is carried through the Gate of Death.
In the Forum, I walked through the Temple of Vesta as one of the prestigious Vestal Virgins. at age 21, it had been about 11 years since I had been chosen, an immense honor for my family. It was only now becoming increasingly difficult for other priestesses in the temple to maintain their vow of chastity, one of them already charged with treason. I go about my own way, manage to my properties, and prepare for the games at the Colosseo. In 19 short years my service will end.
On the Appia Antica, I walked the roads into Rome for the first time as an outsider. I saw not only the beautiful tombs of the wealthy, but also the lifeless bodies of large, strong men, tied to trees that seem to almost touch the sky. I reminded myself never to challenge the authority the Roman Empire.
As a pilgrim, I witnessed the ceilings of S. Maria Maggiore, filled with gold brought by Christopher Columbus. I saw the ecstasy in Saint Theresa’s words with my own eyes, I prayed by the final resting place of Saint Paul, and I learned to fear death at the Capuchin Crypts.
As Lily, a college student, I found my way around the roads of Rome, learned to communicate with the locals, experienced the energy and passion of Roman fans in a game against Juventus, and learned to rely on quick macchiatos from coffee bars all around the city.
I entered Roma with one identity, and I leave with many more.
If all roads lead to Rome, then I’ll see you again soon.
Pompeii as Text
Before I entered Pompeii I found it hard to relate to the humans who’s lives ceased to exist in 79 A.D.
As I walked around the dozens if not hundreds of small streets, in between all of the ruins, I started to understand these Pompeiians.
They were just like me.
These were people who walked around their town, eating at stop-and-go fast food stations, which they had literally everywhere (Pompeiian Mcdonalds?) In Pompeii there were over 100 different places to eat. These people loved their food (as do I).
The moment that I felt that Pompeiians were just like 21st century human beings (or rather, that we are just like them) was when I saw a “beware of dog” mosaic on the floor. It took me a second to realize that these people, who existed almost 2 whole millenniums ago, had the same warning signs that we use today, with basically the same wording, in order to keep intruders out of their space.
They didn’t know what was coming, civilians in Pompeii were living their lives, eating their food, and visiting brothels, dogs and children were playing under the sun. They were living the same lives we are living today, when their lives were suddenly taken.
The main lesson I learned when I visited Pompeii was to appreciate my life, appreciate every single moment, appreciate my food, my animals, my town, my home. Because even with all the technology we have today, life is still fleeting, and we never know what the future holds.
Florence as Text
Letter to Firenze
Our time together was quick, but fulfilling.
I met Brunelleschi, he showed me his masterpiece and together we climbed to the top. From there I felt his pride, his achievement, when many doubted him, he prevailed. He built a dome that stood through time and that I can stand on today, it defies what was thought impossible back then, and even now is an astonishing piece of architecture.
I met Lorenzo Ghiberti, I saw his magnificent glowing gates. Upon laying my eyes on the doors at the east entrance of the Baptistry of San Giovanni, I understood why Michelangelo decided these were truly the Gates of Paradise.
I was introduced to The David, and I felt the power emitting from him. His warning glare made me feel even smaller in size than I already was, standing next to the 17-foot hero that was once in the center of the Piazza della Signora.
And finally, I climbed up to the town of Fiesole, and continued to climb, until I bumped into Leonardo Da Vinci, he was about to have his assistant perform a feat that no man had ever attempted.
So I sat, and watched a man fly for the first time right from where I was sitting. From here I was flying too, towering over all of Florence, I could see the all the hills, Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, I could see the bright green of the trees clash with the burnt orange tones of the town, against the blue skies that Da Vinci wanted so badly to soar through.
My heart is filled with you Firenze, all of your stories and all of your passion.
Siena as Text
Photo by Danielle Hernandez
I walked down the streets of Siena, taking in the narrow alleys overcome by pedestrians and the overwhelming burnt oranges and pinks that cover the walls of every building.
Through various alleys I could see a glimpse of what was to come. Suddenly, I wasn’t in an alley surrounded by buildings towering above me, obscuring my view of the sky. Suddenly, the space was open, the air was vibrant, and the sky was clear.
The Piazza del Campo was vibrating with life: children, teens, seniors, tourists, locals, even dogs were spending their time in the sea shell shaped piazza that allowed all to come together in a joint space and enjoy the moment.
As I sat on the sixth section of the piazza with my friends, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like to be sitting in these spaces centuries ago: filled with pride for my neighborhood, clenching my orange and white Leocorno flag as The Nine who created the Campo and governed Sienna witnessed from each of their buildings.
I pictured the Palio di Sienna, with thousands of locals and outsiders coming together for various intense games including boxing matches, jousting, racing and bullfighting.
Its astonishing to think of how Siena is truly stuck in this time period. When it comes to the Piazza del Campo and how the space is used, not much has changed today.
The space is still filled with life and the Palio di Sienna still takes place twice a year and is an immensely important occasion for all who reside in Siena.
The small experience I had with the Campo, those moments I was able to lay back, enjoy the Tuscan sun and look at the blue skies behind the Torre Del Mangia, that was enough for me to fall in love with the space and the energy it holds.
I can’t imagine anything even slightly to the Piazza del Campo back home, it is truly unique in it’s physical aspects, as well as its history, and the vibrant life it still holds today.
Cinque Terre as Text
The other side of the coin.
I had just spent over half a month in modern Roma and Firenze and when I arrived at the five lands, known to the locals as Cinque Terre, the change of pace was definitely extreme.
The ocean instantly reminded me of home, but that’s where the similarities ended.
Upon arriving in Monterosso al Mare, everything slowed down. Even in the station, an area usually filled with speed and chaos.
Although I am not an upper class young European male from the 18th century, I can only imagine how they felt, seeing the sunset behind the mountains, finally being able to take a breath after consuming so much art, history and culture.
Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare, were all so different yet so similar, all colorful with buildings hugging each other, and locals so warm, you almost forget how cold the ocean breeze is.
The santuario that hosted me was the perfect example of this warmth, showering us with the best Cinque Terre has to offer: their food. Known for their lemons, seafood, pesto, and wine; they did not disappoint. The members of the sanctuary treated us like family, making sure to say good morning every day, and offering us seconds at their delicious dinners. This warmth is something I will always keep with me, and take back home.
Nobody, not even the tourists were in a hurry, it was almost like time stopped. Everything in Cinque Terre is meant to be taken in: the birds waking you up, the sunsets from the mountain, the thin air as you make the final climb to the fifth land, and the night sky with no city lights to pollute it.
Cinque Terre is its own little world hiding between the mountains. When my mind escapes me, this is where it goes.