Maria Carla Robaina: Italia as Text 2019

By Maria Carla Robaina of FIU

Tivoli as Text

Maritime Theatre in Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli

Located in the small town of Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa is any architect’s dream. Incorporating architectural styles from all around the world, this construction from the 2nd century A.D. takes the best of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and creates a classical city that spans 200 acres. One of the most captivating buildings in the property is the Maritime Theatre. This structure consists of a round central porch supported by numerous ionic columns, and surrounded by a circumcentric pool, creating a perfectly balanced,  Greek-inspired retreat. The combination of land and water is evident throughout the historical landmark property but it is never as purposeful as it is in the Maritime Theatre. Water mixes with land to create an isolated space in the midst of all the chaos, much like the villa itself separates Hadrian from the city of Rome. The Maritime Theatre can then be thought of as an oasis within an oasis, only accessible by two wooden drawbridges that when closed, disconnect its occupant(s) from the outside world. As a Spanish-born emperor, Hadrian often felt out of place in Rome, which would explain his thirst for isolation, and the thought process behind the architectural features of both the villa and the theatre. Furthermore, governing an empire like Rome, with more than 1 million inhabitants, was a challenging feat. So, in a sense, the villa was a sacred ground for the emperor to go and relax while observing his empire from above. The Maritime Theatre then was an even more intimate experience, which provides an air of spirituality. Its circular pattern mimics that of the Pantheon (an all-inclusive religious ground) which Hadrian redesigned after its destruction. Considering this then, it’s easy to see why the circle would be the chosen shape for both the Pantheon and the Maritime Theatre. The circle symbolizes wholeness, perfection, and the cyclic nature of the universe, all of which resonate with Hadrian’s own beliefs of religious acceptance, and self exploration.

Rome as Text

The Pantheon

Rome is flooded with narrow streets and alleys; crowded with passionate tourists in search of the next cultural adventure. I was one of them, and walking through Via Giustiniani, I had no idea what was coming. Then I saw it. I felt its immenseness take over me. So majestic, so imposing, that you both fear and feel pulled in by it: the Pantheon. Rebuilt in 118 CE by the emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon was created to serve as an inclusive religious ground at a time when the Romans were worshipping non-Roman Gods. While Hadrian was a well travelled and culturally aware intellectual, the need to unify Rome was the motive behind the Pantheon’s design, rather than mere religious consciousness. Rome had a lot of immigration, so it would have been difficult to unify all Romans under one, or a select group of Gods. It was much easier then, to make them feel secure in their faith by allowing all kinds of worship. The Pantheon provided the perfect platform for that, and ensured public support. This idea is evident in its classical Roman design, which features and immense portico, supported by massive, solid marble Corinthian columns, and followed by the circular interior called the rotunda, which contains representations of different Gods. The circle is a perfect shape that represents the idea of wholeness, and inclusiveness which mirrors Hadrian’s intention. It is also present in the oculus, which is an opening right in the middle of the Pantheon meant to take down any barriers that may sit between us mortals and the heavens, thereby enhancing the religious experience. It is truly magical to see the sunlight shining from the oculus onto the marble interior, creating a thread of energy that connects us to the divine. That is the magic of the Pantheon. Sure it was a political move, but it represents a shift in the history of Rome and the world, a transition into religious freedom. The concept of the Pantheon is one that should be copied in today’s world. As a whole, we need to become more accepting of everyone’s beliefs in order to preserve peace. Maybe that’s why I was so touched by the Pantheon; it is architecturally divine, and an embodiment of human unison, as if the whole world stood as one, under the light of the oculus.

Pompei as Text

“The stiff tell stories too”

Once there were 20,000,

then there were none.

Seventeen thousand fled to live

Three thousand fled with the smoke.

This is Pompei, a once anonymous city now infamous thanks to tragedy, and the whole world seems to oblige. People from all nations come to witness with their eyes what many tales have lead the young and old to cry. Ashy figures look alive, no longer human, but their humanity is still intact, and very present throughout the town. The stiff tell stories about themselves. They tell us how they lived and how they died. So we, in our shared humanity, get transported to their time. We see their streets, their bakeries, with the ovens that are still used in Italian pizzerias to this day. We see their brothels, and their restaurants. We see their pain in the stiff faces of the dead. We see the fear that hunted them ‘till their last breath. We look around, and we see that we’re all just the same. And we feel the connection. To many, it’s just another city with ruins. To the observant, it’s the story of life itself. We’re born into this world without any expectations. Then we grow, and we build things of our own, we create a community, and we are part of something greater than ourselves. We become more social as time passes by, and collectively, we progress. Some rich, some poor, some women, some men. We have kids of our own to love and protect. And then of course, there’s the unexpected end. The stiff lived just like we did. They went hungry, and thirsty, and had our same needs. They worked, and talked, and loved, and feared in the same way we would have feared the deadly showers. So here’s what I would tell tourists: take it all in, because one day, none of us will be here, just like they aren’t. But at least their city remains, so they have something to be remembered for: a legacy. We better make sure we all have something then.

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