Julia Abreu-Grand Tour Redux 2019


I grew up hearing about Italy. No one from my family had ever been to Italy, but my great grandparents were Italian, which gave my family a sense of proximity to a land no one has actually visited. I knew I wanted to visit Italy, for its history, its tradition, and because of my own history.  In this class I was able to do so with much more depth than I could have ever hoped for. From the Roman ruins I dreamt about seeing since I was a child, to the beautiful Cinque Terre I had never heard about, I had the opportunity to not only visit the places, but learn about their art, culture, architecture, and lifestyle. A trip through Italy and through time, this class gave me a new understanding of Italy, from ancient Rome to the modern times, passing through the medieval era and renaissance.



Ruins from Ancient Rome, echoes from a distant past, a journey into history. That is what comes to my mind when I think of Rome. But there is another side to the city, a side where the 21st century rules absolute. The Termini station can be seen as the heart of modern Rome. If all the roads lead to Rome, all the roads in Rome lead to Termini. The station is a stop for people all over the world travelling through Rome. The history and tradition typical of Italy in here give space to the modern, globalized world. In the market, traditional itlaian food is served alongside options from all over the globe. This reflects where the world is heading, as we are more interconnected than we have ever been, and the tendency is that it will continue to increase. One of the greatest attractions of Rome is its history, that allows us to experience Ancient Rome and understand how the Romans lived centuries ago. Interestingly, Ancient Rome was very multicultural, with people from different parts of the world living together as Romans, trading with different nations, and travelling freely across Rome. All of this is embodied in Termini, a station where people from different countries and cultures come together to eat, shop, and travel. Inside of Termini, it is easy to forget you are in Rome, as it could be anywhere in the modern world.



Looking to Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo, at a higher point, the valley where the city is its filled by an imposing structure: the Duomo. The Florence cathedral, where the Duomo is, was built much before its most famous part. In a show of faith, arrogance, or perhaps both, the plans to build the dome were made before they, or anyone else for that matter, had the capacity to build it. The fact that they build the cathedral with the space for a dome that they would only be able to build hundreds of years later reflects well the personality of the city of Florence. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Florence was an extremely wealthy and influential city, under the rule of the Medici. It is also the birthplace of the Renaissance. The city and its members prided themselves on their achievements, seen in the Renaissance tradition of signing artworks, something which was not seen in the Gothic era. For them, whether in art, architecture, or politics, the question was never if it could be done, but when it would be done, and by who. The great artwork coming from Florence shows that. Boticelly painted the birth of Venus for the Medici, a female nude figure, which had not been seen in the middle ages. Michelangel sculpted the David, gigantic and perfect, utilizing marble in a way that had never been done before. And Brunelleschi built the Duomo, long dreamed of by the people of Florence. He not only created the way to build the dome, but also the machines needed to do so. After all, in Florence, the impossible did not exist.

Cinque Terre


Past and present come together in Cinque Terre.  A Unesco World Heritage side, The five villages are immune to the changes seen in other touristic cities. Monterosso could be considered the most developed of the five. One of the most interesting aspects of the city is how it managed to adapt to becoming a tourist attraction, while maintaining its own identity. It is a lesson to cities which, in attempting to attend to tourist needs, lose what they had unique about them, being filled with skyscrapers and fast food. In Monterosso, the city remains almost as it was before the tourists started flocking. Local restaurants and hotels are seen near the coastline. A tunnel divides the new and old cities. On the other side, small houses sit on the hills, connected by tiny alleyways, in a very classic Italian style. A Romanesque church serves as a reminder that this is not the tourist area, but where the locals live, with their traditions and religion. The beauty of Cinque Terre lies not only in its coastline and mountains, but also in the five villages, preserved as they were in the past. It is an entirely unique place, and what is even best, it wants to stay that way. After all, that is what makes Monterosso, and all of Cinque Terre, so magical.


San Marco East

In most places, features which distinguish the architecture and decor as coming from a certain culture and era are clear. In the St. Mark’s basilica, that distinction is impossible to be made. Seeing the building for the first time can take the breath away. After passing through the narrow, crowded streets of Venice, the plaza opens up, almost as if entering another reality. And at the end of the plaza stands the basilica, with its mixture of everything. There is not a single architectural style, instead influences from Romanesque, Gothic, and Islamic styles come together to create something entirely new and unique. This is also seen in the sculptures in the building, random pieces conquered from other cities. The effect is dazzling, if somewhat baffling. To understand the basilica, one must understand Venice. The mediterranean power during the middle ages, Venice had control over the sea trade, which meant they had contact with parts of the world that other cities were unaware of the existence. The people of Venice had the knowledge of different cultures, as represented in the mosaic of the pentecost, inside of the church, where the holy spirit comes down, and people from different nations are seen being preached to. The fact that they knew and represented other cultures in art was unprecedented in the middle ages, and would continue to be for years after the mosaic was done. They also had easy access to the products produced by the foreign nations, such as the blue pigment, seen so often in the Venetian paintings. This knowledge, and willingness to accept other cultures, if only for business, is part of what made Venice so unique, and is what makes St. Mark’s basilica so beautiful. To this day, people believe that accepting other cultures will weaken one’s own culture, but this could not be farther from the truth. It does not lead to one culture overruling the other, but rather a cultural merge, a melting pot which creates something new, something only seen in that place and at that time, a singularity. And this is what happens in Venice, perfectly exemplified in the basilica. Different cultures and eras, coming together to create something perfectly unique and astoundingly beautiful. Something to remind those who are afraid of losing their culture that there are only benefits to accepting others.


 I found what I was looking for in Italy, and much more. I did not simply learned about history, I lived through it, saw how people lived then, compared to how we live now. I learned that people are the same through different cultures, nations, and eras. We have the same drives and the same passions, the same humanity as those who lived thousands of years before. I struggled to live in a country with a different culture, with a different language than mine, but I still felt at home, as the Italians are warm and accepting. In Rome, I was transported to ancient Rome, what seemed like distant history materialized in front of me. The churches, from the pantheon to St. Peter’s, are not only extremely beautiful, but also led me to think deeper about the role of religion in society. In Florence, I lived through the Renaissance. It is amazing to see some of the best artworks in history, but even better to know their cultural significance, their importance as displays of power, or how they changed art afterwards. In Cinque Terre I experienced nature I had never experienced before. There, I found out that my limits are much higher than I believed as I finished the hike. I learned how important it is to be true to yourself and your roots, whether you are a city or a person. In Venice, I saw that people can achieve great things out of necessity. I saw how being culturally diverse makes a place special, stronger. And now, back in America, I can reflect on what I learned, and keep those lessons with me forevermore.

Ciao Amore.

Julia Cavati de Abreu: Italia as Text 2019

Tivoli as Text

The way they lived

The catholic church believes that people should focus on the next life, not on this one. This mentality extends from the way of living to the works of art. But the villa of the church cardinal Ippolito II d’Este challenges this idea. The beautiful gardens are fully devoted to earthly pleasures, with its monumental fountains calling people to enjoy this life, with no reminders anywhere of the next life.

The gardens themselves are gorgeous, begging the person to stay and appreciate, but the man behind them poses interesting questions about religion. For years the catholic church taught its believers to focus on the next life, while the members of the church themselves did the opposite, amassing wealth and power. Villa d’Este is a grandiose reminder that the church members are just as human and just as flawed as anyone else, despite being seen as examples to be followed. Therefore, no matter what one’s faith is, a person should never accept what is told to them by officials of their religion as the pure truth without considering what they believe, and what the churches motives might be. Questioning institutionalized religion is essential for members of the faith, so they can better understand their religion, see when they or others are being manipulated, and also become more tolerant of people with different faiths. After all, every religion has its flaws, its dirty secrets, and its complications. Accepting one’s religions own faults will allow people to see behind other religions flaws, and hopefully lead to a more accepting future.

Rome as Text

Time Changes

A temple to all gods. That was the ideal of the Pantheon when it was built. A temple to one God. This is the current ideal of the temple. The Romans were polytheists, and had multiple temples dedicated to multiple gods. This gods were borrowed from the greeks, purely roman, or even deified roman leaders. By building a temple for multiple gods, with the spaces reserved for the god icons having the same size, the romans showed their respect for all the beliefs that existed in the empire.

After Rome fell, and christianity became the ruling religion, the pantheon was repurposed as a christian church. Many churches were built where old roman temples were. Unlike the Romans, christians believed in only one God, and are not accepting of religions which claim otherwise. Having different beliefs than those of the church lead to harsh punishment, and the accepting nature of the romans was lost. There is also the questions of appropriation. Due to a lack of respect for any religions other than their own, christians destroyed many pagan temples and their sculptures. But they also preserved a lot by making it their own. Christian churches have columns that belonged to roman temples, and have a similar shape to those of roman basilicas. By appropriating those aspects of roman culture as their own, the christians saved many structures which we now are able to appreciate, to the cost of destroying their history. The pantheon is a great example of that: the temple that was supposed to be dedicated to eight gods equally became dedicated to only one. Thanks to that, we can appreciate it in all of its beauty and grandeur, but stripped of its original gods. And, most importantly, stripped of its original meaning of acceptance and inclusion. As I walked into the pantheon, I felt overwhelmed. I could barely believe that it existed, in all its splendor, for over 2000 years. It served to show that despite of the different beliefs and the complications along the way, the essence of the pantheon was still there: a place of spirituality, to connect with your god, to worship.

Pompeii as Text

Ashes to ashes

Thousands of people stared at the sky on the year 79 AD, from the roman city of Pompeii. They stared as the Vesuvius erupted, projecting  a column of smoke into the air. They watched as the ashes started to fall. Many fled, but a couple thousand stayed, being burned to death by the heat from the eruption, or suffocated by the noxious fumes. They were covered by the ashes, forgotten for almost 2000 years, erased by the volcano. But their tragedy became a great source of our knowledge of Ancient Rome. The city of Pompeii, and its inhabitants, were frozen in time, their buildings and objects left behind as it was in the first century. This led to a greater understanding of their daily lives.

What fascinated me the most when visiting the city is how real Ancient Rome became as I walked down their streets, and how similar they are to us. The restaurant outside the gym, where romans could get what would be their equivalent of fast food, shows how we are all still human. We only hear the stories of the lives of the great, hardly ever of the common men. We hear of the battles and the victories, of the gods, of the architectural displays of power we can still see in Rome, such as the Colosseum. Seeing how they lived, walking the streets they walked, visiting their private houses gave me a better sense of what being a Roman was than I could ever get from history books or documentaries. Seeing how they lived made it much more difficult to see how they died. The figures made from the empty spaces in the rock capture the inhabitants of Pompeii in their last moment of life. Adults cover their children, people attempt to protect their faces somehow, perhaps afraid of death. Then and now, we are the same, from the way we live to the way we die, we are human. Seeing the humanity of the Ancient Romans makes Pompeii so special. Besides, natural disasters can happen anywhere, and the modern world is still young. Who knows if 2000 years in the future we won’t be buried in ashes ?

Firenze as Text

Ends or Means?

It is impossible to speak of the Renaissance without mentioning the family which funded it in Florence: The Medici. Originally a banking family, they accumulated increasing wealth and power through corrupt methods. Despite of how they operated, they were crucial in the art and architecture from Florence in the 15th and 16th century. From a distance, the valley of Florence is dominated by a single structure, Brunelleschi’s dome. Brunelleschi himself was supported by Cosimo the Father. Michelangelo was supported by Lorenzo de Medici at an early age, before he went to create some of the most spectacular works of art in history. The Birth of Venus, by Botticelli, that brought back female sexuality to paintings was commissioned by the Medici. Walking through Florence, seeing the Uffizi gallery and the Medici chapel, seeing all the fantastic artwork that exists because of the Medici, and seeing their coat of arms everywhere inspires admiration for how they changed art and architecture. But seeing those things now, out of their original context, softens the reality. Much of what we now see as their legacy was created as demonstrations of power and wealth. They were extremely corrupt, and infected both Florentian politics and the catholic church with their corruption. Knowing all the facts, I have to wonder if the ends justify the means. It is accepted now that the Medici were a great family, and that their contribution to the Renaissance is crucial for its development. But if they ruled in the current era, would they be accepted. It begs the question of what people want from their rulers. Honesty or greatness. It is possible to have both, but can having one distract from the lack of the other? If an American president proved to be corrupt, but an excellent ruler who greatly advanced the country, would we accept it? As an outside observer, from a different culture and a different era, I cannot help but appreciate all that the Medici have done for Florence. This is their city, and you are reminded of that everywhere you go. But I would not accept a Medici in power nowadays, and I believe most people would agree. The times have changed, so did politics. And so should people. Considering the way leaders of the past ruled, and comparing them to the ideals of a leader is the best way to choose a ruler.

Siena as Text

The Greatness of Us

The greatness of God is beyond human comprehension. To us, it would be overwhelming. Overwhelmed. That is how I felt as I walked into the Siena cathedral. Built in the gothic era, it has the same purpose as the grandiose baroque churches, which is to reflect the greatness of God on earth, but with a rather different method. The later churches achieve this goal by opulence, which also served to demonstrate the power and wealth of the catholic church. In Siena, the goal is achieved by excess and mixtures. There is no organization in the church decorations, different eras clash and combine to form something authentic, only seen in the city. Siena prides themselves in their authenticity. From maintaining ancient traditions such as the palio to having a civic tower almost as high as the church bell tower, Siena shows that they are their own city, not the city of the Medici or the Pope, but the city of Siena. This pride is reflected in the church. One of the mosaics on the church floor depicts a battle against Florence, which Siena won. The flag mast that the Siena army stole from Florence during battle stands in the church, a war relic in the temple of God. This apparent contradiction serves to further show the city pride. Even in church, they have reminders of who they are. The war imagery and relics could have seemed out of place in another church, but not here. Everything seems out of place, a collage of different ideas and styles, accumulated throughout the years, which completely overwhelmed me. The church shows not only the greatness of God, but the greatness of humans, who built churches and won battles. The mixture between secular and divine in Siena is unique to the churches that we visited. They are aware that religion depends on people. People are the ones who build temples, give money, and dedicate time to the church. By adding to the cathedral imagery and objects which appeal to the pride of the people of Siena, the church becomes stronger. And absolutely dazzling.

Cinque Terre as Text

Time Tunnel

A magic train travel lands me in Monterosso. The train crosses through mountains and through time. After long minutes in darkness, with the earth above us, the tunnel ends, and the ocean sprawls infinite below. Cinque Terre seems suspended in a remote past, immune to modernity. An Unesco site, its quaint beauty is preserved, with no modern buildings to be seen. The five cities are tourist traps, but they still stay as they were before the influx of outsiders. And that is what makes them so fantastical. A place like no other I have seen so far, walking through Cinque Terre feels like reversing time, walking through this small cities as they were many years ago. The Cinque Terre trail connects the cities. It cuts through unadulterated nature, which is so difficult to find nowadays. It cuts through the terraces, which is the way locals found to have agriculture in the mountains, and where the grapes and lemons they are famous for are grown. It cuts through the cities themselves, increasingly smaller as we move along. As I walked through the trail, I was amazed at the beauty of it all. The colorful houses, the mountains, the terraces, the sea. I am a city girl. I love the modern world, with its skyscrapers, cars, air conditioning, internet, and all commodities imagined. But how many places, known for their natural beauty, are being transformed into a concrete jungle? Beautiful beaches have a coastline of high-rises, that stand in the way of the sun. Cinque Terre is so special because they resisted this. They resisted the money and added tourism they could have, and instead remained true to themselves, to their roots. And it is only more beautiful because of that. The five cities show the importance of remaining loyal to your truth, no matter if  a city or a person, it can only make you more special.

Venice as Text

beauty, Out of necessity

Out of necessity, a group of people created what would be one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities in the world. Venice stands on water and small patches of land, a seeming impossibility brought to life. Walking through Venice, I was amazed by how unique the city is, with canals in place of roads and boats in place of cars. The city seems to be a living creature, it has movement, due to the slanted nature of its constructions and the gentle sway of the ever present water. I could not understand how people could look at what appeared to be unlivable small islands and transform it into a powerful city. The early Venetians moved there to escaped the Barbarians. They did build Venice solely to preserve their safety and well being. Out of sheer necessity they built an impossible city, the only of its kind in the world. Their uniqueness also prove to be their power, as Venice ruled the seas for centuries during the middle ages. The story of Venice shows us that sometimes, difficulties can be the greatest motivators. The early Venetians could have given up, and accepted being raided by the Barbarians yearly, but instead they used their fear and hope for a peaceful life as a reason to do what seemed impossible, and build a city in the water.  When visiting Venice, it is important to appreciate its beauty, but also to reflect on the resilience of its people, and perhaps, to leave the city feeling inspired to turn adversities into victories.

Roman Medicine and its Influence on Modern Medicine

Ancient Rome medicine, with its mix of science and superstition, brought about many advances in the area which are still seen in our times.


Roman medicine was derived from Greek medicine, and influenced by knowledge from conquered civilizations, such as the Etruscans, Egyptians, and the Persians. The knowledge from the conquered people combined with the knowledge developed in Rome, mostly derived from the battlefield, made the Romans have an advanced medical system for their age.

The romans combined their scientific knowledge, greatly limited by today’s standards, with religious beliefs. Romans believed that diseases were a result of displeasing the gods, and that rituals such as sacrifices to the gods would cure them. Aesculapius was particularly important in ancient roman medicine. The Romans adopted the Greek god of healing in 292 BCE, when they stole Aesculapius’ sacred snake.  Despite of their belief in the gods, romans still used the services of doctors to heal sickness.

The doctors in rome were craftsmen, and learned the profession through apprenticeships. Civilian doctors had different levels of education and skills, many being Greeks. On the other hand, the military has experienced medical personnel.


Roman Army

The romans were the first in history to build hospitals, generally for the military. The medics in the military had a more practical approach to medicine than the civilian doctors, as they were observant and methodical, documenting which treatments worked so other doctors could do the same.  An important event for roman medicine was the civil war which happened after the assassination of Julius Caesar. The new emperor, Augustus, formed a professional military medical corps. Giving doctors titles, lands, and retirement benefits. This changes, combined with the large amount of war injuries, led to great medical advancements, in a way that would not be seen until the late 19th century.

The roman legions had the best doctors in Rome. Much of the roman knowledge of anatomy and physiology came from the battlefield, as dissections were not allowed. Surgeons also acquired their experiences in the military.

Public Health

The Ancient Romans made many advances in what nowadays would be considered public health. The Romans believed that the workers should also be in good health, as the soldiers and the rich. Therefore, they could be considered the first to have public health for all social classes.

Roman Aqueduct

One of the most important aspects of Roman public health was the use of aqueducts. They had a system of fresh running water and a sewer system, as clean water was considered essential. The water supply to the city of Rome was designed by Julius Frontinus in 97 AD, and it supplied around 1000 million liters of water a day. This helped to prevent the proliferation of diseases that were either transmitted through dirty water, or that relied on standing water . The romans also had public toilets which were flushed by clean water, and a sewer system to make sure all waste was removed from the city.

Bad hygiene was one of the prominent causes of disease transmission in the ancient world. The Romans had great hygiene, as they regularly washed themselves. Roman baths, for example, played a major role in society, as they were part of the citizens daily lives.

Roman Bath

Another important factor were the cities themselves. The cities were built in places that were considered healthy, or were modified to become a healthier environment. For example, marshes were draining to avoid malaria carrying mosquitoes. Julius Caesar not only drained the Codetan Swamp, but planted a forest in its place.

Influence in modern medicine

There are currently 6210 hospital in the US. The hospital system started in the ancient Rome military, and it is the prominent form of care in America.

Roman medicine saw the beginning of specializations, as physicians were divided into different specialties. Nowadays, doctors have to specialize in a certain area after medical school. There are more than 120 options to choose from.

Roman surgeons had basic knowledge of the importance of sanitation. They boiled all the surgical instruments prior to the start of the experiment, and used acetic acid to clean the wounds.

Public health is a major part of modern medicine, as it focuses on preventing diseases. Clean Water is one of the most important elements of health. 884 million people still do not have access to clean water. Many of those people need to walk long distances to get water, which can be contaminated with diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Access to proper disposal of sewage is also of extreme importance to public health.Currently, 2.3 billion people live without access to sanitation. Approximately 1 million people die every year from diseases related to the lack of access to clean water and sanitations.

Medical terminology is based on Latin and Greek. The Romans developed the field of medicine and anatomy based on the Greek knowledge. Since many anatomical parts were elucidated by the Greeks and the Romans, their names are in those languages. Latin was the predominant language used in medicine until the eighteenth century.

The Ancient Romans believed that diet was essential for health, and that moderation of food should be practiced. Nowadays it is known that good nutrition is key to health, as lack of certain elements in a diet can disrupt the normal functioning of the body and lead to diseases.

Works Cited

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