Maria Carla Robaina: Grand Tour Redux 2019

The Colosseum


       The Grand Tour is a journey throughout Italy at the end of one’s college education. Traditionally, wealthy men embarked on this trip but as the times change, so have the demographics of the Grand Tour participants. As a recent college graduate myself, it is a rite of passage for me to be able to travel Italy and expand my knowledge of its history, culture, religion, art, architecture, and how it has influenced the world even to the present day. This is exactly what we did. We went on a journey that was enlightening, adventurous, and made amazing friends that we will forever be tied to for having had so many shared experiences. The Grand Tour is provocative! As we explore artistic movements, politics, and religion through time, we are inclined to think about the big questions and ideas in life, as well as explore how we feel about who we are, and our stance on some of today’s big issues and ideas. In the present, I retrace my steps, and explore the impact that each of the cities had on me. 

Roma: Ancient vs. Modern

If you ask anyone what they know about Italy, I am positive that the answer will include some information about Rome, and it’s really no surprise since all roads lead to Rome, don’t they? But even within Roma there are so many distinct worlds that are forced to coexist on the crammed streets of the city. Roma perfectly juxtaposes the old with the new. Just sit around Porta Maggiore for a little while and appreciate how well this ancient Roman structure melts into the pedestrians and car-filled background. It is truly astounding! But of course some of the most exciting structures are the monumental buildings such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon, both of which reflect aspects of ancient Rome that still prevail even today. 

The Pantheon

       When it comes to the Pantheon, I can’t help but feel emotional tears build up in my eyes. It is majestic, graceful, eccentric, and all the qualities that a showstopper of a building should be. Knowing its history makes it all the more meaningful especially in today’s world where we wage wars based on principle and a dissonance of beliefs. The emperor Hadrian, being a worldly and knowledgeable man, aimed to create a sort of common ground for all Romans to share in worship. All religions were welcome, and none judged. At the end of the day, whether you prayed to a Roman god or a Christian one, you were still Roman, and this nationalistic idea prevailed above all. Now, this sounds very progressive, and at least in this sense ancient Rome was more progressive than even us today, but one thing that has somehow remained constant across cultures is the political motives that precede major decisions. The people of Roma were divided by religion, and this meant that as a nation, Roma was weaker. Therefore, Hadrian needed to do something that would unify them and ensure their vote for him. Building a ground where all were welcome to express their faith liberates people, and makes them love the provider of such freedoms, namely the emperor himself. 

The Colosseum

In regards to the Colosseum the story is very similar. While it was built for the people, to provide an escape from routine, there is no denying that whether intentional or not, it also served to deviate attention away from problems. There really is nothing more effective to keep people happy than to give them a breath of fresh air to forget about the pollution that surrounds them. And of course, what can be more entertaining than watching people fight for their lives, and stare as the sand soaks up the dead’s blood? The idea behind this feeds off of the darkest parts of our human condition. It is raw, but not pure, and those are two different things. It says a lot about humanity, and our lack of humanity. This form of diversion reminds me of social media’s role on the world as we know it. No, we are not watching people get murdered for fun, or at all for that matter I should hope, but if you think about it, they both let us escape our mediocre existence and live vicariously through someone else’s for a second. The Romans didn’t want to get killed on the arena, but they sure venerated the valiant gladiators who fought in them. And so, I wonder: did the Romans get the same rush from watching gladiators fight as we do when we stalk our favorite celebrity, watch their interviews, or even see them be “active” on social media? If you think about it, gladiators were the celebrities of ancient Rome. 

Pizzeria in Trastevere

       The newer side of Roma is the perfect platform for young adults to hang out, have some fun, and enjoy good food and music. Yes, I’m referring to Trastevere! 

       Ancient Romans showcased their darkest side in broad daylight, in front of thousands, and were not ashamed of it. Today, it’s a little different, and this can be seen in the party neighborhood of Trastevere. During the day, it’s full of life with streets that are flooded with restaurants and amazing food. At night, it metamorphoses into a club and party area. But even during the dark hours I witnessed a sharp transition when going into and out of a pub or bar/club, many of which were underground, such as “On the Rox”, and had small entrances that didn’t allow anyone to take a look inside. On the surface, a more family oriented space, with plenty restaurants, live music, and even children running around playing at night. The underground was a little different. Reckless drinking, uninhibited dancing, and the ultimate idea of good old college fun. I do not exaggerate when I say that behaviors changed as we moved up and down the stairs, which acted as a frontier separating two worlds. How the times have changed right? 

Piazza in Testaccio
Street artist in Testaccio

       Testaccio is another neighborhood that is frequented by college students, and it features plenty parks and open spaces to hang out with friends, and even study with a scenic view of the Roman sunset. 

Firenze: Architecture and Art

Since Firenze was my favorite city to visit, I’ve decided to explore my favorite topics for this small part of Italy. Firenze is without a doubt, the epitome of the renaissance, and this is evident in its architecture and artwork. What can I say? I’m a renaissance girl at heart. However, other personal favorites include gothic, and romanesque. Fortunately, Firenze has it all.

Basilica of Santa Croce

For a city whose trademark is the renaissance, a single gothic building stands out from the crowd: the Basilica of Santa Croce. All white, with its pointy triangle rooftops and decorations, it is the classical example of Italian gothic architecture. The Baptistery of San Giovanni is Florentine Romanesque in nature, which is very similar to gothic. The interior of the baptistery is purely gothic however. The ceiling is filled with religious imagery in accordance with the gothic era such as a judging and punishing Christ, as well as a three-headed creature in charge of punishing sinners after they die. These images were supposed to inspire fear, and keep believers from sinning as they were exposed to them their entire lives whenever they visited the baptistery. On the other hand, Brunelleschi’s dome is a great example of how the renaissance shaped architecture and art. With this movement came the emphasis on symmetry and balance, both of which are seen in the dome’s construction, and especially visible in the eight panels that shape it. The dome’s interior is similar to that of the Baptistery of San Giovanni, but instead of having a strong, fear-inspiring Christ, it portrays a more benevolent Christ, one that is in agreement with the renaissance ideas of Christianity. 

Baptistery of San Giovanni and Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Brunelleschi’s Dome

Cinque Terre: Food & Soul

Cinque Terre provides a much needed mental break after exploring all that ancient Rome and the renaissance have contributed to the world. As the name suggests, Cinque Terre (Five Lands) consists of five small towns that are connected by five big things: the ocean, hiking trails, train tracks, culture, and food. 

In the Kitchen:

       Speaking of food, Cinque Terre has many specialties including white wine, which is made from locally grown grapes, seafood, which is caught by local fishermen and enhanced by lemons, and of course there’s pesto! Some of the most delicious meals I had in Italy involved pesto. Who could forget that delicious pesto lasagna we were served one night during our stay in the Sanctuary of Soviore? That day will forever be remembered as “Pesto day” for me, and here’s why: As I explored the town of Riomaggiore, I knew that I wanted to try some pesto pasta that day. I encountered a pizzeria that had pesto pizza, and right in front I came across a street sign leading up to a tiny family owned restaurant that was hidden from the main street by houses and other businesses. So, what was interesting about this place? They offered classes on how to make tiramisu, gnocchi, and even pesto while the costumers ate. I was definitely intrigued, and asked to be taught how to make pesto while savoring a delicious pesto pasta. This was one of the best experiences I had in Cinque Terre because it taught me how much work, dedication, and love these small town people put into food making. The way the chef explained each step of the process, and the “pinch of salt and love” that he insisted we added made me see how proud they are of their culinary traditions. This is a completely new concept for me. First of all, the restaurant consisted of the front part of a house, and with just a few tables, it could only sit about 15-18 people max (and that’s really pushing it) which to me made it feel more homey and cozy. The close interaction we had with the chef, and his commitment to providing every costumer with the best, most unique experience possible, made me reflect on how we see cooking in other, more urban parts of Italy, and of course in America. 

Pesto pizza in Riomaggiore
Pesto pasta from Osteria Maité Restaurant in Riomaggiore
Osteria Maité Restaurant in Riomaggiore
Osteria Maité Restaurant’s Cooking class options

In this small town of Riomaggiore, the emphasis is not only on food eating but on having the full culinary experience of making food, and making it an enjoyable way to pass down knowledge. In our rushed, modernized everyday lives, we often see cooking as a chore rather than a fun activity to nourish and fuel our bodies, and our loved ones. The rise of fast food has made us deviate even further from this concept in America, and it has contributed to an increase in health problems such as cardiovascular diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about a third of the American population consumes fast food on the regular (1). These statistics are alarming when we take into account that Italy, even with all the carb intake that Italians have, is one of the healthiest countries in the world. The reality is that when we use locally grown products we’re not only engaging in more sustainable food consumption, but we are also consuming healthier foods. As an aspiring physician, this is of utmost importance to me, especially if I wish to help develop a healthier community.


View from the top of the mountain during the Cinque Terre hike

       Up in the cloud-covered Monteroso mountains stands the Sanctuary of Soviore. Peaceful, modest, detached, and undisturbed by socialization. A hidden gem that rose above the corrupted world, and the birth place of the most beautiful sunset these eyes have ever witnessed. This space provides the perfect escape from our tumultuous lives, and the opportunity to sit back and reflect on it. The limited internet access and the scenery make the necessary transition forceful. Similarly, the traditional Cinque Terre hike pushes all the boundaries. Not only do we have extra time to reflect on our human existence, and take in all the accumulated knowledge, but we also gain new insights into who we are, and what we are here for. Through sweat, tears, and high doses of physical pain, we all kept going. You have to really dig deep within you to keep moving past the preconceived limitations of your physical being, even when the pain wants to take over. As I dug, I found the strength I needed, and encountered unexpected and unprecedented emotions. In the words of T. S. Eliot: “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. I never thought I could go the distance, but I was motivated beyond limits, and this feeling overshadowed all the other ones, and at times clouded my judgment. However, I made it. And the satisfaction of being able to say that is definitely worth it. I felt unstoppable, and more prepared than I’ve ever been in my entire life to begin this new chapter in my life. As I prepare for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and later on Medical School, I know that all I have to do is keep pushing the same way we all did in the darkest hours of the hike. If I could get through that, I can get through anything with the knowledge that motivation is the key to success. I WANTED to finish the hike. It was more of a pride/personal goal than anything else. And so I DID. The Cinque Terre hike turned out to be more spiritual than I thought, as I discovered what I’m capable of doing when I really want to, and I intend to implement this new-found wisdom in my future endeavors. Reaching the top of each mountain, and getting to enjoy the views was reward enough. Being up there was enlightening as I felt both small, and larger than life. Just as the flowers bloom in a small patch on the mountain top, I bloomed into a more confident version of myself. And this flower is ready to take on the world. 

Mountain flowers in the Cinque Terre hiking trail


At the end of the Grand Tour, Venezia provides a seamless transition from the calmness of Cinque Terre to the chaos of our everyday lives back in America. It is a hectic and eclectic city in and of its own but we are still in a foreign country, and away from the many responsibilities that await back home. So, in a sense, Venezia is lukewarm, not hot and relaxing water like Cinque Terre, but a nice buffer before we are hit with an ice cold shower. 

Sophia- the poesy of beauty, 2019 by Mercedes & Franziska Welte-NONOS (Austria)

     Venezia is also incredibly progressive, and innovative from its birth. Its very creation was revolutionary, and Venetians take pride in their uniqueness, and adaptive nature. As a city that has historically focused on trade and gaining economic power, this meant that to Venetians business is business, and as long as there is something to be gained, it does not really matter who their partner in trade is. As a result, in order to advance the economy, the city became infamously acceptant of foreign religions, cultures, and even sexual orientations, providing a sort of oasis that sheltered them from outside judgement. This idea was reformist, and help Venezia rise to power. After staying in the heart of Venezia, it was refreshing to see that their reformer identity is still intact. Starting with the Taiwan in Venice 2019 Biennale Exhibition, Venezia proves to be a modern art hub. This exhibition fuses technology with art to create videos with powerful messages regarding current issues such as homosexuality and body image. Even in the fish tail region of Castello, detached from the tourist-filled San Marco, one can find art exhibitions that target present day concerns and challenge archaic views of the female body and its beauty, making it a power move for the feminism movement. What’s more important: they’re completely free. Walking around in Castello I found parks that not only showcased the beautiful greenery of Venezia but also these incredibly feminist artworks. One of them, which is being displayed in the Giardini della Marinaressa is Sophia- Poesy of Beauty by Mercedes & Franziska Welte (2). This sculpture is meant to portray women as powerful beings (hence the fiery red color of the dress) all the while creating this notion of “beauty” that is meant to be challenged, and a depiction of the modern day ideals that are so enforced by social media (hence the glossy, and in my personal opinion “photoshopped” look of the statue). The image becomes even more critical when we look at the statue’s face, or rather, the lack thereof, which provides insightful commentary on the banality of today’s models of beauty, and their lack of identity. The fact that two women are spreading this message only adds to the artwork’s intensity. I guess the only complain I have is the lack of attention that is paid to this exhibit since it is located in a residential area that not many tourists venture into. I would love for it to have more exposure, and I wonder why it isn’t portrayed in a more transited part of Venezia?  

Works Cited: 

  1. Fryar, C. D., Hughes, J. P., Herrick, K. A., & Ahluwalia, N. (2018). Fast food consumption among adults in the United States, 2013–2016
  2. Lilian. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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.



Pisa as Text

“The Leaning Tower”

by Maria Carla Robaina of FIU at Pisa

  When something important happens in my life (be it seemingly good or bad) I try to evaluate it carefully so I don’t miss a thing. And even then, I can never truly predict what kind of impact ir will have. Truth is, it is impossible to tell with certainty what will happen next, but I am certain that what happens today will affect our tomorrow. As I play with this idea my mind wanders back to Pisa. As odd as it sounds, everything connects.

   Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa is a unique place to visit. There is a beautiful cathedral, along with a baptistry, a cemetery, and of course a bell tower, all built in Pisan-Romanesque style. The bell tower is know around the world as the “Leaning Tower of Pisa”, and many tourists (myself included) are oblivious to the fact that it’s part of this four-structure religious design. The tower is famous because it leans without completely crumbling to the ground, something that seems like an almost impossible architectural feat. However, the true challenge was making it straight. The foundation stones were laid in 1173, and soon after the third (out of the eight stories that it has) was finished, the builders began to notice that the weak foundation was causing the tower to fall on one side. As a result, the focus turned to making sure it didn’t fall all the way, and the next stories were made uneven (smaller on the short side) to compensate for the initial error. It is speculated that its architect was Bonanno Pisano, and as any serious architect, a mistake of this magnitude would not be something to be proud of. So initially, I can see how it would be negative to have a tower that leans. However, we can never tell how things are going to turn out, which is why the most amazing outcomes can emerge from negative experiences, and vice versa. The leaning tower made Pisa what it is today, a vigorous city that awaits tourists with open arms, and without it, Pisa would just be another forgotten small Italian town that only truly adventurous and curious tourists care to visit. Every action has a reaction, we just don’t know what it will be. The leaning tower of pisa would not be a tourist destination if it was not leaning, and it would not bring money into the city, and make it world famous. At the same time, the tower would not even be standing if it weren’t for all the interruptions that slowed down the building process such as war, debt, and the obvious engineering feat of attempting to put an end to its progressive descent. So ultimately, we are able to enjoy its beauty today thanks to a mistake of the past. Personally, this teaches me a vital lesson: patience. Only time can tell what’s next, and in the meantime, we should all learn to enjoy the ride, the view, and trust our individual journey.

Firenze as Text

Ceiling of Baptistery of San Giovanni

The renaissance was born in Florence, and the city will forever be its proud home. As such, there is evidence of the renaissance in almost every corner, with many statues featuring contrapposto, and an exquisite level of compositional, and humanistic complexity. However, walking through Florence one can see both the gothic and the renaissance era merge, and it is truly an enlightening experience to see the smooth and swift transition from medieval gothic to high renaissance art. The most shocking example, at least in my opinion, can be found in the Baptistery of San Giovanni. As one of Florence’s most important religious buildings, it is no surprise that it would be the home of some of the most important religious artwork of its time, and a melting pot of artistic movements. The interior of the baptistery is undeniably gothic in nature. The high ceiling is decorated with religious images, some of which include a fear-inspiring, unapologetically condescending God that’s looking down on you with judging, warning eyes, and the image of the devil himself, a three-headed monster ready to devour sinners in the afterlife. These two images are a trademark of the gothic era, a period when the church maintained power by feeding off people’s fear of eternal damnation. Contrasting this, the baptistery is also the original home of the “Doors of Paradise” by Ghiberti, which mark the beginning of the renaissance. The three doors of the baptistery were originally right there, and now there are replicas in their place. The first set of doors is from the 1330s by Andrea Pisano, and while a great work of art by themselves, they fall short relative to Ghiberti’s second and third sets which were finished in 1424 and 1452 respectively. It is a truly unique experience to see the artistic progression in time, and from one person to another. Ghiberti’s doors are far more complex than Andrea Pisano’s set, and this transition occurred in less than 100 years. What’s even more jaw dropping is Ghiberti’s evolution into a renaissance master when we compare the second and third sets of doors. In fact, I had a hard time believing they were made by the same person in the span of 50 years. The doors are so majestic that Michelangelo himself nicknamed them the “Doors of Paradise”, and there’s no doubt that the gilded panels of intricate miniature relieve sculptures deserve the praise. Therefore, the Baptistery of San Giovanni is without a doubt a melting pot of medieval gothic and renaissance art, highlighting the transition from one into the other, and featuring both the terrifying God in its interior, and the more humanistic God on the Doors of Paradise.

Cinque Terre as Text

Cinque Terre white wine

      Cinque Terre: Cinco Tierras, Five Lands, four culinary specialties, one heart. On a physical level, the five towns of Cinque Terre are connected by hiking trails and train tracks, making it immensely difficult to travel by car from one to the next. Each of them has something special to offer: Vernazza has amazing seafood since it’s a fishing town; Monterosso has the best beaches, etc. The one common thread is deeply rooted in the traditional gastronomy of the area. The four specialties include lemons, seafood, pesto, and of course white one. The latter is especially interesting in my opinion, not only because of its distinct flavor but because of the ingenuity involved in its cultivation.

Terraces in the mountains

During our class hike through the 4 trails that connect the towns we passed by built-in terraces in the mountains. First of all, I was amazed when I learned that people actually farm up in the mountains because of the difficulties that they encounter. For instance, they have less workers since less people are willing to work in such secluded areas, and harsh conditions. Also, they can’t exploit the help of farm animals because the surface is not flat.  Despite this, their best efforts work, and they are able to cultivate grapes for white wine. This kind of labor shows dedication, hard work, and love for the land, and that is something that the people in the five towns share. Making delicious white wine is a difficult task but if there is one thing I noticed in my visit to Cinque Terre is that they take pride in doing something difficult to create unique, local, high quality product. This in turn reflects their small town dynamics, and good heart.

Venezia as Text


After traveling through Italia for three weeks, going into Venezia felt like going from Rome into the Vatican, and stepping into a new country. Venezia can definitely stand on its own both structurally and culturally. Because of this, there were many instances when I couldn’t help but notice that in more ways than one, Venice is not only incredibly remarkable, but also incredibly similar to our hometown: Miami. Yes, their origins were different, and Venezia’s construction is something unmatched in the entire world, however, the idea behind Venezia and Miami is the same. They both provide an escape, a sort of cultural safe haven for persecuted migrants. Venezia was created for this sole purpose since the mainland was attacked by barbarians, and locals decided to push down pine trees into the water after realizing that they harden into rock-like structures that created the foundation from which Venezia emerged. The barbarians lacked knowledge of navigation, and ships, which made them unable to chase their victims all the way to this new city on water. As a result, Venezia became a safe ground, and they made sure to continue to be that in many ways. Home to the outcasts, Venezia has a great reputation for being accepting of foreign people and foreign ideals, thereby transforming into a cultural melting pot much like Miami is today. With the number of people that are being persecuted around the world for political or religious reasons, and their constant immigration into the United States, Miami has become one of the top destinations to build a new life in. This is due to our welcoming nature, so that immigrants never feel left out (or at least not as much as they would in other parts of the country), and feel more represented or at least accepted. The fact that Miamians are constantly exposed to all sorts of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, races, sexual orientations, religious, and beliefs makes us fitted to receive newcomers with arms wide open, and integrate them as functioning members of our society. Oh, and did I mention both cities are next to the water?

Italia as Text 2019
Italia as Text
Miami as Text
Italy Study Abroad

Architettura Pubblica dall’Italia all’America

Roman Colosseum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

by Maria Carla Robaina

“Architecture should speak for its time and place, but yearn for timelessness”

Frank Gehry

It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if that truly is the case, the Italians could burst with pride at any moment. Over the years, there have been many ideas and movements that have originated in Europe (specifically in Italy) which Americans have shamelessly adopted as their own. A very palpable one is Italian architecture, which has been imitated all over America since the very beginning of our nation as we know it, in an attempt to become a little more like the Romans. There is no surprise here, seeing as the United States always aimed to be the most powerful nation, and the Roman Empire was, and continues to be even after its fall, the greatest, longest lasting world power to ever exist. So why not copy their architecture? After all, architecture is, in my humble opinion, the perfect, most functional combination of science, and art. It is history, culture, past, present, and future intersecting into one; always recycling concepts, and reinventing itself: an everlasting reflection of the people. 

While America’s motives are clear, it takes a curious eye to see exactly how America has embedded Italian architecture into its own. When we look at long-standing governmental structures, churches, and even suburban houses designed by American architects, we might be inclined to think that they invented it. In reality, they made a few alterations to an already existing model that was born in Italy. In some ways, we see that even today! All you need to do is buy a plane ticket to New York City, go down to Battery Park at the tip of the island of Manhattan, and recharge your closet with fake Gucci, and Fendi products. 

When it comes to architecture, different religious, political, and artistic movements play a big role in dictating what the next building is going to look like. So, the best way to explore Italy’s influence on American architecture is to take a tour of Italian architecture and history.

Beware though, that this is a trip back in time, and with chronological stops along the way. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it, and you’ll find Italy around you, every single day!

Stop I: Ancient Rome

Roma was founded by Romulus in the year 753 BCE, and it became a republic in 509 BCE with the rise of the Senate [1]. Much like America has done, the Romans also borrowed ideas from other cultures. In the 2ndcentury BCE, the Romans borrowed architectural ideas from the Greek, and created their own style. This ancient Roman style consisted of an external Greek façade with many contributions to suit Roman needs. 

The Colosseum:

a. Roman Colosseum (Photo by Dennis Jarvis CC BY 4.0)
b. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Photo by Emma Griffiths CC BY 4.0)

The ancient Greeks developed the idea of an amphitheater to stage plays, and entertain the masses. These structures were built on hills, which allowed everyone, no matter how far away from the stage, to see everything. One main feature of these amphitheaters is that they are completely open spaces with a stage on one extreme, and a semicircular seating arrangement in front of it [2]. 

The Romans took this concept, and improved it in the construction of the Colosseum in 80 CE. They added more seating space by having a centralized stage with seats creating an elliptical 527 meter circumference with a 48 meter height divided into four floors.  With 45000 seating places, 5000 standing places, and 80 entrances, this provided a solution to Rome’s increasing population. Another feature that stands out is the presence of a backstage area, and a network of underground tunnels, which allowed for the preparation of the performances. This was especially true of gladiator shows, where the gladiators, and their wild animal counterparts were kept hidden from the audience in these tunnels. A partial roof, and above-ground seats were also features that the Romans added to the Greek design, which is similar to the stadiums, and arenas that we have today [3]. 

So, while the concept of an amphitheater was created by the Greek, our present-day implementation more closely resembles the Roman version of it. The clearest example is found in a football stadium, not only in the overall shape, and design of the building, but in the kinds of performances that it houses. Many football players share a similar background of low socioeconomic status, and football provides a possible exit from the life that they grew up having. Much like the gladiators back in ancient Rome, football players endure immense physical stress with the hope, but never assurance of a brighter future. While they do this by personal choice, it is inevitable to notice the similarities between the two groups, and how history repeats itself, even if on the other side of the Atlantic. What’s more enlightening, these upgraded gladiators are AMERICAN football players, which says a lot about the United States as a nation. We have been so fixated on the success of the Romans, and the desire to reach it, that we have copied one too many aspects of their identity, ignoring the people at the bottom who are affected by this. 

Arches and Vaults:

With the rise of Rome came wealth, and an increase in immigration. High population densities demanded architectural solutions, which included the use of arches, and vaults in constructions for public use. Arches originated in ancient Egypt and Greece but the Romans were the first to use semicircular arches in bridges, and large scale architecture like we see today [4]. 

Arch of Constantine (Photo by Mark Cartwright CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

One of the structures that used arches is the Arch of Constantine. This arch was built in 315 CE in honor of Emperor Constantine’s victory. It has three arches, and it is a symbol of wealth, power, and authority [5]. Not surprisingly, an American interpretation is found in New Orleans Mint (1838), which really made me think about the intentions behind this. New Orleans Mint is overpopulated with an excessive number of arches (See link below). But what better way to bless a country with good fortune than to include symbols of wealth in its money-making facility? Whether intentional or not, there’s no denying that in the 1830’s there was a lot of Italian influence on American architecture.

New Orleans Mint arches:

The use of oversized arches is also seen in The Presbytere, a museum in New Orleans that was built in 1813. In its picture, we can even compare the size of the arches to that of the people standing below them, and we can appreciate how these arches served a decorative purpose, and were not just entrance points, an idea that is entirely Roman in nature since Greek and Egyptian arches were built large enough to allow people to go through them.

The Presbytere, New Orleans

Another Roman innovation were groin vaults, which were used in the Baths of Caracalla. Built in the year 212-216/217 CE, these public baths had a 24 meter long tepidarium (warm bathroom) [6]. These vaults were meant to fortify structures, and they were also used in the construction of New Orleans Mint (See link below for pictures).

Baths of Caracalla (Photo by Chris Warde-Jones CC BY 4.0)

New Orleans Mint Groin vaults:

The Pantheon:

The Roman Pantheon was originally finished in 25 BCE, however, in 80 CE it was demolished, and the one we see today is the reconstruction under Emperor Hadrian in 118 CE. He had vast knowledge of culture, and respected  all religions, so he intended to create an inclusive space for people of all faiths to gather. Churches provided gathering grounds for people since religion was a social act.Aside from the personal beliefs that led to this decision, it also acted as a political strategy since during this time, a large portion of Rome’s habitants did not worship Roman gods, so making them feel accepted was of utmost importance for the government [7]. 

 The Pantheon is considered a perfect space because it has the same length, and height. It has 8 Corinthian columns in the front under a triangular roof. An enormous dome (the largest surviving dome from antiquity) stands on the back of the building [7]. This structure is very similar to the United States Supreme Court building, which was finished on 1935. The two structures do have some marked differences because the Pantheon has a large dome, which the Supreme Court lacks, and the Supreme Court is elevated off ground-level, and there are stairs leading up to its entrance. However, just like the Pantheon, the Supreme Court building has a triangular roof, and exactly 8 Corinthian columns in the front [8]. The number 8 bears a lot of weight in religion, especially those religions based on the bible such as Catholicism. The 8 is the symbol of resurrection, and regeneration, so it represents a new beginning, something that was definitely fitting for the Pantheon since it was RE-constructed. After learning a lot about the Romans in these past few months, I can’t help but think that this is not a coincidence. I believe that even though the Pantheon was meant to be an inclusive ground, its design included the number 8 as an inconspicuous representation of Roman Catholicism. The fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is modeled after this makes me believe that there are only two reasons why it happened: 1. Copying Italian architecture in governmental structures became so important that they did it thoughtlessly (unlikely since it’s not an exact replica), or 2. Christianity, and therefore biblical references, play a large role in America’s history as “One nation, under God (…)”. I am aware that the presence of the number 8 might just be about a liking for symmetry. Nonetheless, I can’t help but think that perhaps there is more to it that we have yet to uncover. 

a. The Pantheon in Rome (Photo by Martin Olsson CC BY 4.0)
b. United States Supreme Court (Photo by Kjetil Ree CC BY 4.0)

While the U.S. Supreme Court is definitely a copy of the Pantheon, a subtler application of this classic Roman architectural style is found in George Washington’s Virginia home: Mount Vernon. Not surprisingly, the number 8 makes an appearance again in the form of columns. In this case, the classic Corinthian columns are americanized and modernized since they are squared columns with little to no embellishment at the top (where the column meets the roof).

Mount Vernon, Virginia (Photo by Martin Falbisoner CC BY-SA 3.0)

Stop II: Byzantine-Roman Architecture

The Byzantine era began around 330 CE, when the Roman capital was moved to Byzantium, in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. In its beginnings, Byzantine architecture was indistinguishable from Roman architecture since it emphasized the same classical Roman elements. A distinction, however, was in the improvement of walls, and domes in churches. With the rise of Christianity, a lot of emphasis was placed on churches, and their fortification [9]. During this time, the interior of buildings was more important than their exterior. Basically, the exterior was meant to be functional, with the thick walls, and larger domes, while the interior could be more adorned, with intricate, and colorful mosaics.

An example of Byzantine-Roman architecture is the Basilica diSant’ Apollinare Nuovo (505 CE) in Ravenna, Italy, which has a very rich mosaic on its ceiling. Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court (1789) has a mosaic design on its ceiling. 

a. Basilica diSant’ Apollinare Nuovo’s ceiling mosaic (Photo by Sailko CC BY-SA 4.0)

b. United States Supreme Court’s ceiling mosaic (Photo by “Architect of the Capitol” CC BY 4.0)

While there are marked differences, it surprised me to find out about the many influences of Italian architecture in the design of the United States’ Supreme Court building, especially because the latter houses different styles from different eras.

Stop III: The Renaissance

The renaissance movement was born in Florence in the 1300s CE, and lasted until the 1600s CE. This period is one of my personal favorites because it was characterized by realism, and naturalism. This era was marked by advances in the arts, sciences, and architecture, all of which went hand in hand [10]. 

A well known edifice of this era is the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in the Vatican City or Saint Peter’s Basilica. Its construction was completed in 1626, and included a large dome, which was common in the Renaissance [11]. 

Basilica Papale di San Pietro (Photo by Giggel CC BY-SA 4.0)

Another prime example of renaissance architecture is the dome in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (1436). This dome is one of the most impressive achievements of the Renaissance because never before had anyone constructed such a large dome. On top of the cathedral’s height, a pedestal for the dome was built that put the dome’s base at the staggering height of 170 feet, with a shape known as quinto acuto or “pointed fifth”. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, the dome’s construction ended in 1436 CE, and it is until this day, one of the most significant architectural feats to ever exist [12].

Dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Photo by Bruce Stokes CC BY-SA 2.0 Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

Here in America there are plenty examples of buildings with large domes that mimic the style of that in Santa Maria del Fiore. Perhaps the easiest that comes to everyone’s mind is that of the U.S. Capitol. The reason for their similarity is that Thomas Jefferson wanted Congress housed in a replica of an ancient Roman temple, specifically, a “spherical” temple. The U.S. Capitol’s designs evoke the ideals that guided our founding fathers when they created the new republic; ideals which also came in part from ancient Rome. In the 1850s, architect Thomas U. Walter added a cast iron dome to the design, and it is inevitable to see the similarity to the one in Florence [13]. 

United States Capitol (Photo by Andrew Bossi CC BY-SA 3.0  Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

Palladian Architecture: The Palladian Window

Palladian architecture refers not to a new era in scientific, artistic, political, or religious movement, but to a specific 16thcentury Venetian architect named Andrea Palladio [14]. He changed the landscape of his hometown, and extended his influence with a rippling effect throughout the world, breaking down geographic, and time barriers to persist even in the modern day. Palladian windows are incredibly large,three-section windows where the center section is arched and larger than the two. Many constructions in the late renaissance included these kinds of windows to give a feeling of formality [15]. It is remarkable that this style has stood the test of time, and continues to be used in suburban neighborhoods in America with great prominence. Not only do they evoke elegance, but they also allow sunlight to come in, which balances out the sophisticated renaissance style with the incorporation of nature in indoor spaces [15]. Furthermore, these windows are one of my favorite icons of the renaissance because by letting in the sunlight, they help reduce the use of electricity when unnecessary, something that really helps the planet, and that I am passionate about. 

Palladian window in Mount Vernon, Virginia (Photo by Tim Evanson CC BY-SA 2.0)
Inside view of Mount Vernon (Photo by Appitecture CC BY-SA 4.0)

Final Remarks:

The end of this tour of some of the major Italian architectural movements has arrived, at least for the time being. Who knows the many ways in which Italy is yet to manifest itself in America? One thing I know is that there is an undeniable influence that Italy has had, and continues to have on our lives. When it comes to architecture, I love that we have concrete examples (no pun intended) as evidence of the remarkable impact that such a small country can have. Italian architecture is everywhere around us, so in going to Italy, I have the complete reassurance that I’ll still feel, on some level, at home. From modern day stadiums, to the use of arches and vaults in our very own university campus (See picture below), to majestic governmental structures, and even something as overlooked as a window, Italian architecture is ubiquitous. So the next time I go to a concert, I’ll have Rome in my mind. All of this, the little things, are part of our culture, our history, our identity. So, in a way, aren’t we all Italy?

FIU’s Green Library (Photo by Maria Carla Robaina CC BY 4.0)

Google Slides Presentation:


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  8. Supreme Court Building. (2018, October 19). Retrieved from
  9. Cartwright, M. (2019, April 11). Byzantine Architecture. Retrieved from
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