Nicole Pena: Grand Tour Redux 2019

At the top of Piazza del Popolo. CC by 4.0.

Rome, Italy’s capitol city, brings in over nine million tourists annually, and is filled to the brim with history and culture. This rich history follows you throughout each alleyway and around every corner stands a ruin, waiting to share its story.

Spending two weeks in this city and being immersed amongst the people greatly improved our ability to visualize the day-to-day life of ancient Rome. A sense of cultural diversity was also palpable, and seemed to be valued highly. Upon arriving here one can be exposed to many different ethnicities that are working in or visiting Rome. This diversity was not just noticed in Rome, however, but in several of the other cities we’d visited, and was often attributed to the success and wellbeing of the city. 

The area of Tridente in Rome consists of a diverse array of popular attractions. Within Tridente, the Piazza del Popolo (also known as the people’s square) is one of the most visited piazzas’ in Rome. Our very first moments of study abroad included this piazza for it was once main entrance into the Roman empire. It also happened to be a great starting point to our Grand Tour Redux. There are 3 main roads that lead up to this piazza and to the obelisk in the center. If you fall on one of those roads, you can look down the narrow way and find the obelisk. 

A slow leisurely walk down the middle street called Via del Corso is often done from the piazza. This famous path is called the Passeggiata. It is where people walk up and down the closed street in an act of showing off pride and confidence. It was said that a family would take their beautiful daughter down this street and watch as all the men look at her in awe. As our class was doing the Passeggiata, we saw various many other tourists doing the same. There were men walking confidently with their business suits, and girls dressed up showing off their beauty. It was evident that people from all over the city and even the world come to part take in this act of Passeggiata. 

At the Spanish Steps. CC by 4.0.

The Passeggiata led us towards the next piazza in Tridente, the Piazza del Spagna, in which translates to the Spanish Plaza. This Piazza is another well-known and highly-visited square in Rome, which also consists of the Spanish Steps. The locals say that sitting on the Spanish steps would help you find your true love, a reputation that has attracted tourists worldwide. With the many times that I went to the Spanish Steps, I rarely ever saw it empty. Another famous landmark that attracts tourists is the Spanish Embassy that lays on top of the Spanish steps. This creates a cultural mix between Italy and Spain within the city of Rome. 

As I walked through this piazza, I couldn’t help but notice the mixture of different cultures that come into daily contact. Historically, this place was intended for Indian vendors, American tourists, Italian locals, and Spanish inquirers to fixate on one meeting place. This square also consists of the work of the father, Pietro Bernini, and the son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Pietro Bernini, and his son who helped, created this fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia, meaning “Fountain of The Ugly Boat,” to bring the legacy of the Bernini family and the story of the River Tiber to the square (“Fontana Della Barcaccia”). All these elements together within the square help to express the constant integration of different families, countries, and cultures.

The Il Victoriano. CC by 4.0.

The Piazza Venezia which carries a great deal of significance in Roman history. Unlike the other piazza, the Piazza Venezia includes the hustle and bustle of automobile traffic with a huge roundabout in the middle with the ending of the Il Victoriano. It is geographically shown as the center of Rome and can be easily connected to the theme that all roads lead to Rome. As we passed this building called Il Victoriano, I quickly appreciated the grandness and elegance of it. The appearance of the Il Victoriano was intended to attract visitors to appreciating the first king of Italy, King Victor Emmanuel II (Ermengem). Whether it be because you are walking for the history lesson or driving by cause it’s on the way to your destination, the location of this dedication simply brought people together.

In the Piazza della Repubblica. CC by 4.0.

The city of Florence definitely strived for difference and power. The Medici family was significant in making Florence the cultural capitol that it is today. Although wealthy, the Medici’s had to work for their noble status. They learned to trade and navigate politics to position themselves into a place of power. They were extremely influential during the Renaissance era, especially when it came to artwork. They brought highly-valued artwork to the city, which can be seen in the Uffizi Museum, with much of it shedding light to a feministic view, a perspective that wasn’t often seen during that period as women were often ignored. Even today, the Medici’s are lauded for their influence which helped shift attitudes towards women, as seen with the paintings of Venus within the Museum.

Although I felt very empowered as a woman while I looked at all the artwork, I noticed that attitudes of the modern men of Florence. Perhaps it is because Florence is so widely visited, but it seemed men were all too enthusiastic to objectify women. Of the cities we’d visited, I felt Florence was the least safe for women, particularly at night. It was an unfortunate attribute of an otherwise beautiful, empowering experience.

Before Florence had been established, the Piazza della Repubblica played a significant role in its relationship to ancient Rome. Today, with its carousel, stores, and small restaurants, it attracts many student tourists, such as myself. The first thing I noticed was the column that stands inside of the square. The column is called the “Column of Abundance” and is placed exactly where the Roman Forum used to be held. As this spot was once a place where people with different values came to express them, the feelings of diversity and unity flushed through me and back into the piazza. It was originally the center of the city and was filled with markets and was constantly crowded. However, the area became a ghetto when Cosimo the first came into power. It was said that during this time there was a bell attached to the column, which was used to warn others when something bad was coming. Today, however, there is no threat, and the carousel and other attractions gathers people much in the way the Forum used to during the Roman era. The Piazza della Repubblica continues to stand as one of the most famous squares in Florence for its history and beauty. 

In Cinque Terre: a Town called Vernazza. CC by 4.0.

Cinque Terre is located on a coast of the Italian Rivera and is filled with beauty and nature. It truly made it to the top of the list of my favorite cities in the world. It’s calmness and relaxing vibe were exactly what I needed during this trip. Since Cinque Terre is protected as a UNESCO heritage site, its natural remained mostly unchanged since Roman times. The UNESCO hike that many tourists come to Cinque Terre for, is the real hike that donkeys and Roman men used to walk through in the Roman era. This disheveled hike is what brought the diversity to the very infamous coast that consists of the five towns. As we walked and struggled through the trails, we would stop and talk to other hikers from around the world. From Russia to the Americas, there was a constant flow of new cultures that hit the coast. Cinque Terre brought a type of uniqueness to Italy that really is secluded to the world and connects well the land and the sea. Many of my family members who love to travel have never even heard of Cinque Terre and now it’s on their To-Do list!

Cinque Terre’s Signature Seafood in a Cone. CC by 4.0.

The second town we saw on the UNESCO hike was called Vernazza. I quickly grew a strong connection to this town due to its proximity to the water. Vernazza is known for their fishermans. The first thing I saw once we got there was the small dock with colorful boats bumping along side of each other. There were rocks at the very end of the dock that seemed to call the attention of mine and my colleagues. Sitting on those rocks, we stared out onto the dock and into the small town. Time would pass by, yet the dock never stopped being filled with tourists. The views and sounds of the water really drew them in. This town is also known for their easy access to the sea in which retrieves fresh seafood. The next thing I did was get fried seafood in a cone. It was exceptionally good. It was fresh and fried so how could it go wrong. This concept of fresh foods and accessibility to the sea was intriguing to all. While eating the cone in front of the food spot, there was a small hole looking out to a beach in between two buildings. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the mudslides, but it allowed me to analyze Vernazza within all that chaos. This town had the diversity of attracting both the calm and the crowd.

In Venice, Italy: a district called Cannaregio. CC by 4.0.

Venice was a whole new world compared to the other cities that we had seen on the trip. The concept of using the Venetian lagoon for transportation instead of cars is genius. It brought an aspect of how important water can be for a city. Small islands were used to build this city away from the mainland for protection. Little did they know, the formation of this city allowed for trade to flourish and allowed for connection of the east and the west by doing so. Trading is ultimately what brought diversity into the city. This hotspot thrives on tourists as tourist population outnumbers that of the residents. It continues to grow as a must-see city while they use attractions such as gondola rides and St. Mark’s square to grow its popularity.

Cannaregio is the largest of the seven districts within the city of Venice. This part of the city allows for a connection with the mainland as it consists of the train station. Essentially there are two parts to this district: one that is known for their shopping and popularity and the other is known as the more ethnic side. The main street for shopping such as the Strada Nova is what aids in connecting the train station towards the Rialto Bridge. This street blends various cultures such as English stores, German food stops, and American restaurants. While the other ethnic part, the oldest Ghetto used to take place there. Still today the Jewish ethnicity was left behind with a few synagogues and other buildings (“Cannareggio”). This district connects well with Miami as it shows how diverse they are and acceptable it has become into their society.


This Italy study abroad dives into Italian history, culture, and art, and allows us to learn how to relate it to modern Italian life. As a class, we immersed ourselves into the culture through various eras, such as the Renaissance to Gothic. Each of these different styles really brought up a new interpretation of the world and its beauty. We, much like Italy, have gone through a lot of changes. Even though Italy has been around longer than the Americas, it does share the concept of cultural diversity and how it is entangled into its own culture. And whether we like it or not, tourism is really influential in Miami and is a huge reason of the diverse cultures we see today. 

Works cited
- “Cannareggio Venice Italy | Cannareggio District Venice | Cannareggio History.” Cannareggio Venice Italy | Cannareggio District Venice | Cannareggio History, InsideCom S.r.l., 27 Jan. 2016,
- Ermengem, Kristiaan Van. “Piazza Venezia, Rome.” A View On Cities,
- “Fontana Della Barcaccia.” Rome Sightseeing,

Nicole Pena: Italia As Text 2019

Nicole Pena is an Honors College Student of Florida International University. She is currently obtaining a degree in Chemistry: Bachelor of Arts.

Below she uses her love of photography and knowledge from this trip to express her as Text assignments for Italia Study abroad.

Tivoli as Text

“Small Town, Vast History” by Nicole Peña of FIU at Villa Adriana in Tívoli, Italy

Views from Villa Adriana. CC by 4.0.

   Tívoli had a primary history of philosophy, sexuality, and culture. The first Villa Adriana was for philosophers and intellectuals while the second Villa D’Este explored the sexuality of Italians. After seeing these two villas, I had more of an in depth reflection with the story of Hadrian and his male lover, Antinous.

   Romans were known to have a very sexual character and used this culture for pleasure and entertainment. Hadrian had a wife at the time but found ways to have other relationships with both men and women. Having more than one partner was common and acceptable back in the Roman era.

   As understanding Roman sexuality, I can only feel that we are going backwards in America. Yes, homosexuality is becoming a more acceptable topic but still is growing in negativity. As a college student in their prime state of vulnerability and confusion, I feel that everyone is still trying to find themselves, even with sexuality. I found it incredibly interesting that Hadrian was able to have a same sex love and grew such an attachment that he even created a temple for him after his death. His wife at the time seemed to have known of this relationship and still was found to be an acceptable concept of more than one partner.

   Another concept that Tívoli takes into account, much like all Romans, was women’s body image and beauty. The Temple of Venus found in the Villa of Adriana was of a woman most likely coming out of a bath as she is in her cleanest state. The portrayal of women truly shows their thoughts of how beautiful, sexy, and pure they can be. This contradicts much of how Americans view women’s body today. As a woman, I feel the need to look at every flaw my own body has. Body image has grown to be a negative concept that has put women down, including myself. As Mother’s Day just passed, we realize how incredible our bodies are. The ability to hold and grow humans in our body is truly a miracle of life that should be cherished. Women shouldn’t dismiss the beauty of a body just because it isn’t viewed as a “perfect” body from the outside world.

Rome as Text

“79 AD” by Nicole Pena of FIU at the Colosseum: Rome, Italy

Nicole Pena photographed at the front of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. CC by 4.0.

Who would of thought cruelty would be entertaining? I think about this question but I find that I am being a complete hypocrite. The moment of relief I get when the bad guy gets killed in every single action movie. Clearly, the thought of death is intriguing but in a bit of a different context.

The Colosseum was a place of entertainment whether it consisted of innocent or guilty people. This circular amphitheater, created by the Flavian family, was made to give back to the people. Animal sacrifices, persecutions  and gladiator fights took place here. The audience would laugh and bet as each person fell. The concept of ethnicity was definitely not familiar to the Romans. But is familiar to us now? We find entertainment in the sport of Football. The players are beaten down for a win much like a Gladiator did in order to survive.

As I walked through the Colosseum, I quickly notice the rich history and beauty of this colossal Roman structure. To even think that a structure from 79 AD is even still standing, it leaves me in awe. All I could think was if I was a Roman back then, would I have enjoyed this type of entertainment too?

“As a Gladiator” poem

As a gladiator,

I am fighting,

Looked down upon.

As a gladiator,

I am a fighter,

Look at me as I just won.

As a gladiator,

I am fighting,

Trying to get my last breath.

As a gladiator,

I am a fighter,

Trying to be my best.


Pompeii as Text

“What Once was” by Nicole Pena of FIU at Pompeii, Italy

Molds of human remains from Mt. Vesuvius eruption at POMPEII, Italy. CC by 4.0.

As I began walking into POMPEII, I had the instant urge to know more about the city. What was so special about this Roman city that there was enough tour groups to fill up to its entirety on a Monday?

On August 24, 79 AD, the sky of Pompeii slowly grew from blue to black. People were confused and not sure what was going on. Soon lava rocks began to fall from the sky which brought fear to the people. They began to leave their homes and whole lives behind. Others were not too lucky and stayed. Unfortunately, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius took the lives of 2,000 to 3,000 people.

The lava rocks produced a mold over time of the people and is shown throughout Pompeii. The horror of their faces and positions took me aback. I can’t believe that these humans who thought they could wait out the storm died instantly. The thought of staying truly scares as someone from Miami who chooses to wait out hurricanes.

It brought me to the broad idea: is anyone ever safe? Is our homes truly the safest place we can be? Nature is a wild thing that can affect us at any moment and time. We are constantly in a vulnerable state no matter where we are. But should we let fear rule our life? I truly believe we shouldn’t. I will always live by the motto: whatever happens, happens for a reason. With what was in Pompeii, it is now an incredible landmark.

Florence as Text

“Firenze is Women Empowerment” by Nicole Peña of FIU at Firenze, Italy

Artworks from Ufizzi Musuem. Cc by 4.0

Firenze is all about women empowerment. Whether it is mythology or not, art in Firenze praises women as sexually liberated goddesses.

In the Uffizi Museum, the Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is primarily known for praising Venus and all of her glory, especially in a nude state. Botticelli incorporated the background of waves that look like semen and erecting trees to enforce sexuality as well. The completion of Venus truly brought women a new view on sexuality and how it can be portrayed as good.

In Botticelli’s Primavera, the season of spring brought fertility and sexuality to the whole painting. This classical imagery allowed for a narrative to occur with openness to interpretation. Venus was also portrayed in this painting having sex with Mercury. Both paintings connect well with women empowerment and how sexuality is used in a good way.

Another painting with Venus by Titian is displayed in the Uffizi. Venus is shown as pleasing herself in a normal and casual way. Other people in the background are casually doing their own chores while Venus is in this act of masturbation. I found this painting extremely empowering for women because she is able to do what pleases her without the judgement of others. I find being sexuality liberated in today’s world is difficult.

In Artemisia’s Judith Slaying Holofernes painting, two women are chopping off a guys’ head. If that doesn’t scream out to you that women are strong, then I don’t know what does! Although back then women were oppressed of their sexuality and free expression, those few paintings that were saved have been truly influential to Firenze’s view on women. The fact that a woman’s painting is displayed in this museum portrays how now we are praising women and their ability to bring such anger and power into a painting.

While I do know that Firenze was created by the Medici family, who were primarily influential men in the Tuscan area, they used their office to bring in all these artworks to show their high status. By doing so, they definitely liberated the sexuality of women. Although it’s only a few paintings, the strength behind them has allowed women empowerment to grow and structure itself to what it is today.

Pisa as Text

“Miracles or meant to be” by Nicole Peña of FIU at Pisa, Italy

Photo of the ceiling in Pisa Cathedral. CC by 4.0.

The Medieval era is something I AM NOT used to and I can honestly say it is not my favorite. It totally contradicts all my beliefs as a Catholic. Since I was very young, I have learned that God is our Savior and is reliable. He is loving and will always be there during times of need.

Walking through a Pisan Romanesque church for the first time, I quickly noticed the simple bricks and large columns. All were placed in a certain way to make the building seem longer than it really is. The Medici family donated the gold ceiling as well, which brought an extravagance Baroque theme to the Gothic cathedral.

Once I reached the altar, my eyes were directed straight to the God looking down on me. I felt inferior to someone that I have looked up to in Glory all my life. As Machiavelli once said, “it is better to be feared than loved”; the Gothic era definitely portrayed that. Right next to the feared God, there was a Renaissance painting of Him. I quickly distinguished the difference between the two. The Gothic God was intimidating while the Renaissance God shines bright with open arms. Which God would have been followed more?

The theme of Gothic Romanesque moved through the Cathedral and to the Baptistry that was from the 1200s. The same architectural structure followed through this dome but the aspects of renaissance related to a small yet reflective moment. One of the workers did a short singing performance which gave me chills as his voice prolonged through the striped walls and columns, reaching to the heavens and bringing a great connection with earth.

A true miracle that is standing in the same field is the tower of Pisa. How it is still standing today is beyond me. This circular bell tower was definitely a new concept as other bell towers were structured with four corners. This tower was used for scientific and mathematical advancements, such as Galileo testing weight and Fibonacci understanding mathematical sequences.

There is a great connection between all of these three structures: miracles. The baptistry, cathedral, and bell tower are all not standing up completely straight due to the unsteady soil. It makes complete sense as to why the place I was standing in was called the field of miracles.

Cinque Terre as text

“YOU ARE A DREAM, CINQUE TERRE” by Nicole Peña of FIU at Cinque Terre, Italy

Views from the UNESCO hike. CC by 4.0.

Since the moment we got here in Cinque Terre, I have fallen in love. The blues from the Mediterranean Sea and the colorful buildings all brought a uniqueness and ease to the area. During this whole study abroad, I was most excited for this beautiful coast of Cinque terre which means in Italian “five lands.” The day of the hike was when we explored those five towns that lie between the mountains and the sea. The extreme contrast between blues, pinks, yellows, etc… in the buildings brought contrast to other Italian cities on the coast.

First, the hike to get in between each town was a BIT brutal, but definitely rewarding. The UNESCO world heritage hike has trails that haven’t been worked on for centuries. It is protected by UNESCO to keep the original trail that the donkeys and Romans used to walk on. The steep hills and uneven steps continuously tested my ability to complete the hike. The scenery of the sea and the nature definitely allowed for a time to reflect.

The food in Cinque Terre with its fresh fruits and seafood was to die for. In Vernazza, the fisherman town we stopped at in our hike, had the smell of savory seafood filled in the air! Lemons were also another delicacy of Cinque Terre. It was great to mix, the two: land and sea. Cinque Terre is also known for their white wine. I did not believe how fresh the wine was up until we hiked through the wineries, especially when we were leaving the town Corniglia. There was a moment where the hiking trail consisted of beautiful terraces with grape vines. Since the wineries covers down almost the whole mountain, the barrel system that is used is extremely efficient

The fresh food and wine in Cinque Terre helped me realize how terrible our food production is in America.If we grew our own products without hormones, it may cut down in food supply but will allow for a healthier population. I truly believe we need to change our produce system to prevent diseases, especially since we are the number one country for obesity. America should attempt to have a system where our lifestyles could best resemble that of the Italians, where food is less processed and health is more easily attainable.

 Venezia as Text

Photographed Nicole Pena. CC by 4.0

“See you soon Italy” by Nicole Peña of FIU at Venezia, Italy

Venezia was on a whole new and different level from what we had previously seen on this trip. The uniqueness of this city brought cultural diversity to the Venetian Lagoon. The narrow alleyways and constant blue canals that we bumped into at every turn truly embody Venezia and its beauty. The twisting of the streets made it easy to get lost in this endless city. 

This city was built on only small islands of sand in order for the Venetians on the mainland to protect themselves from the Barbarians. This idea of building from the water with pine trees, sand, and Istrian stone led to the flourishment of what we call Venezia today. Trade is immensely significant as Venezia connects the East and West. Whether it be pigments, spices, or other products, it produces constant revenue and allows for capitalism to occur. 

A huge tourist trap has to be the gondola rides. With its black sleek exterior, which was created by noblemen who wanted to conform to their society, gondolas have attracted over 60,000 tourists that arrive everyday by its popularity. As seen in movies and television, the romance definitely was nice to feel in the air as couples were seen constantly riding the gondolas. This attraction has been known as a symbol for Venice and its romanticized aspect. 

The Piazza of San Marco stood out to be the best Piazza we saw during the trip. With its extravagant structure, it was the first spot to get filled up every morning by tourists. The consistent history portrayed in this piazza, especially with Saint Mark and Casanova, brought many to the basilica and Florian Caffe. Seeing Saint Mark’s basilica was an impactful moment for me. The Romanesque columns, Islamic dome, Gothic spires, and renaissance statues were extremely overwhelming, but beautifully done. The diversity used in the architecture and artwork showed Venice’s great connection with the rest of the world. A huge concept of wealth is also shown through all its cultural diversity. The basilica literally screamed out to me “WE ARE POWERFUL” as they were able to mix all of these cultures together. 

Clearly, Venice has a great system to be able to attract more tourists than there are residents. In my opinion, Venice is a beautiful city and may have been the best we saw. It reminded me much of home, especially with the trip coming to an end and how homesick I had become. It’s time to go back to reality. It’s not a goodbye, but a see you soon Italy.