Still cold here in Rome, but the snow will fade soon into the background of everyone’s memory. So just a follow up from the lovely walks around the centro the past 2 weekends. For a refresher, check out these images from February 3 and Continue reading
February 3 and 4, 2012 have been really special days. After the snowfall in 2010, I didn’t think we’d get so lucky with a real dump again so soon. Sure, it made life a bit tricky with the traffic but living in the center I was able to enjoy our location to the utmost and get around without a real commute.
There is no city like Rome in the world– don’t get me started– that offers so much to so many disciplines spanning so many time periods, during which the city was either capital of an empire or center of a major religion. In both cases, both “empires” that form layer upon city to constitute the city’s rich fabric influenced western civilization is so many ways. What was left behind, from ancient (Testaccio) and medieval garbage dumps (e.g. Montecitorio) to hulking ruinous palatial structures that encompass the entirety of the Palatine hill, in turn covered by Renaissance gardens and vineyards, is a testament to the greatness of Rome.
Today, beyond the classics and study of the history of art and architecture, what does Rome offer? Plenty– a veritable feast for the eyes of the student of graphic design, media/ communications, journalism (travel, politics, culture), studio art, architecture-landscape-urban design, religious studies, anthropology, geology/ volcanology (think about it, the hills of Rome are the accumulation of ash dumped by volcanic eruptions of times past). Students that study in Rome at the American Institute for Roman Culture do not just confront collections and see the sites but also, thanks for AIRC’s vast and varied connections and relationships with city and national authorities (e.g. Ministry of Culture, superintendencies) entry into a world of one-of-a-kind experiences, meeting with experts, seeing their projects, and participating. That is what we do best; that is why I am here. A quick example is filming history– a fantastic way to engage culture. Another is writing about Rome, but only after gaining access to a site being inaugurated or speaking with some of the top Italian and foreign journalists that reside here. That’s the difference, not to mention our ongoing AIRC excavation, conservation project, annual conference in cultural heritage, and video production, all of which create a web of related experiences for students in love with Rome, Italian culture, and engaging the past in the contemporary city.
The list goes on. What we’ve done in our new programs at the American Institute for Roman Culture is promote and foster experiences in Rome’s rich heritage culture that allow study abroad students dig deeper– engaging the past for their own contemporary endeavors. In colloquial Latin, film, journalism, ancient Rome and its art and architecture, or for those with advanced background in classics, pushing the limits on a more in-depth level. Or even allowing you to roll up your sleeves and excavate with us at Ostia Antica (with limited intervention trenches)- a unique experience, in and of itself, to which we marry a related conservation project at Ostia. (For the project, just see this teaser video.) Talk about a full circle sustainability project. If archaeology is destruction of the archaeological record (thoroughly documented, of course), what more fulfilling experience for archaeology students than have them finish the season with completing a conservation project for the improvement of Ostia! And don’t take my word for it; our programs director sums it up best here.
What role does video have in cultural heritage preservation? Quite a lot, I’d have to say. One thing to keep in mind is that video is a pretty cheap medium (e.g., HD video cameras and a tripod). So, to get more bang for your buck, a video can say a lot about your heritage project and reach a wider audience than just an academic paper or presentation. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, what is a good video worth? Quite a bit more. You can gain access into the trenches (literally) and explore the ins and outs with the directors, who are contextualizing the issues at hand, finds discovered, and providing a view firsthand of the conservation issues. This is not just reaching the individual but the mass audience interested in cultural heritage, and it’s that large audience that will have a great impact on the eventual preservation of the site. And the video is not meant to replace the great scientific work conducted but to enhance it and garner more interest and support in the given project. Cultural heritage is meant to be seen and experienced, not so easily conveyed with words and photos. (Just see our recent videos for FastiONLINE. )
I was pleased to present on November 26 “Podcasting culture: the role of video in heritage preservation” with my AIRC colleague Alberto Prieto at the recent AUR and BSR-hosted conference “Our Future’s Past”, a conservation/ cultural heritage conference in Rome, a 3-day conference in Rome. Among others were colleagues from many disciplines (business, tourism, conservation, archaeology, etc.): the British School of Rome, most particularly, the Herculaneum Conservation Project, ICCROM (headquarted in Rome), World Monuments Fund, and other individuals, such as Jessica Stewart (Context Rome), Laurie Rush (Dpt. of Defense) who presented at our last year’s Unlisted Conference.
I’ll post a video of our presentation in the coming week!
Time for a look at the 12 Caesars again– one in particular– Caligula, though it’s hard to beat Suetonius’ account and Michael Graves’. Part of the fascination with this Roman emperor is from previous “classic” films (i.e., Caligula, I Claudius) and part from his somewhat enigmatic (not much remains of his actions in the archaeological record) and outrageous, brief reign (37–41). I’ve covered Gaius (as he was properly known) before in Ancients Behaving Badly (History Channel– Blink productions), a riff on antiquity’s worst rulers, but there’s so much more to say– and I was glad when NorthSouth Productions contacted me about the two hour special they are producing for History Channel.
Of course a good area to start is the Roman Forum– and place dear to my heart– with our past dig– though the true expert on site of the “Domus Gai” (Caligula’s notorious pad) is Henry Hurst of Cambridge University (recently retired) whom I happily ran into a few days ago in Campo de’ Fiori. Our work (excavation: post aedem Castoris with colleagues from classics departments at Stanford and Oxford) near Hurst’s site did launch AIRC and its eventual study abroad program, and formalized our relationship with the Italian soprintendency and Ministry of Culture. So we owe a lot to the domicile of Caligula. Our work revealed, in conjunction with Hurst’s study, that the projecting structures under the Domitianic portico of the so-called Augusteum/ library complex did indeed come very close to the back end of the Castors’ temple. Among bonuses to the dig were the remains of 7th century BC housing! Needless to say there are few places in the world with the complexity of the Forum’s stratigraphy!
So, it was a nice production this November– with filming on the Palatine, as well as a full day at Herculaneum, a beautiful setting for discussing antiquity, especially after the conclusion of the Herculaneum Conservation Project. I was pleased that a fellow local Roman– Katie Parla is also in the production, filming in Pozzuoli. Looks like a great show– due out this spring!
In Rome we confront the past on a daily basis. And I’m not just talking about the obvious– the Colosseum, Forum, Circus Maximus. We also frequently see a strip of Roman pavement sectioned off from traffic, a chunk of wall sticking out of a more modern structure, a stack of tuff blocks. History is everywhere; and it’s crumbling before our eyes. Just have a look at the fire wall from the Forum of Augustus or the Servian Wall section on the Aventine.
Rome is one of several UNESCO heritage sites in Italy. The world heritage list, which also includes national parks, recognizes and highlights the extraordinary achievements of civilizations past, as well as extraordinary natural settings.
Look closely at the list; a huge percentage of sites are, in fact, archaeological in character. Despite this massive list, only a fraction of the world’s heritage actually is represented. The bulk of the world’s sites are not listed or attended to by the UNESCO list (and respective countries), or covered by the valiant efforts of great world class organizations such as ICCROM, Getty Conservation, WMF, GHF. There’s just too much history to preserve, and to make these top 10 lists, only the most unique or most exemplary ones make it (and get the funding).
Given the current financial state of things in the world, funding of cultural heritage and its preservation has been further exacerbated. When we face financial realities and recognize the needs that countless monuments have in order to attain sustainable preservation (through properly conceived management plans), what will be the future for the countless of un-recognized or under-funded monuments and sites?
The purpose of the two day FIRST ANNUAL UNLISTED CONFERENCE is to address these deficiencies through bringing together a varied group of “stakeholders”, including archaeologists, conservators, architects, entrepreneurs, economists, cinematographers, and those in social media for a new conversation on conservation matters.
We’ll be posting the lectures afterward on our new, revamped website (www.romanculture.org). If you are in Rome April 15 and 16th, please have a look at the conference program and consider stopping by to participate in the conversation.
Who was Nero?
Nero (54–68) was one fascinating Roman ruler. Can you imagine becoming the emperor when still a teenager, after your mother poisoned your stepfather!?! It’s a predicament that I don’t think that they cover in such outrageous dramas as Gossip Girl and True Blood. Though, never fear, parts of the rest of his adulthood were a mess and spiraled down to great depths. And even after his suicide in AD 68, he remained very popular, with many ‘sightings” of this dramatic ruler — think Elvis of the Ancient World. Just take a look at his portraiture throughout his life. In his teenage years, he had his hair combed to appear as a Juli0-Claudian successor (as Claudius’ stepson successor), while in adult-age, he flaunted an exuberant style– wavy hair and fuller face, long sideburns, dare I say lamb chops a la “70s” Elvis??
Historically, he’s blamed for the great fire of 64 even though he was out of town and his newly built palace on the Palatine, known as the Domus Transitoria, was one of the first things to be torched. He’s also notorious for putting Christians on the map (and in the arena). Notwithstanding these actions, Nero rebuilt Rome in a modern fashion after three-quarters of the city was destroyed. He was in many ways an innovator and fair administrator, though his megalomania did grow over time , as did his appetite for excess, as he “matured”.
The Nero Exhibition
The Nero show appears in all three venues of the Forum, Palatine, and Colosseum. I just checked it out with many academic colleagues yesterday afternoon. It’s a scary sight to have so many academics and superintendents walking through the forum; we’re all lost in catching up and looking around at the new exhibition. I did catch up with German colleagues who are studying the Basilica Julia; casually met an Altemps (delightful!) I also caught an earful from a dear colleague at the Medieval museum in EUR because during her recent trip to Boston I had forgotten to introduce her to some colleagues there! (Pazienza!)
Here’s why I think the show will be a great success:
- Antiquities: the showcased pieces are quite good– from the variety of portraits of Nero in the darkened Curia w/ quotes and the ancient sources (from Suetonius and Tacitus) projected on the inner wall to the modern paintings of scenes from Nero’s life line the walls.
- Videos: the round “Temple of Romulus” features video scenes from a variety of movies about Nero– movies from international directors of the 1950s and 60s to present. It’s light, it’s fun, and I am willing to be it will engage a lot of visitors, as they to expect more and more visualizations of the past.
- On the Palatine, two structures attributed to Nero are highlighted. The Domus Transitoria (most important — though inaccessible area is located under Domitian’s Coenatio Iovis dining room) has a famed cryptoporticus full of antiquities. Sections from Domus Tiberiana are finally visible from the Farnese Gardens (though below lurk recent excavation with corridors where I had a chance to film in Ancients Behaving Badly — Caligula).
- Colosseum: the grand finale has a pretty impressive collection and referral to the transformation of the space from Domus Aurea to Colosseum.
- Bonus- images of Nero will be projected every night on the back of the Curia from the Via Fori Imperiali street for the duration of the exhibition. (Hope the neighbors won’t mind the light show!)
Conservation of Nero’s legacy
Noticeably, the famed Domus Aurea is not part of the exhibit– but I think a bit a white elephant in the room. The recent collapse of some walls is still fresh in the world’s memory. The only way to fix the situation there is to excavate the entire site from the top (revealing the upper floors already documented). Only in this way can the superintendency address the water infiltration issues that continue to lead to internal wall collapses. With the recent surge in investment and sponsorship I have no doubts that such activities already are in the works.
National Geographic is airing a new show tonight (one dear to my heart), April 5, 9pm EST– Gladiators back from the dead. In 2005, the chance discovery of 75 skeletons in a burial site in York during urban expansion in 2005 turned out to be an extraordinary find. The York Archaeological Trust gives its side of the story. Through the meticulous work of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists’ study of the skeletons, the hypothesis has been advanced that many were, indeed, gladiators. Nat Geo adds compelling recreations with actors and a real tiger to bring back various gladiators in all their glory. And if they were gladiators, then there was an amphitheater– not impossible, given York’s eventual prominence in the Roman empire. With over 250 amphitheaters discovered around the Roman empire, there’s room for more to be uncovered, as was recently the case in London.
It’s funny– this continual, fascinating fixation we still with have with gladiators. Then again, we have nothing that can compete with what they faced– death in the arena, by man or wild animals– and please don’t bring up professional wrestling and ultimate fighting! (No comparison.) Ironically, gladiators were slaves– at the bottom rung of Roman society– yet they could become superstars, if they survived long enough. And in any talk about gladiators, you can’t help but talk about Rome and the number one amphitheater– the Colosseum– known in antiquity as the Flavian amphitheater. It’s a place that continues to capture the imagination.
In all of this, I do feel a bit sorry for Spartacus– in the radio and tv interviews for the promotion of the show, he’s grossly overshadowed not even by a real gladiator, but, instead, the actor Russell Crowe. I guess it’s hard to argue– the movie Gladiator is one compelling spectacle that would have made any gladiator from ancient Rome proud.
Roman culture in all of its manifestations, comes alive through the graces of the Rome HBO series, slick CGI productions, and sweeping crane shots from HD cameras courtesy of Nat Geo and the History Channel to view the houses of Pompeii, the piazza of the Roman Forum, amphitheater of El Jem in Tunisia. These reconstructions populate these places with people, sights, sounds. But, in reality, when you visit, these environs are bereft of the teeming life of the ancient landscape that once was. What about the smells that wafted up from the cook pots? The less pleasant ones of the urinals emptied into the vats of the fullers’ shops? Multiple languages from people hawking their wares, in piazzas, small shops, the exotic, colorful goods and local commodities? These were the places where Caesar walked, the Vestals prayed, the masses gathered to vote or riot. Such was life in the urban landscape of the Rome. How do we recapture all of this in these original locations? One way is to actively engage history in the sites inhabited by ancient Romans using the original language. That’s exactly what we are dong in Rome this summer with the American Institute for Roman Culture’s colloquial Latin course: Living Latin Living History. We’re not just reading the texts, we are full-on encountering the past by learning to speak in Latin. The program is led by a true expert, Professor Nancy Lleyleyan, who learned from the best in business– at the Gregorian University and with Fr. Reginald Foster. She has created a unique, intense (and fun) program for this summer, on the heels of her extensive teaching in US universities, as well as through her illustrious non profit educational North American Institute for Living Latin Studies (www.latin.org). She, like I, studied with Reginald Foster, living Latin legend– who is an inspiration to us all in the field, though admittedly she continued on to a degree far more involved than I had ever imagined possible. Have a look and, in light of recent articles on memory in the news, you can see just how relevant Latin and the classics remain. Hope to see some of you in Rome this summer! Curate ut valeatis.
FILMING is a ubiquitous way we document the past. Mark my words, one of the most important contributions we can make today as professionals to the fields of history, archaeology, and conservation is to tie them into the visual culture that is ever-evolving and part of our daily lives.
We already do it as tourists all the time, whether with our iphones or camcorders or digital cameras. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve personally been quite involved in a number of film documentaries, beginning with Engineering an Empire (History)– and as recently as When Rome Ruled, still still airing on Nat Geo. In either case, both recreational filming and professional documentary filming are engaging ways to record the past, remember it, and live history.
But between the tourist recording a rapid trip down the Nile or walking through Petra and the documentary film team, usually working on a compressed schedule with a limited budget, there is a third protagonist, that is not yet part of the equation: the use of film by the scholar. We (AIRC) are working to make this a reality. Scholars are such an important group of individuals, but they have not yet collectively gotten with the current trend. There are a number of exceptions, of course, and film is finding its way into the recording aspect of scholars’ work, but it is certainly not consistent or standardized. Through the work we are doing in Rome, we are on the verge of ushering in a great change, regarding the scholar and the use of film.
For one who is unveiling the past, making new observations and discoveries– whether it be the conservator working on preserving the site, an architect who has to create new structures to shelter the past, or the archaeologist who is uncovering a previously unknown site– it is through video documentation that we can best record that moment, in addition to reports, photography, drawing, virtual reality modeling after laser scanning, etc. And making a documentary about the project allows the non specialist and specialist alike to gain insights about the nature of the site, the context of the monument or artifact (that is later placed in a museum or storeroom). We scholars need to become better storytellers and engage colleagues and the general public alike to foster more attention to our cultural legacies– for great appreciation and more involvement from the public (local communities, tourists– probable volunteers and activists in preserving cultural heritage sites). The motivation to create film documentaries is educational (with some entertainment value) rather than commercial (which underlines the production of film documentary projects).
In all of this, the American Institute for Roman Culture is a protagonist. We began with a pilot project in the summer of 2010 with Northeastern University’s Professor Vincent Roccchio (school of communications), and his students from various backgrounds. They traveled to Rome last summer to immerse themselves in history in novel way. Through the Institute’s exclusive relationship with the Ministry of Culture and superintendency of Ostia Antica, they gained access to Ostia Antica to film, over a month, various aspects of the site, as directed by the AIRC and Prof. Rocchio, to create a series of educational videos that encapsulate the experience of Ostia Antica. And we’re doing it again this summer with Northeastern University; we’re excited to produce new, exciting material on ancient Roman culture. (AIRC is also conducting its own video documentation this spring with the Italian Ministry– so stay tuned).
The heavy lifting — filming, interviewing, and editing– was conducted the excellent, devoted Northeastern summer students of the program (some without any prior experience in film), who are cited at the end of every video. Please take a moment to see these engaging, educational videos, about 7–8 minutes in length, accompanied by introductory texts on the individual topics. The entire production, over 40 minutes, gives a well-rounded 360 degree view of Ostia Antica. The videos are on the Institute’s site is WEDIGROME on YouTube.
1. Ostia Antica Chapter 1– an introduction. You learn about the ancient city and its basic characteristics.
2. Ostia Antica Chapter 2: — the significance. Ostia Antica is the mirror of Rome. No other city captures what Rome was like in the imperial period.
3. Ostia Antica Chapter 3– conserving the past (a personal favorite) in which we address the issues of conservation that Ostia, and any cultural heritage site faces. Each site’s issues are particular and individual (vegetation type, funding resources, humidity factors, amount of tourism, etc.) and we address the reality of Ostia Antica– its greatest challenge is that so much uncovered means that there is so much to preserve.
4. Ancient Ostia chapter 4: Daily Life What did the ancients eat? How did they spend their days? What was life like in a cosmopolitan, urban center, directly tied to Rome?
5. Ancient Ostia chapter 5: Religions of Rome Who were the gods that the Romans worshipped? How did they come to Rome from all over the Mediterranean? How were rites conducted, ‚and who attended them? Did worshipping the gods actually mean anything in your daily life in Rome and Ostia?
Please note: Each video is a co-production between the AIRC and Northeastern University (Prof. Vincent Rocchio). Filming was done in the summer of 2010. The NEU film students who made the individual videos are cited at the end of each segment; the Institute salutes them for all of their hard work in an engaging, outdoor environment. All rights to these videos belong to the American Institute for Roman Culture through the Superintendency of Ostia Antica. For further inquiries, contact me or firstname.lastname@example.org.