Living History in Rome day by day

Liv­ing in Rome has proved to be an excit­ing adven­ture over the past 20 years, more inter­est­ing than I could have imag­ined. Now, as the sum­mer sea­son is upon us– with sev­eral over­lap­ping pro­grams and a slew of doc­u­men­taries to film– I can’t help but reflect on the many ways I get to live his­tory daily in Rome.

Latin dead? Con­tinue read­ing

Discussion 2 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Documentaries, Excavation, Latin, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hadrian’s Villa and the proposed landfill– the straw that broke the camel’s back

The shock­ing deci­sion to cre­ate a mas­sive land­fill within a few hun­dred meters of Hadrian’s Villa, one of most well known, impor­tant cul­tural her­itage sites in the world is, to say the least, aston­ish­ing.  Con­tinue read­ing

Discussion 3 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Excavation, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , ,

Dangerous Cocktail — snow, freezing pigeons, excited crowds don’t mix

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

Discussion 5 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , ,

Snow makes ancient Rome into Winter Wonderland

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.

Con­tinue read­ing

Discussion 7 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , , , , , , , , ,

(Why Not) Study in Rome?

Trick ques­tion.

view of the Pala­tine hill over­look­ing the Roman Forum

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 Latinfilm, 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.

Discussion 3 Comments Category Rome

Filming the past: conservation matters

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!

Discussion 1 Comment Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Documentaries, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , , , , , , , , ,

Mad for Caligula

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!

Discussion 4 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Documentaries, Excavation, Rome, Sponsorship Tags , , ,

Who’s saving what?

Unlisted Con­fer­ence Rome, Italy April 15–16, 2011 (AIRC-MiBAC)

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 (  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.

Discussion 3 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Culture, Documentaries, Excavation, Rome, Sponsorship

Nero’s back for a great exhibition in Rome (or, Elvis is in the building)

Colos­sal head of Nero’s mom; Agrip­pina all but ran the show dur­ing Nero’s early reign

View of the dark­ened Curia, filled with impor­tant images of Nero and his family

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.

Discussion 5 Comments Category Archaeology, Conservation, Documentaries, Excavation, Rome, Sponsorship

Gladiator resurrection– from York to the Colosseum

National Geo­graphic is air­ing a new show tonight (one dear to my heart), April 5, 9pm ESTGlad­i­a­tors 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.

Discussion Leave a comment Category Rome