Saturday, August 4, 2012

What I Learned from My Summer in Italy

The nuts and bolts of Classical Culture in the Amtrak Train Station under Washington, D.C.

Lessons I learned from my summer in Italy in 2010:

  • Upper-class Romans had a less firmly delineated concept of public vs. private spaces than we do. Business was transacted from the home quite often, with clients coming to the door at dawn. There were also no separate spaces for children, making Roman homes very different from our modern homes.
  • Masters' spaces were  delineated from the slaves' spaces in the homes in a clear manner through the use of decoration, which also emphasized the importance and the tastes of the master and his family.
  • Public spaces such as public buildings, public works, venues of entertainment, temples, and even tombs could be used to promote the needs of and to publicize the “private” family through inscriptions, sculpture, etc.
  • There was more of a middle class and a working class in ancient Roman society than I realized. There was also more social mobility than I used to think, although most people probably were born poor and died poor.
  • Archeologists like to find drains to find out what Romans ate and about their daily life from what they flushed down the drains. Eww, but true!
  • Capri and Ischia are two of the most beautiful and pleasant places on earth. I would like to learn more about Axel Munthe.
  • The war-like Samnites gave the Romans more of a problem in its Republican history than I ever realized. Samnite tomb paintings foreshadow the Romans' love of beast-hunts and bloody gladiatorial games.
  • I am tougher than I and even other people think. Fellow participants expressed their doubts I would make it through the whole program with my injured knee. But I did, and I'm stronger for it. I even made it to the top of Mt. Vesuvius and into the substructure of the Amphitheater at Capua by the end of the trip, adventures I didn't dare attempt at the beginning.
  • Italy seems less crime-prone than when I last stayed for an extended time in 1988. I heard fewer tales of members of the group being ripped off by taxi drivers or robbed by pickpockets. I saw NO bands of Gypsy children roaming in large groups with boxes or newspapers over their arms to pickpocket tourists, although I saw Gypsies in small “family” groups or older individuals begging. I'd love to know the reasons behind the change in tactics.
  • I should have memorized the PIN numbers of ALL the credit and debit cards I carried with me, just in case I needed cash. Which I did.
  • An unlocked Italian cell phone with a SIMS card is a nice thing to have. But don't activate it by sending in your passport information until right before the trip because the TIMS company will start charging you money before you even arrive in Italy, wasting money and losing out on service. Or just pay the minimum and rely on free incoming and emergency phone calls with no outgoing calls, like I eventually did.
  • Don't put tildes in any of your passwords before you go to Europe. It's impossible to find them on the keyboards there, which I guess is why it's a good security feature in one's passwords at home.
  • Others may be stronger at remembering names, dates, and historical details than I am, but I'm a strong Latinist. I liked having the opportunity to sight-read Latin this summer. I also got better at reading inscriptions and, to a lesser extent, graffiti.
  • My son, Matthew, is growing up to be a fine young man and good company.
  • A guest house or casa per ferie in Italy can be just as nice as a hotel, cost less, and support a cause. Some even have free internet connections.
  • My favorite spot to stay in Rome is the Hotel Villa Rosa in Trastevere, although I'd like it even better if it had internet access, preferably included.
  • I want to learn even more Italian if I ever have reason to come back here again.
  • The Romans believed in peace, but they thought that peace could only come at the end of a sword. And that sword might as well be theirs.
  • There are nice people everywhere, and most people are nice.
  • Don Burke is the best friend I've ever had. (PS: He later became my husband!)
  • I want to travel some more. But having said that:
  • There's no place like Rome, but there's no place like home.

If you enjoy these adventures and would like updates on my other travels near and far from home, follow me at, If you would like to your Italy in July of 2018, click here for tour information.

The Pantheon at Last!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Latin water fountain  at the museum. "Drink, dog!"
Our group checked out of the Villa Vergiliana around 9 AM, stopped at a the Capodimonte Museum for about 90 minutes, and then headed to Rome. The Capodimonte mostly contains paintings, most of which are of a (Christian) religious theme. My favorite of these was by Caravaggio. There were also some nice mythological paintings. My favorite of these was one of Zeus about to make love to Danae in the form of golden rain. Unfortunately, this museum does not allow photos, so I cannot share.

Matthew and I checked into the Villa Maria Guest House or Casa per Ferie in Trastevere in Rome. This hotel is owned and operated by the Sisters of the Divine Savior. It is clean and has hot showers, which Matthew and I were very happy to take advantage of. Wireless internet is available, but you have to pay for it by the hour, so we're skipping that.

 But the good news is that we got to Rome by early afternoon, so Matthew and I had time to make it over to the Pantheon, which was open today. We had a chance to take in the beauty of the space, admire the dome constructed under the Emperor Hadrian, and get pictures of the exterior and the plaza where it is located. 

The dome of the Pantheon

The inscription says that Agrippa, Augustus' general, built it. Hadrian preserved the original inscription when he rebuilt it. Work is being done on the exterior, but we can still read the inscription under the scaffolding that covers half the front of the building. The Pantheon is well preserved because it has long been a Catholic Church. It was stripped of the bronze from the interior of the dome, however. One of the popes reused some if it toward the Baldacchino in the dome of St. Peter's, and the rest to make some cannons. So sad!

The exterior of the Pantheon, undergoing restorations
For more pictures from our last day in Rome, visit this set on Flickr.

 Tomorrow we will head over to the airport quite early to help out a friend who wants to split the cost of a taxi to save some money.

The Beginning of the End of 6 Weeks in Italy

Friday, August 13, 2010


 Our last full day touring Southern Italy! I will miss the Villa Vergiliana and the food, sights, and friends here, but I am looking forward to hot showers with water pressure. 

The Villa Vergiliana has been undergoing upgrades since 2010. It was beautiful but sorely in need of attention

There's no place like home!

 Today we went to Saepinum and Beneventum. Saepinum was pretty and had the remains of a nice theater. Medieval buildings were built on Roman foundations in places. Our guides used Saepinum as a form of “final exam” for the students. We mostly explored on our own and came up with our own comments. It was a small town but had all the items you would expect to see in a Roman city: a forum, a Macellum, bath complexes, fountains, an orderly layout of streets with a cardo and decumanus maximus, etc.

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A reproduction of a water wheel at Saepinum

Water wheel at Saepinum: another view

Remains of a theater at Saepinum

The Arch of Trajan and a related museum were in Beneventum, modern Benevento. I had been to neither site before so I took a lot of pictures. To view more of them, visit this set on Flickr.

In front of the Arch of Trajan in Benevento

Where Would Vampires Hide Out in Italy?


Thursday, August 12, 2010


 Today we went to Baia and to two villas in Stabia: San Marco and Ariana (Ariadne). My favorite part of the day, however, was a stop at Misenum at the “Piscina Mirabile.” 

The "Piscina Mirabile" in Italian; "Piscina Mirabilis" in Latin

This is the remains of a huge cistern that was at the end of the Aqua Augusta, an aqueduct used to supply water to the Roman fleet at Misenum. Branches of it also supplied water to Pompeii and Herculaneum, but its original purpose was a military one. This isn't surprising, considering that Roman roads were originally built for military purposes, too. 

The “Piscina Mirabilis” is hauntingly beautiful. I can't explain why. Hopefully my pictures will do it some justice. Our guide said it could hold over twelve million liters of water. That's a little more than three million gallons.


Piscina Mirabilis: pretty? creepy? pretty creepy? YOU decide!

Even the algae and vines growing in it were beautiful in a creepy, Ann Rice kind of way. There was something about the whole place that fired the imagination. For more pictures of this and our previous day, visit this set on Flickr.

 Our group is starting to wind up its stay. One more night here after tonight, and then we will be heading back to Rome. I am hoping I will find time to get to the Pantheon so Matthew can see it before we depart for the U.S.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Pleasure Palace of the Bourbon Kings in Italy

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

 We returned to Capua today for the amphitheater and the Mithraeum. This time my knee was well enough that I could spend some time and take some pictures in the substructure of the amphitheater, which was interesting and strangely beautiful. 

The substructure of the amphitheater with a drain running down the center

The current amphitheater was built around the time of Hadrian and Trajan. I liked being able to see the drains under the structure, probably for washing away animal manure, etc. I saw some frescoes at the Mithraeum I hadn't noticed before. 

We spent the afternoon at the Reggia di Caserta, a palace built by the Bourbon kings (of Spain, who ruled Naples) to rival the palace of Versailles in France. But it cost a lot, took a long time to complete, and was eventually used as more of a weekend hunting lodge than a center of royal power. 

The horse and carriage behind the fountain gives an idea of the scale of the grounds at Reggia di Caserta

The palace was influenced by discoveries in Herculaneum funded by the Bourbon kings. The style is Baroque but with hints of NeoClassicism to come. I especially liked “Venus' Bathing Pool” in the English Garden. For more pictures, visit this set on Flickr. If you wish to tour Italy in the summer of 2018, click for details.

"Venus' Bath"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Climb Up Mt. Vesuvius

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The ascent up Vesuvius from the bus parking area is arduous but not impossible

 We started our morning with a climb up Mt. Vesuvius. We were lucky that the morning was a little overcast, so the hike wasn't as hot as I'd anticipated. With Matthew's help, I made it to the top! Yee-hah!! Last month I took a pain pill and worked on my physical therapy exercises while the group made the ascent. Today I made it with very little trouble. I feel great!

Matthew and I both reached the summit. Gotta work off that gelato somehow!

 The visit to Herculaneum was very productive. We saw some houses I hadn't seen before, and I was very excited to get into the Suburban Baths, which were closed on our last visit. There is evidence that the windows were glassed in. The pyroclastic flow knocked a basin into more “lava” and fragments of the glass from the window can be seen in the impression in the cooled rock. I have digital pictures of this that I've posted below.

The basin where it stood under the window

The impression in the pyroclastic flow

Close-up showing evidence of broken glass
For more pictures from this day of our trip, visit this set on Flickr. For an account of my first visit to Mt. Vesuvius in 2010, visit "The Inferno."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Paestum, ancient Poseidonia

Monday, August 9, 2010


Matthew enjoying the Greek temples at Paestum

Today our group of teachers on a Vergilian Society tour spent the day in Paestum, ancient Poseidonia, originally a Greek colony. 

Anne Haeckl lectures as part of our tour
 New for me this time was the Ekklesiasterion, a public assembly space for Greek-style elections and political meetings. The Romans covered it over when they took over, probably because they wanted to set up a space for more Roman-style systems of government. 

The Ekklesiasterion

Model of the Greek ekklesiasterion

It is the only Ekklesiasterion in Italy. We don't know if there were more, destroyed by the Romans or otherwise. This is the only one that has been found. It looks like a rounded amphitheater. 

Christopher Gregg, our other guide and lecturer

We also spent some time examining the tomb paintings of the Lucanians, an Italic people. There are definite interests there in blood sports and chariot racing, perhaps foreshadowing the rise in interest in arenas and circuses in Rome and the prevalence of gladiatorial training schools in Southern Italy. I purchased a small model of the lid of the Tomb of the Diver at the gift shops here for use in my classroom. 

Tomb of the Diver
For more pictures of Paestum, visit this set on Flickr.

Tomorrow we go to Herculaneum and climb Mt. Vesuvius. I am hoping my knee will feel good enough to allow me to reach the summit this time.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Naples, Boscoreale, and Pozzuoli's Amphitheater

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Students often ask how plaster casts of Vesuvius' victims were made

 Today we went to the National Archaeological Museum at Naples, to Boscoreale to see an example of a villa rustica, and to Pozzuoli to see its amphitheater. The amphitheater is the 3rd largest in Italy and the 10th largest in the Roman world. I got some new insights into some of the artwork and some inscriptions to share with my students back home. At the museum at Boscoreale, I got some great pictures of a boar's tusks and a good picture of a wild boar. These will help students understand part of the storyline of our Latin I text. For more pictures from this day, visit this set on Flickr.

"Eros with a Dolphin" at the Naples Museum


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pompeii Revisited

Saturday, August 7, 2010


The goddess Venus with attendants. Her presence would have been felt in the Lupinarium!

 I was back at Pompeii for the third time this summer. This was the best visit of all. We got to see the Lupinarium, a brothel. Chris wrote his dissertation on Pompeii's prostitution, so he was very knowledgeable about the site and about the topic. The Lupinarium was well lit, and we didn't have to bribe a guard to get in. Things have certainly changed since I first visited the site in 1988. I bought a cute reproduction black-figure Greek vase to use for a classroom project. It shows a centaur dancing with a deer. It was fun to take Matthew around and share a little about what I'd learned this summer. For more pictures from this day, visit this set on Flickr.  Tomorrow we go to Naples for the Naples' Museum and to Boscoreale for a look at a villa rustica.

A wine press at the Villa of the Mysteries

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lavish Views, Luxurious Villas, and an Animal-Lover

Friday, August 6, 2010


 Wednesday we went to Oplontis to the so-called “Villa of Poppaea”. This was my second trip there this summer but with different lecturers I saw the site with whole new eyes. It was interesting to look at the layers of ash, pumice, and pyroclastic flow that covered the villa before the archaeologists dug it up. We also looked carefully at the styles of wall-paintings in this well-preserved upper-class home outside of Pompeii.

Layers of ash, lapilli, and pyroclastic flow can be seen behind Matthew

In the afternoon we took a hydrofoil to Capri for two nights. We returned this afternoon. What a great time! We saw the Villa Jovis, one of Emperor Tiberius' villas. We stayed at a four-star hotel on Anacapri called the Hotel San Michele, which boasts the largest swimming pool of all the hotels on Capri. This trip is usually a highlight of the end of this two-week program, but we had to do it this week due to scheduling conflicts. Apparently next weekend is a major Roman holiday, and hotel rooms on Capri are not to be had for love or money.

"Capri" means "goats." Here are capri on Capri! We were near Tiberius' villa.

 Matthew and I enjoyed taking the Funiculare, a kind of tram that climbs up and down the hill, to the beach, where we took a boat tour around the island. We didn't get into the Blue Grotto due to tides and weather. This cave may have been a dining room for Tiberius. Fragments of statues of Tritons were found in the cave which could connect him to it. 

Mother and son enjoy the boat tour around the island

Heading for the "Kissing Cave" on the boat tour

We also visited the Villa San Michele, quite near the hotel, which is a former residence of the Swedish-born physician and writer, Axel Munthe. He died in 1949 but lived an intense life. I plan to look up his book, The Story of San Michele, when I get home. It sounds like a great read. His love of the island of Capri resonates in the book and helped popularize it as a destination. He was also quite the animal-lover, according to the signs at the museum.

A photo of Axel Munthe, the animal lover with his menagerie

The gardens of Axel Munthe's home, the museum at San Michele, are as gorgeous as the views!

The views from San Michele, just like views all over the island, are fantastic, and the grounds and gardens are worth the visit in themselves. I also got some nice inscriptions from a cemetery on Anacapri that will be a nice challenge for my Latin Two students.

One of many spectacular views on Capri

 San Michele is Italian for the Archangel Michael, by the way. There used to be a church by that name on Munthe's property, which may have been another villa of Tiberius' in a former life. The property was run down when Munthe bought it and fixed it up. Munthe liked Classical antiquity. There are even a couple of sphinxes, one Etruscan and one Egyptian from 1200 B.C.E., on the property. 

I thought it most interesting that as a physician, he never billed for his services. He found some wealthy patrons who supported him quite lavishly but he served the poor as well, including a stint in the Red Cross during WWI. For more pictures from this leg of our trip, visit this set on Flickr.

Tomorrow we go back to Pompeii. I had better rest up while I can!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Volcanic Southern Italy and the Temples of the Gods

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Here I am with my "Fund for Teachers" bag in front of the entrance to "Sibyl's Cave" in Cumae

Today the group spent time in Cumae (modern Cuma) itself. It was originally a Greek colony that was later taken over by the Romans as they expanded through Italy. We took a good look at the remains of two temples there, one allegedly built by the mythical character Daedalus, Icarus' father and the inventor of the Labyrinth on Crete and of human-powered flight. This was a temple to Apollo. We also visited Sibyl's Cave, the place of Apollo's Oracle at Cumae. We had a rare opportunity to visit its forum and spend some time in its bath complex. After lunch the group traveled to see the Macellum at Pozzuoli, modern-day Puteoli, and then went on to Solfatara. The day was great fun. 

Matthew in front of one of the volcanic vents at Solfatara

Tomorrow we will visit the Villa at Oplontis in the morning and then head to the island of Capri for two days. Capri is beautiful, and I've never spent the night there, so I am looking forward to the night in the hotel. 

The accommodations at the Villa Vergiliana are very basic. There is no air conditioning, although the evening breezes are pleasant, and the group of 30 must share showers. My room is the smallest I have had so far. I like my new roommate, though, and am quickly adjusting to the changes. At least there are some lines outside for the laundry I do in the sink in our small room, so I have a place for my things to dry.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Emperor's Outdoor Dining Cave: Sperlonga, Italy

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Cave at Sperlonga. The fish pond and remains of the imperial dining room in the foreground


Matthew and I successfully met up with the group from the Vergilian Society program at 9 AM. The group made stops at Terracina and at Sperlonga on the way to Cumae. I especially liked the museum at Sperlonga, which is suspected to be the site of one of the Emperor Tiberius' villas. There are some Hellenistic-style statures there on the theme of Odysseus, including a nice reproduction of a statue group of Odysseus and his men blinding the Cyclops, Polyphemus. The statues were originally in a triclinium set in a cave, or spelunca in Latin. The name, Sperlonga, might actually be a corruption of the Latin word for cave. Sperlonga has a beautiful beach within sight of the museum and cave, but we didn't have time to go there. Sigh!

Exploring the interior of the cave, the original location of the museum's statues

Upper-class Romans liked to grow fish in ponds on their estates

A view of the dining area from inside the cave. Tourists on the right give an idea of the scale.

We can tell from these holes on the dining platform that the Romans raised lampreys, a delicacy, here

Another exterior view of the cave at Sperlonga