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What was the capital of the Roman Empire?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013



Hello all,


Well, for the last week or so, I have been in Rome. Some of you may remember a professor of mine that I mentioned earlier in the semester named Alex Medina (or Prof. Baggins). Well, every semester Uncle Alex takes a group of students from the SU program in Madrid to Rome for a long weekend, and he was gracious enough to invite some of us Istanbullites out with him this year. So, a group of 7 of us from Istanbul, including Conor and I, packed our bags and made the trip over to the capital of the ancient world (Fun fact: In the 4th C, when the empire of Rome was collapsing, it moved it's capital city from Rome to Constantinople, or modern day Istanbul).


We spent 4 days touring the city with Alex, who knows everything that there is to know about the city and it's illustrious history. It rained pretty much the whole time we were there, but that turned out to be a mixed blessing. I really didn't mind getting a little wet, but it scared off most other tourists so the sites were as empty as you could ever hope to see for a city like Rome (it also didn't hurt that it was mid-November, which isn't exactly tourist season).

Alex Medina, wearing a snapback for likely the only time in his life.

The first day was spent visiting some of Rome's famed piazzas and fountains. For spots as gorgeous as these, it's better to just let the pictures do the talking.


We started at the Piazza Navona, sculpted by Borini.


Then wandered over to the French Catholic Church, which features an authentic Caravaggio. 

After that, we walked another two blocks over to the Pantheon. This is Alex lecturing in front of it.

Fortunately, Alex likes to eat as much as I do, and since he knows the city like the back of his hand, he took care of all meals and we ate like kings. Plus, since I wasn't already stuffed after eating a four course lunch everyday, most of our group was girls, so I strategically sat near them and played clean up on all the delicious pastas, pizzas, and deserts that they couldn't finish.


After lunch, we went to Fontana di Trevi.

Conor, Alex, and Burak in front of the Fontana di Trevi

 We finished our evenings with a gelato, and Conor and I wandered the streets and discovered just how thoroughly hot the Italians are. Men, women, old, young, babies, clothing, language, EVERYTHING about Italians is super attractive. It doesn't make much sense to me, given the national diet, but I definitely want to learn Italian at some point and move to Rome to automatically become 10 points sexier for the rest of my life.


Whew, and this is all in the first day. Our second we spent at the Vatican, visiting St. Peter's Basilica:


The altar in St. Peter's, sculpted by Borini

The facade of St. Peters at sunset

The Pietá by Michelangelo

We even went into the Vatican post office, and I felt a little dorky for buying stamps as a souvenir.

After that, Alex scored us a special treat - a tour of the Necropolis beneath the Vatican. Since Rome has had issues with flooding, and the general topography has changed so much over time, most of the city is built on top of ruins. Literally, some buildings we visited had three or four stories beneath them that are ancient ruins from before Christ that have been covered up over the years, and the Vatican is no exception.


Beneath modern day St. Peter's is another St. Peter's built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th C. One more layer down and there is an ancient necropolis that houses the tombs of some of the world's first Christians. We had a private tour and got to see some pretty cool stuff. Unfortunately no pictures were allowed, but there were two highlights. (1) We saw the first ever image of Jesus Christ. It was a mosaic on the ceiling of an ancient tomb that was originally thought to be Apollo, but over the years they have come to believe that it is in fact the first picture of Jesus ever made. (2) We got to see the tomb and remains of St. Peter, for whom the church is named. St. Peter was the first pope, and is literally "the rock on which the church is built." It was super cool stuff.


The third day didn't disappoint either.

We started with Moses by Michelangelo 

We then turned the corner to the Forum, which was the center of the ancient Roman empire. This was really cool and because of the rain we had it mostly to ourselves. Alex told some great stories (he knows the history of everything) and I am feeling inspired to start reading ancient mythology. 


Then we walked across the street to the Coliseum


After another great lunch, we walked to St. Clements church and went into another 4th Century basement. This is a gorgeous mosaic of Cyril and Methodius. Cyril is the inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet.

After that we went to Trajan's forum, and saw Trajan's column (but it was too dark to photograph) and then around the corner to the monument to the first king of Italy. That one I didn't take pictures of because it is a gaudy monument to a rather insignificant event in the history of Rome. It's a common thread throughout history that often the most lavish and overdone monuments are built to remember things that didn't really matter. The same is true of the Blue Mosque here in Istanbul.


However, the day ended at the Capitaline museum, which is perched above the Forum and houses some of the worlds greatest sculptures.

The Dying Gaul. This picture doesn't even approach doing justice to the quality of detail on this guy.

Emperor Constantine, who founded Constantinople and established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. In my humble opinion, he is one of the most overlooked people in the history of the church. And yes, Conor is picking his nose.


Emperor Comodus dressed as Hercules. 


The Shewolf with Remus and Romulus. Legend has it that this wolf saved these two infants and they grew to be very powerful. In fact, Rome is named after it's founder, Romulus.


Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Our final day in Rome was spent in the Vatican museums. Over the history of the church, those Pope guys have amassed some seriously cool stuff, and it was great to see some of the most famous art works in history on display.



The first map of Italy ever drawn
The School of Athens painted by Raphael. You can't totally tell but included in this are Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Michelangelo, Ptolemy, Pythagoras and others. Not a bad group.


We also saw the Sistine Chapel and the painting of The Final Judgement. They don't allow pictures to be taken but they were also incredible. Truly breathtaking works. The roof of the Sistine Chapel took Michelangelo 10 years to paint. By the end of it he was nearly paralyzed from leaning over backward for so long and almost blind from paint dripping in his eyes.


Regardless of religious beliefs, I had to take a moment to respect the size of impact that a guy like Jesus has had on the world. Just being in Rome, surrounded by names like Michelangelo, Borini, Raphael, Caravaggio, St. Peter, the Pope, all of whom were inspired by the same individual, was kind of humbling. It made me wonder why I haven't started a globally revolutionizing movement yet.


Our visit in Rome ended with an evening spent in front of the Pantheon with Burak and Conor.


This is the beautiful Pantheon after dark. 

So my weekend in Italy was a raging success. I got to see some of incredible sights, but more importantly I got to be in Italy, a place that is a lot like my beloved Louisiana. In both places, the food is great, the people are great, the language is great, and nothing else works the way that it should. It's my favorite form of dysfunction, and I relished my time there.


I hope everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving a lot. In one of the world's sickest ironies, it is nearly impossible to acquire a turkey to eat in Turkey, so eat a little bit extra for me.


From the capital of the ancient world,




Marketing • Boulder, CO


I love the wolf mother of Remus and Romulus. I saw that bronze at the Museo Capitoline and remember wondering what the heck wolf's milk tasted like. I'll never find out and I am ok with that - I will be addressing Roman Street art when my blog is up and running.

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