Something that really astounded me that I probably didn’t vocalize enough, nor appreciate quite enough was the distinct, fossil-like way that the city of Rome was built. I remember Dr. P telling us how Rome was built on top of itself through history and as this was the first time I had heard of this, I spent a lot of time trying to wrap my mind around it. Was Rome on top of this hill with layers of buildings, streets, and graves? While it wasn’t quite apparent or fitting of the drastic image that I developed, this city quite plainly displayed the remains of many centuries and so many different eras through time. Where travel by car was almost unheard of by the average pedestrian and visitor, we would walk from our hotel and could almost immediately see an area of remains from Ancient Rome. While it was really neat to look at and say “wow, cool!”, one can’t truly appreciate how incredible this really is because I don’t think we can really comprehend these vast amounts of time.
Beginning with a tour of the Colosseum, we spent a full day exploring Ancient Rome. The giant amphitheater began construction in 70 AD. Yes, two digits. Hearing this from our tour guide prior to walking in gave me a completely widened perspective about how incredible it was that I was there. It also made me realize how insignificant some of the “historical sites” in the United States are in comparison. Later that day, we toured another main site with scattered remains of Ancient and Imperial Rome where our tour guide described the “lasagna-like” features of the city. We saw first hand buildings that were reused for different purposes and even different religions. We walked on a two thousand year old road made of large stones with markings from carriages. It was surreal to say the least.
I think the most representational place we went to of these “layers of Rome” was at the Basilica of San Clemente. A beautiful Roman Catholic structure with a peaceful courtyard that we were able to catch right at golden hour (pictured below). But what really amazes you is the walk down the three layers of the church. Beginning in a relatively “new” feel, you enter through the doors after purchasing a ticket and go further back into history. With the lower basilica containing Early Medieval paintings, you begin to feel the weight of years of distress and time as the lights get dimmer, the air gets cooler. We walked further down and you can hear running water, likely from one of Ancient Rome’s aqueducts. The bottom layer dates nearly two thousand years back and I couldn’t help but jump out and scare Brent as we crept through the quiet, empty, and cold rooms.
Fast forward to our last night, not just in Rome, or in Italy, but in Europe as a group. We sat around our dinner tables as we exchanged “awards” for various admirable traits we saw in one another or saw develop in the past month. Seeing everyone’s face as their name was called because someone saw something significant in them was a perfect way to end 4 weeks of personal development and exploration. I remember just thinking how far we’d come as a group. Learning was just put into a whole new perspective for me. I didn’t have a test or a quiz coming up, but I tried to soak in as much knowledge about these places as I could because I didn’t know if I’d have the chance again. Previous monuments or historical places that we’d learned in grade school were all of a sudden directly in front of us, making “stories” (as we unintentionally perceive historical events when reading them in a textbook) feel real in a new way. Personally, I’d had a tough year and it has become sort of difficult opening up to others, but I really felt like I had connected to every person one way or another on this experience. We weren’t a random group of students anymore, but now made up a whole that in it of itself is a piece of what makes up CR.