Rome couldn’t be a better place at which to conclude our trip. On Saturday, we began our tour of Ancient Rome by visiting the Roman ruins which included the Colosseum, the Roman forum, as well as the Baths of Caracalla. These spaces provided us with ample opportunity to consider the nature of empire and what it meant to be Roman when these ruins were operational. In the Colosseum, we grappled with the harsh reality of the gladiators in which slaves fought each other or animals for the entertainment of the Roman public. Here, Dr. Weldon introduced us to the idea of being “fed and entertained;” she reminded us that, when fed and entertained, societies (such as our own) have been known to let great injustices and human rights violations go unchallenged. For me, the truth of this statement became clear upon later visiting the Baths of Caracalla, otherwise known as “leisure centers” in which Romans could go to swim, bathe, read, and stroll through the public gardens. This site of great luxury and wealth is located a mere matter of blocks from the Colosseum—the ruin which perhaps best represents the Romans’ deadly exploitation of human and natural resources. Visiting these two spaces illustrated plainly that while those inside empire may be “fed and entertained,” there are serious and often harmful implications for those who are less privileged. As we begin pondering our approaching return to the US, we must all reckon with what it means for us to be “inside” the empire.
On Sunday, we had the opportunity to interact with a different kind of empire. “Have we been excommunicated?” I asked Brayten as we were filed out of the Vatican Museum by guards and museum officials. Don’t worry. We haven’t been excommunicated. But it may have felt like it after our day at the Vatican where we became well-acquainted with the unpredictable nature of travel in Italy. The day began when a group of us attempted to attend mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Unfortunately, we arrived only to discover that the entrance was ticketed because of the unique nature of this particular Sunday; Pope Francis himself would be presiding over mass! Never fear—a later mass was attended. The last Sunday of the month is an enormously popular day to visit the Vatican Museum because entrance is free. Unfortunately, this means the museum also closes earlier on these days than any of us were anticipating. As we were quickly shuffled out of the building, we lamented missing out on visiting the Sistine Chapel. We’ve done our best to be flexible as our plans change and on our free afternoon tomorrow, we will have the ability to return to view the chapel. Being inside Saint Peter’s provided us with another fascinating opportunity to stand at the center of a religious empire as we continue to debate the nature of power in each of the Italian cities we visit.
Expect one more final blog post as we depart for the US on Wednesday!!