Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved learning about Rome. One of the first chapter books I ever read was the Magic Tree House story about Roman times—I was especially fascinated by the library that was entirely made up of scrolls. I began my study of Latin in the third grade, and have continued to this day—even though most of my friends dropped out of Latin at the start of Freshman year to learn a language a little more “alive”. At my school, the Junior class makes a two-week educational tour of four cities in Europe: London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. While I loved the whole experience, I was especially excited for the Rome section of the trip.
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Rome is by far my favorite city. It was incredible to be able to finally see and walk through the places that we had read about in our Latin books for nine years. Having studied Homer, Caesar, and Vergil in the original language, I felt especially connected to the ruins, regions, and even the cobblestones beneath my feet. I had imagined them through my readings, but now they were alive and right in front of me. Rome was also my favorite because in the other cities, we had to walk into museums to see history, whereas in Rome, we walked on history. Some of my favorite sites in Rome were the Forum, Coliseum, and the Campo de’ Fiori. In the Roman Forum, I could sit even on a bench near the modern restrooms, and still hear the whispers of Cicero and Catalina debating in the Senate, as I had always seen in paintings. Throughout our day at the Forum, my friend and I attempted to converse only in Latin, and ended up quoting an awful lot of the Aeneid.
The Coliseum came alive for me in a different way. I couldn’t imagine the ship battles in the flooded arena, and I didn’t want to imagine the horrific gladiatorial games. However, standing on the viewing platform and looking down into the holding cages helped me envision the hoards of people who met their deaths in the arena—the deaths I had read about but never really internalized. While it disturbed me to finally picture the consequences of the excesses of Roman culture, I was fascinated to see how our culture has developed since then.
Although historians may not include it in their lists of most significant sites, the Campo de’ Fiori delighted my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such beautiful fruit as was piled high at numerous stands in the marketplace. As I smelled the spices thrust in my face by eager vendors, I was transported to an Italian kitchen. I walked into a coffee shop and ordered an espresso, then held out my hand full of coins, clumsily hoping I had the right amount. It was still the best espresso I’ve ever tasted. I went back for seconds.
It still fascinates me that modern and ancient life in Rome are completely integrated—a metro station at the coliseum, modern brick walls attached to ancient ruins, SPQR (senatus populusque Romana) stamped on the manhole covers. There are still many places I would love to visit. I still see myself back in Rome for a study abroad semester. I am eager to embrace more fully both the old and the new, using my “dead” Latin to read everyday transcriptions on the Arch of Titus and sipping fresh new espresso in the shadow of buildings thousands of years old.
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