When I think about my study abroad experience, I think about Rome. The fourth day of the Art and Gardens Grand Tour, our second day in Rome, was one of the most eventful and memorable days of my life. It began with a class walk and lecture from the hotel to the Piazza del Popolo, where we admired the first Italian church on the trip: the Basilica of Santa Maria. From the outside, the church looked like a nice but simple stone building nestled in the corner behind the old Roman North gate. Inside, however, it was decorated in a truly Baroque style: every inch of the walls and ceilings were covered in paintings and sculptures and frescos. I couldn’t even decide what to look at first. I felt as if I could have spent years wandering reverently through the ornate columns, but we had to keep moving, for we had much to see that day.
We continued our journey to the Spanish Steps, talking about the international affairs of the time period and how they shaped the political climate of the 16th and 17th centuries. At the bottom of the steps, I drank water from the Fontana della Bercaccia (appropriately named the Fountain of the Old Boat) before heading to yet another beautiful and historic fountain: the Trevi Fountian. We continued on to see a cloister in the Saint Andrea della Fratte, observing our first Persian-style garden. We even made it to the Pantheon (which quite literally took my breath away), saw the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona, and finished lecture overlooking the ruins of the Roman Forum, all before mid afternoon. From here, a group of friends and I grabbed a quick pizza for lunch and made our way to the Vatican. I wish I could put into words how awe-struck I was. I will always remember staring directly up at Michelangelo’s fresco of the creation of Adam with my neck pushed all the way back, hoping and praying that I would never forget exactly what it looked like. Later in the evening, we ventured into the Coliseum and ended our night at a wonderful little outside café nearby. After 17 miles of walking, 18 hours, and countless landmarks, we truly felt as if we had conquered Rome in a day (and yes of course, pun intended).
The best thing about our short visit to Rome, though, was that it set the tone for the rest of the trip: art, culture, and history interwoven into later garden design. I saw the original She-Wolf statue with Romulus and Remus in Rome and I saw the same statue copied in Iford Manor in England. The picture shows a river god in Rome; our group saw many river gods depicted in gardens across Italy and France in the same way, reclining near a fountain or body of water. This was my favorite motif of the trip, for it is a way to exhibit a respect for classical culture and to say “Hey look at me I’m smart and well traveled.” Hopefully my future garden will instead say “Hey look at all of these people and places that have made me into the person that I am…HOW LUCKY AM I to behold their beauty and wisdom.” And to think, this was only the first country of the trip…we still have four more to explore!