Oct. 14th: Terracina, Sperlonga, Gaeta, Formia

Several members of the FSP awoke earlier than usual to watch the sunrise from the beach chairs of our hotel. We’d thought that the sunset of the night before was spectacular, but it paled in comparison to the deep purples, pinks, and blues painting the sky. Even those of us prone to being less-than-pleasant in the mornings seemed in high spirits as we boarded the bus.

 

The first site of the day was to be the forum of ancient Terracina, only a few minutes away from our hotel. The most impressive aspect of the forum was that its original pavement had survived. It was dedicated by a member of the Aemilian family at the height of Emperor Augustus’ reign, as was stated in the large inscription running the width of the forum. We also took some time to observe the remains of two temples at the end of the forum, one of which is thought to have been the capitolium of Terracina. After a quick look into the forum museum and the modern church, we treated ourselves to a coffee break and made our way back onto the bus.

 

Our next stop had the group in a riot. We had all been looking forward to visiting Sperlonga since the FSP itinerary was distributed. Sperlonga is a town that once housed pleasure villas for critical figures, none more famous than Rome’s second emperor: Tiberius. The emperor’s complex at Sperlonga is famous for the cave that was carved into the cliff rock, in which Tiberius inserted a sculptural program representing scenes from the Odyssey. In the middle of this cave was built a small island accessed by a drawbridge where the emperor and his guests would dine. It is a remarkable example of the Roman attempt to control nature and imitate Greek art. We were taken aback by the sheer size of the space as we explored the cave’s niches, and were even more surprised by the scale of the sculpture housed in the museum. This was undoubtedly one of those sites that cannot be appreciated unless it is visited in person.

 

We thought the day couldn’t possibly go uphill, and then we arrived at Gaeta. This small town is the current home of the USS Whitney, and serves little to no food. After a lunch break plagued by the stresses of a growling stomach, we snacked our way past the hunger and began a hike up the mountain towering over the small town. We were searching for the mausoleum of Lucius Munatius Plancus, a renowned Roman senator, consul, and censor who, among other remarkable feats, founded the city of Lyon. The hike up was long and grueling in the midday sun, but it was well worth the effort. Unlike the mausoleum of Augustus, this one had retained its travertine facing, rendering it much grander than the one in Rome. Admittedly, the impact of the tomb may have also been bolstered by the stunning backdrop created by the Mediterranean.

 

Our final site of the day was Formiae, a small coastal town with a great collection of Judio-Claudian statues. Among the gems of the collection were a first century CE statue of Leida holding a swan, and a vellate statue of a man that still retained the paint used to create his pupil; the figure, for once, seemed to be staring straight at the viewer. It is sometimes difficult to remember that, in antiquity, the perfectly white marble of all the statues we see today would have been bursting with color. The kick of the visit, however, was the discovery that the museum had committed plagiarism by using at least three of Professor Ulrich’s Flickr images to illustrate their information plaques. After much deliberation, it was decided that the issue would not be raised in person, but that Professor Ulrich would send a strongly worded letter to the manager to request that credit be given where credit is due.

 

After a long, chock-full day, most students opted to spend the last bus ride napping or quietly chatting. As we entered the Bay of Naples we caught our first glimpse of Mount Vesuvius. It looked smaller than one would imagine a destructive volcano to be. We finally pulled up in front of our hotel in Pompeii and, thank Jupiter, it surpassed our expectations. Multi-course meals, paintings of cherubs, and plush mattresses awaited the weary group, and we went to bed dreaming of a town that was buried under ash.

-Cara

 

Photos ( courtesy of Bridget-Kate):

Sunrise on the beach at Terracina. Not a bad way to start the day.

Teddy cuddles with a stone lion.

Cats!

So much reticulatum

Group photo time!

Impromptu ballroom dance lesson.

Remains of Tiberius's villa at Sperlonga.

The dining room. A little over the top, but he was the emperor.

Dramatic background for dinner celebrations.

Odysseus blinds Polyphemus.

Notes!

View of Gaeta as we trek up the mountain.

And we made it to the top!

Yet another group photo. Huzzah!

Look at those arms. So priestess like.

The similarities are uncanny.

 

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