City of Rome Postgraduate Course 2019

A long-established component of the BSR study offer, the annual City of Rome Postgraduate Course took place from 1 April to 29 May 2019. With Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens on sabbatical (on a Fellowship at ANAMED, the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations within Koç University of Istanbul), this year’s course was directed by Amanda Claridge (Royal Holloway University of London, Emerita Professor). The programme was co-organised and run with Niccolò Mugnai (Residential Research Fellow) and with the precious support of Stefania Peterlini (Permissions Officer); logistical support was kindly provided by Tanya Di Rienzo (Administrative Officer), Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager), and Christine Martin (Residence and Estate Manager). The course was attended by a group of eleven MA and PhD students from the universities of Nottingham, Manchester, Oxford, St Andrews, Warwick, Reading, and King’s College London.

Fig 1

The City of Rome group at the Maritime Theatre of Hadrian’s Villa.

Each year this course offers an exciting opportunity to delve deep into the history, archaeology, topography, art and architecture of the Eternal City. The richness of the programme and its thoroughness make this course unique in the context of higher education within and beyond the UK. This year’s programme was further expanded to include some sites located in the environs of Rome: Segni, Tivoli, Praeneste, Grottaferrata, the Alban Hills (Lanuvium, the Alban Lake, Nemi, Villa Palazzola), and Rome’s maritime façade (Ostia, Portus, Isola Sacra, Castelporziano). The chronological frame under examination spanned from the Archaic period through to Late Antiquity (eighth century BC – fifth century AD). However, we also looked at the profound urban transformations of the Medieval and Baroque periods, dedicating some time to visiting the principal churches in Rome, such as Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Pietro in Vincoli, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, San Lorenzo in Lucina, Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, Santa Sabina, and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

The course provided an up-to-date account of the historical development of the major monuments and urban spaces of ancient Rome, discussing – and in some cases challenging – the results of the most recent archaeological research undertaken in the heart of the city. This was complemented by targeted visits to the Capitoline Museums (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Palazzo Clementino-Caffarelli, Palazzo Nuovo, Centrale Montemartini), the Etruscan National Museum (Villa Giulia and Villa Poniatowski), the Roman National Museum (Palazzo Massimo, Palazzo Altemps, Crypta Balbi, Baths of Diocletian), the National Museum of the Early Middle Ages, the Vatican Museums (Museo Gregoriano Profano, Museo Pio Clementino, Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Museo Chiaramonti, Museo Profano, Braccio Nuovo), the Ara Pacis Museum, the Museum of the Imperial Fora at Trajan’s Markets, as well as to the various indoor and outdoor exhibitions that are currently on display across Rome (read the review by BSR Rome Fellow Christopher Siwicki here).

Fig 2

View over the Forum, Palatine, and Capitoline from the Vittoriano’s panoramic terrace.

Fig 3

Investigating the Forum of Caesar and the topography of the Imperial Fora.

Fig 4

The exedra of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums.

Fig 5

Walking around brickwork tombs in the necropolis of Portus at Isola Sacra.

Fig 6

Stunning opus sectile decoration from Ostia at the National Museum of the Early Middle Ages.

During many of these site visits the group was accompanied by leading experts, who offered their invaluable insights and fostered a productive discussion with the students: Monica Ceci (Sovrintendenza di Roma Capitale), Francesco Maria Cifarelli (Sovrintendenza di Roma Capitale), Luca Attenni (Museo Archeologico di Lanuvio), Stephen Kay (BSR Archaeology Officer), Letizia Ceccarelli (Politecnico di Milano), Carlo Pavolini (Università della Tuscia), Eleonora Ferrazza (Musei Vaticani), Simonetta Serra (Sovrintendenza di Roma Capitale), Mark Wilson Jones (University of Bath), and Paolo Vitti (University of Notre Dame).

Fig 7

Discussing the Pantheon’s building project with Mark Wilson Jones.

Fig 8

A fascinating tour of Hadrian’s Mausoleum (Castel Sant’Angelo) with Paolo Vitti.

Alongside more traditional locations like the Roman Forum, the Palatine, and the Colosseum valley, the City of Rome group was granted the opportunity to access numerous other sites thanks to the permits issued by the respective authorities. Highlights included: the sacred areas of Sant’Omobono and Largo Argentina, the round Temple of Hercules and Temple of Portunus in the Forum Boarium, the insula of the Aracoeli, the Temple of Veiovis on the Capitoline, the auditorium of Maecenas, the House of the Knights of Rhodes, the Altar of the Fire of Nero on the Quirinal, the Basilica Hilariana on the Caelian, the so-called ‘Casa Bellezza’ on the Aventine, the tomb of the Scipios and the colombarium of Pomponius Hylas on the inner Via Appia, the excubitorium of the vigiles in Trastevere, and the archaeological remains and collection of sculptural antiquities at Villa Wolkonsky.

A recurring theme of this year’s programme was undoubtedly represented by ‘underground’ explorations: the mithraea of the Circus Maximus and of Palazzo Barberini, the compital altar of Via San Martino ai Monti, the temples under San Nicola in Carcere, the nymphaeum of Via degli Annibaldi, the Horologium of Augustus, the excavations under the Lateran basilica, the buildings underneath San Clemente, the Roman houses under Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, the sacred spring of Anna Perenna, the insula of the Vicus Caprarius at Trevi, and, of course, Nero’s Domus Aurea.

Fig 9

Looking at the temples of Largo Argentina and their transformations through time.

Fig 10

Exploring the preserved frescoes in the auditorium of Maecenas.

Fig 11

Down into the mithraeum of the Circus Maximus.

Fig 12

Getting suitably equipped before entering the Domus Aurea.

In addition to the daily site and museum visits, the programme featured a rich series of public lectures which were delivered by international speakers: Eloisa Dodero (Musei Capitolini), Stefano Camporeale (Università di Siena), Paolo Liverani (Università di Firenze), Gabriele Cifani (École normale supérieure, Paris), Frank Sear (University of Melbourne), Nicholas Purcell (University of Oxford), Lynne Lancaster (American Academy in Rome), Ginette Vagenheim (Université de Rouen-Normandie), Christopher Siwicki (BSR;  University of Exeter), and Olivia Elder (BSR; University of Cambridge). The series proved to be a great success among the students and the BSR community of scholars and artists. It was also very well attended by residents of other academies, universities, and institutions in Rome, thus stressing the role played by the BSR in encouraging a stimulating intellectual debate and exchange of ideas with this audience.

Feedback received from the students has confirmed once more the importance and distinctiveness of this programme of study. Among their comments: ‘this was a life-changing experience’, ‘I’ve learned so much and I’m looking forward to putting it into practice’, ‘it was amazing to visit sites that are inaccessible to the public’, ‘my time spent at the BSR on the City of Rome course has been incredible’, ‘I appreciated how interdisciplinary it was’, ‘lectures have been informative, diverse and engaging’. The fact that the course continues to be so popular among our students is due to the enormous efforts of all those who have contributed to its organization, preparation, and development over the years. Indeed, if there is an ambitious plan to pursue, it is the preservation and constant improvement of this course. Ad maiora, City of Rome!

Text and photos by Niccolò Mugnai (BSR Residential Research Fellow)