Alicia Matz is entering her second year in the Rutgers Classics graduate program, having earned a 2015 BA in Classics from the University of Puget Sound (Tacoma WA). Her research interests encompass both the Greek and Roman worlds, ranging from Aristophanic comedy, to Augustan literature and material culture, to reception of the classical past, especially in science fiction and fantasy literature.
This summer, thanks to the generosity of Rutgers Classics’ Ethel S. Cook Travel Scholarship, Alicia participated in the Classical Summer School of the American Academy in Rome. We asked Alicia a few questions about her Italy summer experience.
RUTGERS CLASSICS BLOG (RCB): Can you describe the AAR Classical Summer School in a few words?
ALICIA MATZ (AM): It’s a six-week program designed to provide a well-founded understanding of the growth and development of the city of Rome through a careful study of material remains and literary sources. As a part of this program, I visited sites in and around Rome. Every site was fantastic in its own way.
RCB: Where did you start?
AM: In week one of the program, I got to visit the Palatine hill and the Forum for the first time. As we were focusing on archaic Rome in this week, the sites we visited in these locations included the supposed hut of Romulus, the Regia, and the house of the Vestal Virgins. As a classicist who had never visited the city of Rome before, this will forever remain one of the most memorable days of the trip for me.
RCB: Did you get outside Rome?
AM: Yes, in the second week of the program we focused on Republican Rome and Roman colonization. We first visited Alba Fucens, a well preserved Roman colony that was used to house important political prisoners. Here, we did an autopic exercise in which we were handed a map of the site and sent out in groups to try and identify the use of each building based on its location in the city. This was very informative for me, because it forced me to think like a Roman and how they would have arranged their city to make daily life easier.
Alba Fucens is also the site of a very well preserved amphitheater, which we got to climb and explore. That week we also visited the Villa of Tiberius in Sperlonga, which is remarkable for the fact that it includes a natural grotto. Tiberius renovated this grotto so that it could house statues and act as a background to his outdoor dinner parties. Later in the program we also visited Ostia Antica, and the necropolis of Isola Sacra. But that’s all within the region of Lazio.
RCB: How about outside Lazio?
AM: In Week 3 we took a bus trip down to Campania in southern Italy. In this three-day trip we visited Paestum, a city built by ancient Greek settlers. This site is important because it holds three of the most well preserved examples of ancient Greek temples. What was really cool about my visit to this site was the fact that they had opened up the Temple of Poseidon to the public and we were allowed to walk around inside it. After Paestum we stopped at Oplontis, which is the location of a villa that was preserved mid-construction by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
We spent all of the second day of this trip at Pompeii. I have been interested in Pompeii ever since I was a child, so visiting this site was a dream come true to me. The third day of our Campania trip, we visited Herculaneum, which due to the fact that it is smaller and less well known than Pompeii, was much less crowded and easier to get around in.
RCB: You are a big fan of the Augustan period in Rome and the Julio-Claudians in general. What did you get to see?
AM: The only monument built by Augustus that is readily open to the public is the Ara Pacis, which we visited. But we also got to visit multiple sites normally closed to the public, including the Mausoleum of Augustus, and the Fora of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, and Trajan.
In the Vatican Museums we also saw the Augustus of Prima Porta, which due to security concerns is not open to the public. In addition to these closed off sites, we also got to visit the ongoing excavation of Nero’s Domus Aurea, which was a reminder of the burden of preserving these sites. The Domus is located underground, and on top of it is growing a park planted by Mussolini. The problem with this park is the fact that the roots from the trees are breaking the ceiling of the Domus and causing a lot of damage. This in addition to the fact that the humidity at the site is so strong that the walls are constantly wet means that the wall paintings and the whole structure itself are in danger of being destroyed before they can be fully preserved.
RCB: Anything from later antiquity?
AM: Perhaps most memorable was when we got the opportunity to visit the Vatican Necropolis, which has been excavated in a way so as to preserve the ancient Roman street level. What really stood out to me was the chance to walk through an almost perfectly preserved ancient Roman street. In fact, the final week of the program was devoted to early Christian Rome. So we visited a lot of churches that were built into or on top of ancient Roman buildings. The most interesting of these visits was the visit to Santi Silvestro e Martino ai Monti, which was built on top of a titulus church, a house church that was one of the first in Rome. Although it had been converted into a sort of “museum of Christianity” once the new church had been built on top of it, it was interesting to see a place where the first Christians in Rome would have worshipped.
RCB: How about your interests in classical reception? Did anything from the program correspond to that?
AM: That came in the unofficial end to the program, which was also one of my favorite visits. Just outside of Rome is Cinecittà Studios, or the Italian Hollywood. Many important movies were filmed here, but those sets have since been deconstructed. In fact, these studios were the home of Federico Fellini.
But what made Cincecittà super cool for me was the fact that the set of HBO’s Rome still stands there today. It was really awesome to get to visit the set of one of my favorite TV shows. This endcap to the program also provided an interesting view into how the city of Rome is represented in popular media. Buildings that would not have existed at the time in which the show was set, such as the Pantheon, were included for the sake of making the set seem more “Roman” to audiences.
RCB: How would you sum up the AAR summer program?
AM: Overall, my experiences in Rome were some of the best of my life. As a classicist who had never visited Rome before, I was able to not only fulfill many personal dreams, but also gain knowledge and experience that I think will be extremely beneficial to me as I continue my studies. In addition to the site visits in and around Rome, the Classical Summer School provided me with weekly material cultures seminars that allowed me to touch artifacts from ancient Rome, pedagogy seminars that gave me valuable resources as I begin to teach, and the invaluable experience of learning about sites from some of the people who helped excavate them. I am especially grateful to Genevieve Gessert, the director of the program, and the two graduate assistants, Jenny Kreiger and John Lansdowne, for making the program such a valuable experience. I am already trying to find ways to get back to the Academy and Rome!
RCB: Thank you Alicia—we hope that happens, soon indeed!