SPQR ~ the book by Mary Beard

November 24, 2015 in Rome

SPQR by Mary BeardThe day after I sent out the SPQR Fellowship 2015 Review to one and all, I opened the New York Times to find on the front page of the Book Review a review of SPQR: The History of Rome. That got my attention. The review was very positive about the book and the author, Mary Beard. I immediately went to Amazon to order it, only to see the hard cover was Temporarily out of stock. No problem. I prefer reading on my iPad. More immediacy.

From the review I learned that the author, Mary Beard is “a professor of classics at Cambridge University, the author of a shelf of books, a stalwart on BBC television and radio, and the author of a witty and combative blog, “A Don’s Life,” written for the website of The Times Literary Supplement.” Impressive, indeed.

I downloaded the book and read the first paragraph of the prologue. Bravo. It expresses so well what I believe about Rome and why I think every Western student should experience the Eternal City. I have copied it here:

ANCIENT ROME IS important. To ignore the Romans is not just to turn a blind eye to the distant past. Rome still helps to define the way we understand our world and think about ourselves, from high theory to low comedy. After 2,000 years, it continues to underpin Western culture and politics, what we write and how we see the world, and our place in it. The assassination of Julius Caesar on what the Romans called the Ides of March 44 BCE has provided the template, and the sometimes awkward justification, for the killing of tyrants ever since. The layout of the Roman imperial territory underlies the political geography of modern Europe and beyond. The main reason that London is the capital of the United Kingdom is that the Romans made it the capital of their province Britannia –a dangerous place lying, as they saw it, beyond the great Ocean that encircled the civilised world. Rome has bequeathed to us ideas of liberty and citizenship as much as of imperial exploitation, combined with a vocabulary of modern politics, from ‘senators’ to ‘dictators’. It has loaned us its catchphrases, from ‘fearing Greeks bearing gifts’ to ‘bread and circuses’ and ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ –even ‘where there’s life there’s hope’. And it has prompted laughter, awe and horror in more or less equal measure. Gladiators are as big box office now as they ever were. Virgil’s great epic poem on the foundation of Rome, the Aeneid, almost certainly found more readers in the twentieth century CE than it did in the first century CE.

And that is only about ancient Rome. It does not address painting or architecture.

Sooo, I just started the book. (I am also fascinated by the author and must mention a New Yorker profile of her by Rebecca Mead.) I should update this post along the way. I wanted to post it now for the benefit of any architecture students who found their way to this site because they are going to Rome with  the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture and Department of Landscape Architecture Spring Semester Study Abroad to Rome and Istanbul. I trust you are considering applying for the 2016 SPQR Fellowship.

Rome in a Ten-Part Nutshell

March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Hello to all donors, sponsors, bloggers, and followers of the SPQR Fellowship! I hope you’ve all survived this wicked winter and are thawing out nicely.

In order to get the most out of my time in Rome, I kept a regular blog to record my experiences, opinions, griefs (perhaps not so much) and surprises. In a world without deadlines I would have submitted each on a regular basis, like a good blogger ought, but most bloggers aren’t in The Eternal City. Having scrawled each in my sketchbook during the quick breathers we enjoyed between tours and travels, I could never quite bring myself to take the time to type them out while I could be out taking in the transformation Rome undergoes after sunset. Instead, I’ve included them all in a big bundle of Roman tourism and the jabber of an architecture student, and posted them on a neutral blog, able to be accessed by all of you fine fellows as well as my comrades from umnistanbulstudyabroad.com

So, here it is!

My Roman Holiday was Easter


Stay warm!

Ben Dose

SPQR 2014

Rome 2014

February 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

This year the SPQR Fellowship is supporting third year architecture undergrad Ben Dose with his studies in Rome. Ben will be in Rome for the month of February and then travel to Istanbul for two months. He is part of the University of Minnesota and College of Design’s Study Abroad in Rome and Istanbul. This is the second year that Professor Ozayr Saloojee is leading the program, this time with twenty students. You can follow their blog post at University of Minnesota Rome -Istanbul Study Abroad Spring 2014. Subscribe to their newsletter and follow Ben and his colleagues in Rome from your mailbox.

St Peters

Rome 2013

February 8, 2013 in 2013, Rome

This year SPQR is pleased to be part of the University of Minnesota and College of Design’s 1st inaugural Spring Study Abroad in Rome and Istanbul. SPQR Fellow Satavee Kijsanayotin is one of twelve students participating in the program taught by professor Ozayr Saloojee. It is a terrific opportunity with an inspired but demanding curriculum.

minneapolis > roma > istanbul

Satavee (she also goes by Steevie) and her classmates will be in Rome for the month of February before going to Istanbul for two months. You can follow them here: MSP-UMN-FCO-IST – SPRING 2013 STUDY ABROAD.  Subscribe! But be forewarned, you will be envious.

SPQR 2012 – Roma & Borromini

December 11, 2012 in 2012

Roma & Borromini Roma & Borromini is an 8.5″ x 11″ book based on this blog material collected in May 2012 by David and Jenna while in Rome. There is an emphasis on the work of the baroque architect Francesco Borromini.

Or get the PDF. 15Mb

Bonus Sketches and the Pantheon

July 10, 2012 in 2012

We have decided to show the rest of our sketching along with our Pantheon drawings as one last gallery. Here they are!


July 10, 2012 in 2012

This last post shows the extent of Borromini’s work that we were able to visit, or in some cases view from the exterior if we were unable to catch opening hours. It has been a long time coming, for this we apologize. Now the resources have been compiled (first by Wikipedia contributors 😉 ) for you to be able to read at your leisure the story of Borromini and his amazing works. You will be able to see through our eyes and camera lenses the way we viewed ‘his world’ in Rome.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane


Sant Ivo della Sapienza


San Agnese in Piazza Navona

Palazzo Spada


St. Peter’s Basilica – grille of Cappella del SS Sacramento – It doesn’t look like this page actually talks about Borromini’s contribution, which were the gates of the Blessed Sacrament chapel. You can read on the Borromini page that he may have had a hand in the Baldacchino, which I have read in places as well, however it is often credited to Bernini. It goes in depth about one of the most, if not the most, staggering works of art and architecture – a very interesting read.

 Collegio di Propaganda Fide


Sant Andrea delle Fratte – dome and campanile


San Giovanni dei Fiorentini – High Altar


Rounding Out the Trip

June 1, 2012 in 2012

To start, we owe you a couple days of pictures and sketches!

I am actually going to start by saying that we made it back to Minneapolis after a long, long day of traveling. I am glad to be home. There is something about coming home to Minnesota that is as exciting as venturing off to other countries to explore different cultures – comfort I guess. This intro is a procrastination of sorts. I know the trip is over, i’m sitting in my own living room, but wrapping it up on the blog is the ‘period’ to our adventure. My hope now is that our stories and experiences in Italy will inspire those around us to embark on similar travels – that has, after all, been our goal all along. So I think what I’ll do as the sign-off to our section of the SPQR blog is to recap some of my favorite moments of the trip including some that really helped to give me a sense of life in Italy and specifically in Rome as well.

Most generally, my favorite part of this trip was all of the new things Dave and I were able to experience that we hadn’t on our last visit to Italy. I like to see as much as I can of new places and things so the more new things the better! The list is very long on what this actually includes so I’ll give a few examples. 1 – Ostia Antica, and generally more ruins in Rome. Ostia Antica was cool because it was like a playground as ruins go. Barely anything was blocked off so climbing on the ruins and walking within them was allowed and we had a lot of fun doing it.  I really liked seeing more ancient history explained as well. Clues to ancient times are often buried until a group of people feels the urgency to unearth it. The people of Rome are proud to share the history beneath them with visitors like me. 2 – Giving Florence a chance. The first time we were in Italy, Florence was a very abbreviated stop due to various timing issues. This time Florence was an important first stop and I’m really glad for that. Seeing the David, climbing the Duomo, residing right in the middle of the city center – these are some of the highlights from our stay. 3 – Venice was entirely new to me and completely worthwhile. A city on the water – fascinating. I continue to think about the effort that the citizens must put in to dealing with the Aqua Alta – where only the building facades show evidence that the salty sea has a less than positive effect on life there.

Getting the answers to our daily questions was another part of the trip that I really enjoyed. Constantly questions would come up that we couldn’t as a group answer, so they would be stored away in our brains for nightly wiki-fari’s. Information is at the tip of our fingers using the internets and our group was curious to have all questions answered before starting the next day. I think this really allowed us to pack in as much knowledge on many different things during the day knowing that later that night we would be able to get the story on everything that was not immediately presented.

Another extremely important part of my time in Rome was when David and I would stop for periods of time to take in, through sketch, what we were seeing. Not only did those sketch moments allow us to rest our running feet, but we slowed down enough to consider the architecture. We were slowed enough to represent the architecture through drawing and throughout our time drawing make observation of the people around us – to get a sense of other people’s experience of the space.

A couple very specific events that stand out in my memories are the Panda moving and the choir in Sienna. That was a good day in Sienna! The boys moving the Fiat Panda was probably one of the funniest things that happened on our trip. It is a good thing that small cars are the way to get around on the road otherwise that may not have happened at all. Other funny car things to note: we saw multiple smarts cars corner backed into a parallel parking spaces (they were perpendicular to the larger cars), Italians making up their own parking spaces in the middle of the roads, smaller cars might make people drive more crazily. The Sienna Cathedral choir performance was a pretty cool experience to get to witness. I was so impressed by them and the building being able to take their voices and project them – very cool.

When walking around Rome, I couldn’t help but to spot every instance of ‘SPQR’ all across the city. It was kind of fun – a little distracting because I just couldn’t stop! 🙂 Kelly’s last post from her trip I think put this in my head as something that I wanted to look out for. I didn’t realize that it would consume my mind so effectively. She had noted that this has been a banner of sorts since ancient times all the way to now. I kept seeing ‘SPQR’ and thinking about it as the banner that marked the services to the people of Rome and those of us visiting. A label that announces that someone is keeping the lights on in the dark of night, the water running and clean, the streets clean, public transportation running, historic sites preserved and ready for thralls of tourists. It is a symbol that unifies the city

We witnessed a lot of other cool examples of communities coming together to make thing happen. In Rome – Critical Mass – the mass of bikers filling Via dei Nazionale, coming together in an effort to bring safer bike ways to the people of Rome. Many times we saw shop workers working with each other to come up with change when all we had to give them were 50 euro bills. Even the street vendors worked together in an effort to move their product. We never really figured out what kind of network was going on between them, but we saw vendors on phones communicating location of polizia so they knew to get out of the area if any were near by. In Venice we saw many guys with illegal knock off bags sprinting down the street… Cinque Terre showed the most amazing community togetherness. I didn’t write about Cinque Terre originally. I had been there two years ago, before the mudslides. I remember the color, the bustle of happy people, the paradise that is Cinque Terre. The hotel we had stayed in two years ago was totally gutted along with many other shops coming into Monterosso al Mare. The devastation of the mudslides made this visit particularly hard for me. I did enjoy the hiking we did and the rental lady we worked with, the sea always visible, and the random cat roaming around, but I couldn’t get out of my mind the memories of what the towns had been like before. The thing that kept my spirits up was the way in which we could see the people working so hard to get the towns back to that place. We were told how the surrounding towns of Cinque Terre had taken in residents left homeless by the mudslides and how people were volunteering their time to make things right again. It was good to see the strength of that community.

The last favorite thing I’ll leave you with, because I could go on and on, is how Dave and I sought out all of Borromini’s work. I think I will plan to do an additional post just on this to really finish things off, but for now I can say that I really enjoyed this time with Dave. Some of the sites we visited without the others and I liked having that time with my best friend to really be able to take in the work of that Baroque genius. I would have liked to have shared all of the spots with the others, but I think it worked out to show them our sketches and pictures.

Look forward to a final post about all of our Borromini visits and pictures from the last few days!



One more road into Rome.

May 31, 2012 in 2012

Our final full day in Rome was a good change of pace. With only six days in the city, we did some serious walking (20+ miles a day) to pack in all the sites we wanted to see. The tone of today was slightly different – everything slowed down and we got one last chance to take in Rome and reflect on an excellent 15 days in Italy. After waking up, Jenna and I walked to the Pantheon from our hostel, which was located a few blocks east of Termini station.  I sat down at one of the restaurants located in the piazza in front of the Pantheon and ordered an espresso. It came with some apple tart treats and a glass of water, which was a nice surprise. I got out the sketchbook and spent the next hour and a half working my way through a drawing and a several more espressos. I must say, that as much as planning out drawing sessions in our short time in Rome seemed like a lot to tackle, it was during these drawing sessions that everything slowed down for me, and I was able to find some clarity on the particular building and its significance to me.


After our sketch session, Jenna and I reunited with the group and set off to see a final few sites around the city. As it was currently 1pm-3pm when most of the churches close, we walked up to the Borghese Gardens and rented a 4 person bike thinking it would allow us to view more of their massive expanse in the short time we had. The bike turned out to be more of an adventure in itself but we were out of time for visiting the Borghese’s museum’s so I’ll say the injected fun and silliness didn’t really hurt our viewing of the gardens. At 3pm, we returned the bike carriage and headed off to a few final churches. We hadn’t yet visited the Ecstasy of St. Terasa by Bernini and located in Santa Maria Del’Vittoria. The church was hopping with tours and we were able to hear a few compelling accounts of the statues history by guides.


When considering what we might see in Rome, Jenna and I had come up with a plan to focus some of our attention on Borromini’s work. We had both taken a liking to Baroque architecture and especially Borromini during Leon Satkowski’s class on Baroque Architecture in our undergraduate studies at the UofM. Not only was Borromini a true pioneer of architecture and widely misunderstood during his time, but to this day his churches are beautiful on a level not achieved by other architecture in the city. A great example of this idea can be found in Borromini’s San Carlo alla Quattro Fontane (S. Carlino for short because it is tiny) and Bernini’s San Andrea Quirranale, located a block apart from one another. We had both these churches yet to visit so we headed over to them. Inside S. Quirranale, there is a wide array of materials and colors, rich red marbles and gold guilding. The oval plan culminates in an oval dome covered in gold pattern and lit from a cupola filled with yellow glass. The effect does have a beauty but there is also a certain heavy handedness to it. Inside S. Carlino is an entirely different story. Everything is white and Borromini has relied on geometry, shadow, and light to create a space that becomes transcendent. The oval dome is coffered with a pattern of crosses, hexagons, and hexagons within ovals – each shape reflecting the floor plan which contains a complexity to it, a combination of oval, cross, and hexagon. We have been reading up on Borromini and apparently many of his designs that were considered somewhat wild and outlandish at the time are in fact, highly intricate and exacting works of geometry.


As our final, and fitting, stop in Rome, we headed west towards the river to visit Borromini’s grave. Borromini requested to be buried in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini along with his relative and mentor, Carlo Maderno. On the outside of the church we were able to read that many architectural master’s had work on the church over time. These included Carlo Fontana, Maderno, Michelangelo, and Borromini himself (he did the high alter). Upon walking inside, it was easy to see why he had requested this church as his final resting place. It was fairly unelaborate in nature; with little color and some wonderful lighting from the main dome and the high alter. With a sense of closure we walked over to the Piazza Navona and shared a drink and some people watching as the sun set around us. Tomorrow, we’ll head for home but you may still here a few more words from us yet.



David j.

Small Stones. Big Buildings.

May 29, 2012 in 2012

As Jenna mentioned, yesterday we visited the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the ancient Roman Forum.  I had been to these places before on our first visit to Rome but was eager to revisit them. After a wet morning walk, we arrived at the site, now fully equipped with colorful umbrellas and ponchos that we were assured, “weren’t made in Chine”. Rain certainly had not held back the crowds but we were able to use an “all access” pass we had bought to circumvent the ticket line and start exploring the building.  One of the things I realized as we were coming back to visit these sites, is that even though I had learned about them in class (and I swear I was paying attention) I didn’t know that much about their origins, and how they changed over time.  Between reading everything I could at the sites (the colosseum had a nice exhibit) and digging around on the internet, I’m starting to get a little better idea of what went on.

The Colosseum was begun around 74 AD by the emperor Vespasian.  He chose to locate the site at the end of the Roman forum where the previous, and crazy emperor Nero, had his own private lake. The information suggested that Vespasian was making a gesture to the citizens. Originally called the Flavian Ampitheatre (after the ruling Flavian dynasty), the Colosseum name is likely due to being nicknamed that after a colossal bronze statue that was located just outside the building. I also started learning info on what the Colosseum was used for, where different classes of people sat, and how it changed over the eras. All very interesting stuff that I will let you explore on your own. The experience of walking around this 2000 year old building was powerful. Not only is the size still impressive (it could hold 87,000 people) but there is a beauty in the rhythm of the arches used as the structure of the building and now exposed today. I wondered how many of those long, flat, Roman bricks were used in the massive structure. Looking at them, there was something powerful about the idea that such a grand building was made from objects that could be held in the hand.  After getting our share of the Colosseum we walked a few blocks and found a place to eat. As we sat in ate, we watched about 20+ locals come in and order food so we felt that we had done well with our pick.

After lunch, we made our way to the entrance to the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. Flanked on the West by the Circus Maximus, in ancient times the Palatine Hill was covered by emperor palaces and/or wealthy peoples residences. North of the Palatine Hill is the Capitoline Hill which in ancient times housed the most important temple, the Temple of Jupiter.  It was the swampy lowland in between these two hills, that would slowly get filled in and become the Roman Forum. For centuries, the Forum acted as the heart of public life and you might argue, embodied the idea SPQR. It was filled with banks, markets, judicial buildings, and temples. Walking around ruins can be difficult at times. It really takes some imagination on the part of the observer to understand what the pile of ruins were really about. In the case of the Forum, there are still some massive structures standing, if only in bits and pieces. These pieces help to imagine the scale and epic-ness of what would have existed 2000 years ago.

In undergrad, I spent a semester doing research on the Roman Triumph event. Triumphs were used to celebrate great military victories of commanders. To get a picture, one can imagine an incredibly lavish parade-like event that started outside the city gates in the Campus Martius, wound its way around the south side of the Palatine Hill, moved through the Forum proper, and eventually up the hill to the Temple of Jupiter. The reality of the Roman Triumph was much deeper and more ritualistic. In ancient Rome, the city walls (boundary lines) and gates were extremely important. The very idea of the Roman Senate (SPQR again) was that matters in the city were conducted in a non-military fashion: military was to be housed outside the city proper. The Triumphal celebration was a ritualistic act where for one day, the city (the senate and people) gave up their power and authority to the triumphant commander who was allowed to enter through the city gates in military garb, make his way through the city collecting gifts, and finally climb the Capitoline Hill and symbolistically capture the city.  In short, the triumph was a significant Roman event that took place right on the very paths we were now walking on. Imagining the ancient grounds in this light was a great way to bring the ruins to life for me.    ** I should note that I did my best to summarize the triumph form what i researched and that there is still plenty of debates on the exact proceedings and meanings behind it.

Anyway, I hope this gives you an okay idea of our experience at the colosseum and ancient forum.


david j

Skip to toolbar