A Day Trip to Susa

Sorry for the long absence…life got in the way…to pick up where I left off…I was in Turin taking in the sights of the Piedmont.

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My main goal for visiting the Turin was to visit the Arch of Augustus in Susa. Susa is a small town in between Turin and France. The train ride from Turin to Susa was probably one of the most beautiful of my life. Like Turin, it rained, but it rained on and off, and totally stopped long enough for me to hike out to my arch, do my thing, and then get back to the train.

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The building at the peak of that mountain is the Sacra di San Michele, a former Benedictine abbey (now run by another order), that dates to the 12th century. (Umberto Eco based his novel, The Name of the Rose, on this Abbey.)

The city of Susa was charming and small. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there, but my path to the arch led me through the town center…The town was super sleepy and not very populated…but that was okay with me. Like in Turin, while I was walking through Susa, I had a hard time believing I was in the same country as Naples.

 

A small sampling of the small town of Susa.

Finally, I found my arch. I knew it was in the mountains, but I had no idea just how beautiful of a site this arch occupied. The view was incredible, like ridiculously so. So ridiculously beautiful, I was moved to song. Now for those of you that know me well, I am usually singing. I also love The Sound of Music, and most musicals generally. Perhaps unsurprisingly, while walking around the arch and its surroundings (see the pic below of what the arch overlooks), thinking myself entirely alone, I sang loudly and at full voice the title song from The Sound of Music. IMG_1423

A few minutes into my warbling, I realized I was not as alone as I imagined. Hidden below the hill, was a large group of teenaged students on a tour of the town. I heard some applause, and promptly blushed in horror as the climbed the hill to explore my arch. A few of them smiled and said, “brava!” and the tour guide leading them gave me the biggest grin..many of them didn’t care. Never have I been more glad to be confident in my vocal talents, and it’s a story I’ll remember for forever. And honestly…WHO WOULDN’T BREAK INTO SONG AT THAT VIEW?

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Me and the group of students that caught me and my vocal stylings. 

After completing my work, I headed back to the train station and the sky opened up. I enjoyed the view again on my way back to Turin. I treated myself to a late afternoon gyro (when in Europe?) and enjoyed my last few days in Italy.

 

Turin/Torino

Torino, or Turin, is not like any other city I’ve been to in Italy, and honestly, it didn’t quite feel like I was in “Italy” anymore. (Truthfully, now that I’ve been all over Italy, Italian is such a misleading adjective; there are not many constants.) The city, like Trieste, clearly had some glorious periods in the days of yesteryear and yore, but Turin wears its age better. It, unlike Trieste, does not have the shipping component, so it makes it feel a little less seedy — read: not at all seedy. However, unlike Florence, Siena, Rome, Venice, or Naples, Turin doesn’t seem to get its share of [American] tourists (this is my subjective understanding).

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The view from my airbnb’s window. The city was completely charming architecturally, even if it was rainy.

I was only in Turin for a little while, mainly to visit another town that was super small, so I do not know a lot about its history. The main points of historical interest are that the Turin was the seat of the Dukes of Savoy, later the royal house of Italy, and the first capital of unified Italy. The seeds of unification were first sewn in Turin. If you have been to any town in Italy, chances are you have seen some street, square, or other landmark with the name “Cavour” (literally at least one in every town); this refers to Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour who was from Turin and instrumental in Italy’s unification.

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The Piazzetta Reale, in front of the Royal Palaces of Turin, where the city’s museums are housed. You can see the main train station, Porta Nuova, if you follow the main street to the end.

In Torino, a few unhappy trends began for my trip — if I had to say I had a “bad leg” of my trip it would start here (even though I didn’t have a bad time). Turin began what I refer to as the “week of Rain.” It wasn’t actually a week where it rained on my trip, but it felt like it. However, there were a ton of covered sidewalks and storefronts that permitted folks to walk around without getting (very) soaked. The Great Curse of No Internet also began in Torino; my airbnb tried to get it working but they couldn’t verify what was wrong. Now, I’m a little ashamed to admit how much this stressed me out. The internet was my lifeline. I had settled into a really comfortable routine on this trip where I did all of my stuff out and about during the day, had a late dinner, then settled in for the evening with a few eps of whatever show was available to me on Netflix in Italy or France. Just the *noise* of someone speaking English to me helped with the loneliness factor A LOT. Losing that stressed me out. A lot.

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My breakfast one morning…bicerin (it sounds like you’re calling someone the b-word), a cornetto con crema and some biscuits. Bicerin is a Piemontese drink that was invented in Turin that has espresso, chocolate, heavy cream or milk, and whipped cream. It was divine.

I only had one day to explore Turin and a I had a lot I wanted to do. The Museo Egizio had come highly recommended and as the only museum dedicated solely to Egyptian antiquity outside of Egypt, I had to go. It is a fantastic museum. Now I do have to be honest, for someone who had been used to quiet Croatia, relatively quiet Rimini and Ancona, the Museo Egizio was a little overwhelming. It was field trip central and I swear every Italian aged 6-9 was squeezed into the Museo Egizio the day I was there. I remember my field trips as a kid, and ones I’ve run myself as a camp counselor in college. You were in a line, there were many many rules and failure to follow the rules meant you could lose field trip privileges! Not the case here…I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by the noise. And the clerk said it was quiet that day.

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One of the statues from the Gallery of Kings — don’t remember who, and it doesn’t matter, they all look the same (that’s on purpose) — The internet says Seti II

The collection was frankly fantastic. Turin houses some of the most precious Egyptian artefacts in Europe; much of it gained through archaeological exploits in the 18th and 19th centuries. The collection was organized chronologically, with ample and informative labelling and wall text, and audio guides that you could tailor to your level of interest. One of the things I enjoyed, but am still not sure how I feel about it, is how the museum consciously engaged with more controversial parts of its history. Collecting practices of the 18th and 19th century were often thinly-veiled pillage; while not necessarily coming down in judgement upon the folks who did the pillaging, the Museo Egizio definitely didn’t shy away from at least talking about it in great depth. And that is super important. Honestly, I won’t say you should go to Turin just for the Museo Egizio, but if you’re there, you really should go. Give yourself the entire morning.

Snaps of the Savoy Palace: Ballrooms, entryways, hallways, and armories

The Savoy Palace was the next stop on my list. In Italy, several “museums” are often grouped together and form one big museum, and that was the case here. I came to the Savoy Palace not to see the royal residence, but to the visit the archaeological museum. Fortunately, they give you no choice, you have to go through most of the museum to get to the archaeological bits. It was a great museum, though I wish I were more up on my House of Savoy trivia as it would have been more enjoyable to know the historical figures who were associated with the palace.

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Silver bust of the second-century CE emperor Lucius Verus 

The highlight of the Savoy Palace was this guy right here. This ancient silver bust is extremely rare. While busts of precious metals certainly existed in antiquity, many were quickly melted down and reused. This, like most ancient objects in precious metal, was found in treasure hoard in 1928. The objects were buried, likely in late antiquity, for safekeeping and never reclaimed. It was so much larger than I expected, not quite life size, but close.

Since Torino was my last stop in Italy, I wanted to make sure I did all of the eating. AND I did. I didn’t eat one bad thing. Mmm. I miss Italy.

Ancona: A Day in Marche

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View of Ancona from the Ferretti Palace, it was a gorgeous day

My brief day trip to Ancona was another thing I was not very excited about. It’s a prominent harbor/seaport on the Adriatic, and for whatever reason I had an impression that the city could be a little rough and gritty. It’s not entirely untrue, a large part of the city, especially on the outskirts, is unrelentingly industrial and it doesn’t have…the polish, of other cities in Italy, but it was by no means a place where I felt unsafe even for a moment.

It was however very hilly, and for the first time, the train station was much farther away from where I needed to go, not crazy far, but just not close. It is in many ways super liberating as an American to train into a city and use your feet to get everywhere you need to go. Ancona was this trip’s exception. Between the hills and the distance, I decided to take a taxi to the Archaeological Museum, which was at the apex of the hill, in the 16th-century Ferretti Palace. English was not a thing here in Ancona, at least not to the folks I interacted with, and again that’s fine– there was a brief hang up because I only had a 50 euro bill, and I misunderstood the price of admission, but it all got worked out. (SideNote/ProTip — in Europe, always go to BNP Paribas ATMs …they give you a choice on you’d like your bills distributed. I know there are others that do it, but BNP Paribas ATMs are everywhere. NOBODY in Europe likes a 50 euro bill unless your purchase is 50 euro even.)

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The Ferretti Palace and the harbor at Ancona — The Ferretti Palace is blocking the view of my arch, which is in the harbor below. You can see a reconstruction of a group of equestrian statues on the roof…more on that momentarily. 

This museum was technically the archaeological museum of the Marche, the region to which Ancona belongs. It focused super strongly on the proto and pre-historic eras of history, with a nice glimpse into the Greek and Roman history of the city as well. I had the museum entirely to myself. So I took my time exploring, and taking care of business. There was a lot to see that was interesting, and lots of sherds and things that (sorry sherd nerds) I glossed over. It was nice to take my time and have so much to wade through.

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The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola, c. 1st century BCE/CE  (a copy of the original currently in Pergola)

On my way out, the woman working the front desk stopped me and told me to follow her! It was in this moment that I learned I can a) understand Italian a lot better than I give myself credit for and b) I do very well when the subject matter is something I’m super familiar with– like ancient Roman sculpture and art. She told me that a lot of people missed seeing these guys, and they were important and no one goes to Pergola so I needed to check them out. The Gilt Bronzes from Cartocerto di Pergola were found in Pergola in the 1940s and they were housed in the museum in Ancona until the 1970s when they were moved back to Pergola in a specially built museum. This is apparently a sore subject, based upon the guide’s tone and description. A copy was made however, which is what you see above. The Gilt Bronzes are SUPER important because they’re the largest surviving gilded bronze equestrian group from Roman antiquity. It comprises two equestrian figures (2 men, and 2 horses), and two women — the second rider doesn’t survive, and all of the other figures are fragmentary. Even in modern copy, it was impressive.

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Isn’t this picture just so stereotypical Europe? At least in the minds of Americans? 

After finishing up on the museum, I made the descent down the GIANT HILL OF ANCONA (after the flatness of Venice and Rimini, I was spoiled) to find my way to the Arch of Trajan, the major reason for my visit. Along the way I saw many scenic vistas and buildings, continuing to erase the negative conception I had previously had about Ancona. It wasn’t like any other Italian city I had been to (there are SO many wonderful little cities and towns that are each unique in their own way), but it was charming in its own right.

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You can see the more picturesque Ancona (foreground) juxtaposed with the kinda-gross-Ancona (background) 

I eventually wound myself down the switchbacks of the hill, and started upon the track to the arch. It was like immediately being in a different town because in order to get to the arch, you had to walk past a good mile of harbor stuff — a lot of it passenger ships. There were a few restaurants (most closed it was Sunday) and a nice walking path with the nice soft squishy material (what is that stuff called?) A good number of folks were out and about enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

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The Arch of Trajan at Ancona 

Eventually, there it was. The Arch of Trajan at Ancona in perhaps one of the most confusing juxtapositions of old and new that I’ve seen yet. The picture above captures some of it, but from all sides you had visible evidence of at least two millennia of cultural activity. It’s an impressive structure, one that was surprisingly difficult to photograph, thanks to the steps on the approach. It was a great spot for taking cheesy pictures of me in front of my arch thanks thanks to the architectural assemblage in the surrounding area.

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Me and my arcchhhh 

The rest of my time in Ancona was fairly brief and I had my only experience with the trains being messed up in Italy. The train was 45 minutes late. Luckily I didn’t have to be anywhere, but I was currently in a difficult spot because I *really* had to pee and the bathrooms only took 50 cent pieces and I didn’t have any (things were also closed because Sunday). The train FINALLY arrived, and I go to get on my car 3. Car three is closed down and other Italian speaking individuals spoke to the conductor who told them in very rapid Italian SOMETHING and gestured toward the rear of the train (and here’s where I learn how bad my Italian is)…I just follow them as they walk down the cars. Eventually we are stopped by another conductor, he examines each of their tickets and tells them something and I think he just assumed I was with them because I was just standing there like “uh…..Inglese?” and he’s like “Oh yeah! Car three is at the end. After car 8.” So to sum up, 45 minutes late, and two “Car 3″s! Ah the fun of travel!

Rimini: A Pleasant Surprise

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The unfinished Tempio Malatestiano, designed by Leon Battista Alberti in the mid-15th century — the construction of this church’s history and its patron is scintillating. Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta wanted the church to serve as a mausoleum for himself and his lover (later his wife). Eventually, Malatesta was excommunicated, ran out of money, and the church was never completed as planned. Alberti was super influenced by ancient Roman monumental arches — here he has divided the facade into thirds (like the Arch of Constantine) and the rondels in the spandrels are a clear reference to the Arch of Rimini, which is a short walk away. 

Rimini is a beach town on the east coast of Italy, a popular vacation destination for many Europeans. I admit, that I was not looking forward to visiting this small town and was not very excited about it.

Don’t you just love when you have to eat your own words?

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View of the historic side of Rimini and the 1st-century BCE bridge the Ponte di TiberioIt was a delightfully spooky day and very “unbeachlike” weather, which is probably why I loved it! 

Turns out that the train tracks split the town down the middle. On one side, you’ve got the beachy bits of the town and on the other, the older more historic area. All of my activities avoided the beach side and were firmly located in the historic center. Of all of the towns I visited in Italy, I felt the most comfortable here and I can’t really say why. It may have been my AirBNB which was a family home run by a woman whose children were grown. I felt like I was in a home, and not a hotel. She was so kind; I had a giant breakfast waiting for me every morning and a kind smile when I came home. We could not converse very well…her English was like 25x better than my Italian, but my Italian is *really* bad, but we tried! This was probably one of my favorite places I stayed.

When I rolled into town after a short train ride from Ravenna, I had very little time to get settled before having to jet to the city’s archaeological museum. I dropped my stuff and walked the short walk to the museum. Long story short, I arrived in Rimini on a Saturday, Sunday I was planning on visiting Ancona because the museum I needed to visit was closed on Monday. I THOUGHT that Rimini’s museum was open on Monday, but it was NOT. I was only in Rimini until early Tuesday morning, so I had to go RIGHT THEN.

The museum was probably one of the best local museums dedicated to archaeology that I visited (in Italy). There are TONS of regional/city-based archaeological museums all of various degrees of qualities. This one was pretty spectacular. It was right next to an archaeological site that was covered over, the so-called House of the Surgeon, and then the museum itself was spread over 4 floors. It was a lot of fun, and exactly the kind of museum I was into, super focused on the city’s development over time from literally the beginning of time to the modern era.

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One of the in-situ mosaics from the House of the Surgeon in Rimini; super cool preserved archaeological site! 

The rest of my time in Rimini was spent exploring the arch and the ancient bits of the city itself. The arch in Rimini was also way more impressive than I was expecting. First, it is HUGE. Second, the sculptural components on the arch are so much smaller than on later arches that are intricately decorated (like Septimius Severus or Constantine’s) that scholars have often described them as being diminutive. I didn’t find that to be the case, AND I think it’s a problem. For more, see my dissertation 😉

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The Arch of Augustus at Rimini (27 BCE) facing the entry to the city — on the opposite end of the main road through town you come to the Ponte di Tiberio. The arch was encorporated into the city walls during the medieval periodwhich explains the nice little crenellations.

The city has great medieval- and renaissance-era remains that I definitely did not explore as much as  I could. I explored exteriors and that was about it. I definitely want to head back to Rimini some day, and I’ll just have to do the new bits then.

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The Piazza Cavour in Rimini