Study abroad 2011

I spent ALMOST A MONTH in Italy through SPU’s study abroad program in 2011. I was lucky to be able to travel with a group of students through parts of the country and learn SO MUCH HISTORY & CULTURE. I took an intro Italian course, went to A LOT of museums, drank juice box sizes of wine, and ate LOTS of pizza.

Most of the following will be all HISTORY notes that I took while on my trip. I went back and fact-checked my notes, but it was all written down while going through the places that I was studying. 


The ancient lost cities of Pompeii & Herculaneum


  • Partially buried city near Naples in the region of Campania.

  • Was destroyed and completely buried by a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mt. Vesuvius. The eruption lasted for two days in August 79 A.D. It left 4-6 METERS of ash and pumice.

  • The city was LOST for 1700 years and rediscovered in 1748.

  • The excavation has provided a detailed insight to a city during the Roman Empire.

  • The forums, baths, house, and villas have all been well-preserved.

  • The oldest preservations are believed to be from 6-8 centuries B.C.

  • Greek and Phoenician sailors used Pompeii as a safe port.

  • It was an important passage for goods from sea to be sent to Rome or southern Italy.

  • The Etruscans were present (there are inscriptions) during the 6th century B.C.

  • It was captured by a Greek colony Cumae With Syracuse from 525-474 B.C.


  • It was a wealthier town than Pompeii before its destruction.

  • Greek origin and early Greek control.

    • 4th century B.C.: Samnite control 

    • 89 B.C.: Roman control

  • The deities worshiped here were Hercules, Venus, and Apollo.

  • With the eruption of 79 A.D. the town was affected by lava and buried under 20 meters of mud and ash. 

  • 1709: it was rediscovered and found that the excavation had not been completed. 

  • It was the first source for Roman skeletal and physical remains to be used for study (most Romans had cremated their dead – the bones were discovered in 1981).

“Mount Vesuvius has not erupted since 1944, but it is still one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Experts believe that another Plinean eruption is due any day–an almost unfathomable catastrophe, since almost 3 million people live within 20 miles of the volcano’s crater.”

For more info on the recent history of Pompeii click here

The land of limoncellos

The last stop in our Italian part of study abroad was Sorrento. It’s on the western coast of Italy and was such a vacation away from a vacation. That week we played soccer at the beach, swam at the Bagni della Regina Giovanna, had sunset picnics, went skinny dipping in the ocean, and sang karaoke.  

How to make the famous limoncello drink that Sorrento is known for:

  • 10 lemons
  • 1 bottle of vodka
  • 3.5 cups of water
  • 2.5 cups of sugar

Remove peel from the lemons; place the peels in a large pitcher; pour vodka over the peels and cover with plastic wrap; let this sit for four days at room temp.

Stir water and sugar in a a large saucepan until sugar dissolves. Cool completely. Pour the sugary syrup over the vodka mixture. cover and let sit at room temperature overnight. Strain the limoncello and toss out the peels. Keep cold for up to a month.


This is what study abroad taught me about Sorrento:

  • It’s a small town in Campania – Southern Italy with a population of about 16,500 people.
  • It is famous for the limoncello drink and other agricultural productions such as citrus fruits, wine, nuts, olives, and woodcraft.
  • According to Roman historians, it was founded by Liparus, son of Ausonus, who was the king of Ausoni & son of Ulysses of Circe.
  • During the pre-Roman age it was highly influence by Greek civilization; Athenaion was a great sanctuary originally devoted to the cult of Sirens.
  • On June 13, 1558 it was sacked by the Ottoman Navy and 2,000 captives were taken away. the struggle was waged for many decades throughout the Mediterranean.
  • In the 19th century the economy improved majorly because of the development of agriculture, tourism, and trade.
  • In 1861 it became a part of the new Kingdom of Italy.
  • It has since then increased its status as a tourist destination.
  • Click here for more history on Sorrento.

Easter with the pope

In April I was waiting outside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican City with my study abroad group to go to the service. What better way to spend Easter than WITH THE POPE? We wanted to get there early so that we could get good seats. Our group arrived at about 5AM and we waited patiently for the gates to be open a few hours later.

The lines were getting crowded quickly and eventually we were let in. People were running in to get toward the front row. As we were entering, there was a stampede of nuns flocking to the front. No disrespect at all, but at least say SCUZI! But we could settle for third row – not too shabby.

During the service I was nodding off. I mean, come on, after a night of boxed wine and waking up at 4am, what would you expect? But the pope made his entrance in his pope-mobile, did his Italian thing, and blessed the people. It was a really great experience to be at the Vatican during Easter for Easter. Easter Sunday is the greatest feast day and culmination of Holy week and the whole year. It’s the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Vatican City

FUN FACT: There are 594 people (2011) who can say that they have Vatican City citizenship. 

  • The site of many Christian martyrs
  • St. Peter was believed to have been crucified upside down here
  • Officially established in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty which made it a sovereign state inside of Rome with 110 acres and about 800 people 
  • Ruled by the pope who has absolute authority 
  • Fully brings together church AND state
  • Brief history of Vatican City here

The Sistine Chapel was AMAZING – I love seeing the history in PERSON. Reading the stories through the pictures and seeing the point of view of how Michelangelo interpreted the Bible was fascinating. 

  • Built between 1508-1512
  • The Last Judgment was Michelangelo’s greatest painting achievement
  • The ceiling shows creation, Adam and Eve, and the flood
  • The frescoes show the life of Jesus, the life of Moses, and Jesus giving the keys to Saint Peter

St. Peter’s Basilica:

  • A late renaissance church inside Vatican City.
  • Has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world. 
  • One of the holiest Catholic sites. 
  • In Catholic tradition it is recognized to be the burial place of St. Peter who was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus and the Bishop of Rome. 
  • There is historical evidence that St. Peter’s tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica and it has sparked interest in popes since the early Christian period.
  • A famous place for pilgrimages, liturgical functions, and historical associations.
  • Associated with papacy, counter-reformation, and numerous artists (mainly Michelangelo)
  • Greatest building of its age
  • Central space is dominated externally and internally by one of the largest domes in the world
  • Has massive gold ceilings 

The Colosseum and other OLD THINGS

The Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome

What exactly is this big ancient stadium thing that has a chunk bitten into it?

  • Back in 72 A.D. some important human said, “Oh, let’s start constructing this really large stadium so that we can fight and play games and do all this macho man stuff!” And so there you have it… Construction began, slave labor did it’s thing, and it was completed eight years later. 

  • It was used for medieval entertainment such as: gladiator contests, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactment of battles, and dramas. 

  • It later was used for housing workshops, was a quarters for religious order, was a fortress, quarry, and a Christian shrine. 


The Colosseum in it’s present state is still standing but has also been semi-destroyed throughout it’s almost 2000 years of existence. Standing in the Colosseum brings you back in time and raises questions about the significance and events from the past. This really brought history to life in a great and tangible way. The detailed and enormous architecture helped me appreciate those who worked together to go above and beyond to make a great and symbolic center during the Roman Empire. 

  • The Roman Forum is a plaza of ancient ruins. They were ancient government buildings that were the most important structures at the center of the city – well of course they were if it had to do with politics **eye-roll please. 

  • Romulus was the first King of Rome 2,764 years ago.

  • During the 5th century B.C. the first temples were created:

    • Temple of Saturn

    • Temple of Castor and Polux

    • Temple of Concord

  • The Arch of Augustus stated “I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.” (29 B.C.)

  • 6th century: There was a transformation into converting the forum to Christianity.

  • 1500 years in-between: This thing happened, that thing happened, diseases spread, and more people died…..

  • Present day: there are lots of places for cats to hide and pizza shops on every corner. 

Along with our week stay in Roma we went to a futbol match which was SO SO FUN, walked through all of the ruins, explored the museums, ate LOTS of pizza, went to the Trevi Fountain, biked through the parks, and Easter-ed with the pope. 

Some history about Tuscany

I stayed in Tuscany for a couple of weeks and this is what I learned when I wasn’t drinking boxed wine or eating gelato:


  • Santa Croce is the Roman Catholic Church also known as the “Temple of Italian Glories.” 
    • It’s the burial place of Michelangelo, Galileo, Machievelli, Foscolo, Gentile, & Rossini. My favorite thing to do was see all of these famous graves.
    • There was a lot of art, significant stories, and images bringing together the church and science
  • The Galleria degli Uffizi was built in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari for Granduca Francisco de Medici.
  • The Gallerie dell ‘Accademia has extraordinary contributions from Michelangelo, Francesco da Sangallo, Agnolo Bronzino, Giorgio Vasari, and Giambologna. It was the first academy of drawing in Europe. 
    • Also, along with Renaissance there are works from the 15th & 16th centuries by Paolo Uccello, Ghirlandario, and Botticelli. 
    • The “David” by Michelangelo (1501-1504) is 17 feet tall (5.2 meters). It was brought to Accademia in 1873 for conservation; also brought were four unfinished “prisoners” and the unfinished statue of “St. Matthew.”
    • My thoughts: I loved the prisoners because it allowed me to see what the stones are like before the completion of the work. I was also very impressed with “David.” It was much taller than I thought and it looked like it could come to life at any moment. 
  • Ponte Vecchio is a famous medieval bridge that goes over the Arno River in Florence made of Europe’s oldest holy stone. 
    • There are shops along the bridge still today.
    • 996 was the first documentation of the bridge.
    • In 1117 it was destroyed by a flood but then reconstructed; it swept away again in 1333 and then rebuilt in 1345.
    • During WWII all of the bridges in Florence were destroyed except for this one due to Hitler’s command. 


  • It is a small medieval hill town located in the province of Siena, Tuscany, and north-central Italy. It was founded in the 3rd century B.C. by the Etruscans. 
  • It was named by the 10th century bishop St. Geminianus who defended it from Atilla’s Huns.
  • It flourished until the 14th century when the Black Death hit Europe. 
  • There are still 14 towers and churches that have been preserved. 
  • Collegiata is the main church located in the heart of the town. It was once the Duomo but San Gimignano no longer has a bishop reverted to status of a collegiate church. 
  • There is a Romanesque interior lavished with frescoes all over the walls – many with gruesome details. 


  • It was the most powerful and richest place of the 13th & 14th centuries. 
  • Catherine of Siena was a lower class woman born into a large family. She was called to be HOLY as a young girl. She was a mystic who wanted to live only for God. In her 20’s she convinced the pope to go back to Rome from Avignon. She became a great leader and teacher of the church. Because of her ascetic lifestyle she died in her 30’s. She lived a deprived and holy life for God alone. 
  • The town became prosperous during the Roman era and has not fallen. 
  • According to the legend, Siena was founded by Senius, the son of Remus (the brother of Romulus – Rome). 
  • Aristocratic families date back to the Lombard’s surrender in 774 to Charlemagne. 
  • Siena Cathedral (Duomo) was completed in the 13th century. 


  • St. Francis devoted his life to poverty and was an ascetic – Matthew 10:9 “Carry no worldly possessions.” 
  • Assisi is a pilgrimage site for many people. 
  • History timeline:
    • 1000 B.C. – Umbrian immigrants came to Assisi
    • 450 B.C. – the Etruscans take over
    • 259 B.C. – the Romans come into control
    • 238 A.D. – the area became “Christian”
    • 545 – Lombard rule in Assisi
    • 1348 – major decline in population due to the Black Death
    • 1458-1464 – the city came under papal jurisdiction – Pope Pius II
  • The churches
    • Basilica of San Francesco of Assisi – a world heritage site (1228-1253)
    • Santa Maria Maggiore 
    • The Cathedral of San Rufino
    • Basilica of Santa Chiara
    • Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
    • Chiesa Nuova (home of St. Francis)
    • Santo Stefano
    • Eremo delle Carceri
  • Saints: 
    • Rufinus of Assisi: first bishop of Assisi and converted Assisi to Christianity (11th century)
    • Agnes of Assisi: led a life of poverty and penance (13th century) 
    • Clare of Assisi: (sister of Agnes) founded the order of the poor ladies – monastic (13th century)
    • St Francis of Assisi (13th century)
    • Gabriel of our Lady of Sorrows: gave up hopes of a secular career to join the Passionate Congregation (19th century)

I loved seeing SO MUCH HISTORY all over this part of Italy. It’s all that stuff you’ve learned your entire life in school but IN PERSON. It’s an overwhelming amount of information in just a tiny little part of the world.