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History, sustainability and architecture – One student’s journey in Rome

By Evelina Knodel

I left for Rome with what I would posit were very stereotypical expectations. Of course, being an architecture major with a very active interest in food and sustainability, I was very eager to experience those two staples of Italian culture.

I was not let down.

My class list consisted of an architecture workshop, a class focused on Roman neighborhoods, sustainable foods, beginning Italian, communications and an internship. All-in-all, it was a satisfying range of topics.

For anyone studying architecture, I would have to agree with all those who say that visiting Rome is a must. There is so much history there, and because this is a fairly redundant statement, let me explain: the buildings aren’t just old, they are eclectic. A term we became very familiar with was palimpsest, or the “new” being layered upon the foundations of the “old.”

In Rome, this is everywhere, which means that every layer of history is preserved, many times within a single building. There is a church called San Clemente, which I highly recommend visiting (if you are in Communications class with Sean Patrick-Lovett, you will visit it with him). The first level of the church was built in the 11th century and repaired in the 16th century. Below it is another church that dates back to the 4th century. Below that is a church dating back to the 1st century and the time of the ancient Roman Empire. Three churches, three time periods, thousands upon thousands of stories.

This is what I love about architecture and what I loved so much about the Communications class: stories. History is defined by them. They give life and intrigue to what would otherwise be just a series of names and numbers, and they make the past relatable. No matter how advanced we think we are in this age of industry and technology, we are still human beings with emotions, desires, hardships and triumphs. We can and should continue to learn from our history.

It wouldn’t have been Rome without the food, and those of us in Sustainable Foods of Italy got a very detailed and personal look at Italian food culture. Everyone’s favorite part of the class was spending the day at our professor, Sergio’s apartment with his personal chef, Fiore. We made Osso buco (veal with bone marrow), Filetti di Baccala (fried cod), Maccheroni alla Chitarra (spaghetti with beef ragout), Tiramisu and more. They were some of the most beautiful, joyful, and pleasant days of my life, and not just because we got to eat on a balcony overlooking Rome.

The quality ingredients were nurtured with love and care at every step of their lives from the farms and vinyards in the Italian hills to their short journey to the Roman markets and grocery stores, to their skillful preparation by Fiore and our class in Sergio’s kitchen, to their slow and joyful consumption on Sergio’s sunny porch. That journey in its entirety is what made those meals so good, and that journey is the secret of Italian food and culture.

There’s a lot to see in Rome—too much to get too in just four months, but we also went on group study trips weekend vacations to other parts of Italy and Europe. One of my favorite trips was to Palermo, which I would call the street food capital. There are so many good pastries and fried foods there! Be prepared to eat, eat, eat if you go, and when you’re pooped from all the eating, go relax on the beach or go paragliding like we did.

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