From the classroom to the Forum

On Friday afternoons at Loyola, I usually head back to my room to unwind and relax after a long week of classes, homework, and extra-curricular activities.

Sometimes I have Evergreen meetings to attend, but I traditionally spend a large majority of my Friday afternoons in my room.

My traditional Friday routine was disrupted as soon as I landed in Italy. Instead of staying in my room, I found myself running around the Eternal City, or taking a bus to the train station for a weekend away…

This difference didn’t really hit me until this past weekend when, instead of heading home, my friends and I walked twenty minutes to the Markets of Trajan, which are a part of the Museum of the Imperial Fora. I willingly – and gladly! – trudged down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, trekked across Piazza Venezia, skirted past Trajan’s Column, scurried up a flight of stairs, and entered the Museum – all on a “lazy” Friday afternoon.

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A view of Trajan’s Market from the Forum of Trajan

I never imagined that this would be how I spend my Friday afternoons in Rome: visiting ancient markets unearthed during the late twentieth century. Instead of burying my head under a pillow and trying to relax, I was taking in all the artifacts and stories left in the Markets by the ancient Romans who once shopped and lived here. Some of the pieces that we saw in the museum were commissioned by Trajan himself, which was amazing to see. We were even allowed to walk on the ancient ground level (which is about 30 feet (!) below the current street level of Rome) and explore the markets the way that the Romans would have experienced them!

Coincidentally, while my friends and I were exploring this museum, we came across many monuments and artifacts that we had covered in our history class (“Art and Architecture of Ancient Rome”). It wasn’t something we were expecting, but it was a very real way to learn about the Imperial Fora. Instead of seeing pictures of the Temple of Mars Ultor, we were looking at a scale model in the museum. Then, when we went outside, the ruins of the actual temple were staring us in the face. I could see the spot in the staircase on the front of the temple where the altar was supposed to be. I could see the immense circumference of the columns on the porch. I could see the porticos and the exedrae that my professor had described in class on Tuesday. It was a surreal moment, one I definitely never expected to have on a Friday afternoon.

Temple of Mars Ultor

The Ruins of the Temple of Mars Ultor, located at the back of the Forum of Augustus in the Imperial Fora.

That’s one of the wonderful things about studying abroad in Rome – you can learn about something in a classroom on Tuesday and see it in person on a Friday (or any day that the museum is open!).

The key to getting this kind of learning moment is to seek them out. We never expected to run across the Temple of Mars Ultor, but we did go to a museum on a Friday.

It’s about seizing the educational experiences that Rome has to offer. Once we return to the United States, this kind of experience won’t be readily accessible to us. We have to take advantage of these opportunities now.

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