Today was our final day of course programming! We began our day with a brief walk to the nearby Galileo Museum. At the time considered a “philosopher,” today we would call him the father of modern physics, observational astronomy, modern science, and the scientific method. If there’s a pilgrimage that a tour group of math and engineering students should endeavor to make, this was it!
Within the museum where enormous arrays of the very first instruments analyzing the heavens and devices employed to study some of the more fundamental laws of mechanical motion. Each room was decorated with simple setups consisting of large pendulums, springs or pulleys that could be easily modified, one change at a time, to observe the effect of those changes on the system, just as we are taught to do today!
As we moved throughout hall after hall of impressive devices, we found that this museum went far beyond Galileo’s studies and into the near-modern era of electricity. One such room was filled to the brim with static electricity generators – hand cranked devices that would charge with static electricity until an impressive arc, sometimes more than two feet across, would leap between two terminals on the device. Such machines were built for public demonstrations and parties to show off these new and exciting phenomena that physicists across the world were racing to understand.
As we left the museum, we each came the realization that our class was completed. We had 56 hours in Florence before we had to be anywhere at all in particular. With the looming threat of unfinished assignments, we resigned to our hotel for a while to work before setting out for Piazzale Michelangelo. This square sit high above the town center of Florence to the north west, and one can look down on the entirety of the city! We enjoyed live music by street performers and people-watching before returning for a small dinner and, of course, more homework!
Our first day in Florence began with our last course lecture. Dr. Hennessey and Dr. Shakiban took turns teaching about the mathematical stability of structures and passed out our final assignment for the course.
We took a brief walking tour of the center of Florence. On the 15 minute walk from our hotel to the town square, our guide taught us all about the sorts of things people do for fun in Florence, new trends in the city, and the rich banking history that made it the prominent place it is today. As we entered the town square, she began pointing to the various sculptures that Florence keeps on display an describing the impressive techniques used to create them, and the everlasting artistic rivalry fueling their inception.
At 4:00, we turned to “The Duomo.” More appropriately, La Catedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore – The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower. This impressive church is the cathedral of Florence. It is the 3rdlongest church in the world, sitting only behind St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the Liverpool Cathedral in the United Kingdom. The construction started in 1296, and was completed by 1436. The dome weighs an impressive 37,000 tons, and is constructed of marble and brick. The dome is an engineering feat in its own right, but building it was as well. New hoisting machines and power conversion mechanisms had to be designed by the architect just to move materials higher and higher where they needed to be.
We were once again provided the opportunity to climb to the top of the dome. The 463 steps find around tight spiral stairways, across the inside of the dome and up the side through a series of narrow walkways and low ceilings. The top rewards the climber with stellar views from the highest point in Florence.
We left our hotel and waved goodbye to Rome at 8:00 this morning. We boarded a small but comfortable shuttle bus and set off north along the coast for Pisa. We stopped halfway through the 4-hour drive at an oasis-style rest-stop for snacks, beverages and restrooms. Continuing on another two hours, we arrived in Pisa only a short while after we had planned to. We were treated to lunch at a local restaurant which served us fantastic plates of appetizers and a main-course pasta dish.
The highlight of our trip to Pisa was, of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Leaning Tower is perhaps the single most iconic piece of Italian architecture thanks to its 4°incline. The foundation on which the tower was built was later found to be quite poor, resulting in the compression thereof that lead to the lean. The Italian government is constantly embattled with this, because the tower continues to lean further and further every year. Efforts at preventing the tower’s collapse have included everything from adding 800 tons of lead to the high side of the tower’s base as counterweight, to removing soil from below the tower’s high side to encourage it to fall back the other way.
These issues are accentuated of course by everyone’s desire notto simply correct the tilt entirely. The tower’s lean is of significant national value, and while righting it would relatively simple, it would mean the loss of a unique piece of history and significant tourist attraction.
We departed from Pisa and took the bus just 2 hours more into Florence. We arrived at our very last hotel shortly after 6:00, and settled in before finding a quick meal nearby!
Today was our free day in Rome! After a late evening of exploring Vatican City, most people opted to sleep in that morning. We spent some time exploring Spegna, a northern district of Rome known for its excellent shopping. After about an hour’s worth of souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home, we returned to the hotel to prepare for our next adventure.
Departing at around 11:00, we set off on a series of subways, trains, and busses for the nearby neighborhood of Ostia. The neighborhood is almost entirely residential, and most of its roughly 85,000 inhabitants use the same transport network we used to commute to Rome every day
Because of this fact, the town was sleepy and quiet the entire time. The streets were lined with parked cars and the city blocks were made of tightly packed apartment buildings and small restaurants and cafés. Ostia sits on the western coast of Italy, and our purpose for traveling there today was to revisit the beach! We enjoyed the sand and weather (A balmy 51 degrees Fahrenheit was still warm compared to what we’ve seen in photos from loved ones at home) for a few hours before boarding the train home. On the way back, we aimed to stop at a nearby archaeological site, but unfortunately, we arrived at 4:33 only to find that it closed at 4:30.
The subway home was packed full of people returning from work. After the cramped journey back to our hotel, we went to eat our final dinner in Rome! The small corner restaurant a few blocks from our hotel served us delicious servings of pasta and a variety of appetizers. It was a fantastic capstone to our time in Rome!
Just before 1:00 PM today we took a series of trains to the doorstep the Musei Vaticani – The Vatican Museum. It contains examples of the finest artistic workmanship from every corner of the globe and from every significant period of artistic endeavor. With roughly 70,000 works and about 20,000 on display, it is the 2ndlargest collection of art in the world. The museum is home to many of the most famous Roman Sculptures, and the personal works of incomparable artists of legend like Michelangelo and Raphael. We spent 2 hours roaming about some of the museums 54 galleries before visiting the Sistine Chapel, which features what many people agree to be Michelangelo’s magnum opus. Much to our disappointment, no pictures of it were allowed.
We continued from the Sistine Chapel into the Basilica of St. Peter. The focal point of Vatican City, the Basilica of St. Peter is an enormous, vacuous space filled with the most spectacular catholic artwork and craftsmanship that the church has to offer. Of particular interest to us are the so-called “Solomonic Columns” which support the baldachin above the altar. These columns have an interesting spiral-like shape as the center of the circular cross-section of the column rotates about the center of the column itself.
Finally, to the delight of the more intrepid students on this trip, we had the opportunity to climb to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Over 500 steps lead to an encased lookout unlike any other in the city of Rome. The climb up and down was a rewarding experience for everyone who completed it! With the Vatican City thoroughly explored, we resigned to our hotel to rest for the evening.
Provided the morning off, a few of us set off into Rome to see of the famous landmarks that wouldn’t be highlighted by our curriculum. Heading west from our hotel, we navigated the maze-like city streets to the Roman Pantheon. The Pantheon is a former Roman temple which has been in use as a church since the 7thcentury. Despite being built in just after to turn of the new era, it is considered to be one of the best preserved ancient buildings, and the only ancient building completely intact. Its famous feature is the “oculus” which sits at the center, 43 meters high. The Pantheon is still home to the worlds largest, unsupported dome.
The oculus is a hole in the ceiling that behaves similarly to an arch. The collapsing, inward force of the dome is distributed around the outside of the oculus to the opposite side. Oculus be the filled, the dome would collapse.
To reduce the weight and keep the dome in the air, the concrete used to form it was made gradually less dense as the dome climbs higher. The secrets of Roman concrete are long lost, but that pantheon is a stunning example of its genius. Using modern concrete, the dome would be 80% heavier, and would be unable to support itself.
Recollecting later in the afternoon, we set for the Leonardo Da Vinci museum. There, we had the pleasure of a guided tour through the art and machine galleries. The museum featured dozens of examples of Leonardo Da Vinci’s brilliant studies of early mechanics which the engineering students took delight in. Early examples of the rack and pinon, worm gear, and bearings of various sorts are fascinating examples of this pre-modern ingenuity.
Following a brief break once we returned to the hotel, we enjoyed a group meal at a nearby restaurant, and turned in for the evening.
Our first day in Rome started with a lecture on some of the finer aspects of basic linear algebra. These are tools we would be building in the coming days to tackle some of the complex problems we will find as we analyze more and more types of structures and buildings. Following lecture, we had a group lunch at a local pizza restaurant! Everyone enjoyed an authentic, Italian pizza of their choice before heading off to one of the highlights of anyone’s trip to Rome.
The Roman Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) is one of the most famous structures the world has ever known. Built from 72AD to 80AD, the Colosseum held up to 80,000 spectators eager to watch gladiatorial battles, exotic hunts, or even naval battles. The buildings many arches and enormous columns support 4 levels of seating and over 100,000 cubic meters of stone, and hundreds of tons of iron supports and mortar.
Proceeding from the Colosseum, we made our way to the nearby Roman Forum. This ancient plaza was the center of daily life in Rome. It was the venue of public speeches, criminal trials, and commercial affair. Lined with the remnants of shrines and temples, one can see the architectural influence of the many eras the forum has survived simply by digging down further and further. Though most of it lies in ruins, it is clear that its construction was once a feat of ingenuity in engineering!
Another early morning means another new city! Rising around 4:30 and leaving before 6:00, each one of us loaded our baggage into a mini-bus and made our way out of central Athens. We passed check-in, bag-drop, and security with only slight confusion, and made our way to the gate. We were pleased to see that the plane was full only to about 20% capacity, and so every student spread to their own row. Though we arrived in Rome just after 12:30, accounting for the time change and the early morning we had all been on our feet for roughly 9 hours, and were accordingly exhausted, but thankful to once again be surrounded by an alphabet we recognized as our own.
Provided a few minutes rest after arriving at our hotel, we begin to splinter off into the city. With no course programming for that afternoon, we took our own direction to use the time. Some of us walked to the Roman Colosseum, others stayed in to do homework. I took the bus to the Trevi Fountain and enjoyed a scoop of gelato before exploring some of the various plazas in the area. It was a long, but enjoyable day!
Today was our first entirely free day! Provided a full-day metro pass and well-wishes, we broke into groups and split off to chase our wildest dreams in the city of Athens. The whole group decided to visit the local technology museum to start the morning. The museum featured a special exhibit highlighting the work of Nikola Tesla. When we arrived, we found a few of the demonstrations were misfunctioning. Undeterred, some of our electrical engineering students set to work and, to the delight of museum staff, even managed to repair one of the exhibits!
Breaking off from there, I was part of a group of ten which opted to visit the coast and go swimming. We took the metro train and transferred to the tram with the help of a local and stopped at a restaurant near the beach. Although Athens is a coastal, Mediterranean city, it is still seasonally cold in the winter. The air was a crisp 48 degrees Fahrenheit and the water was not much warmer, but in true Minnesota fashion, we didn’t let that stop us (much to the surprise of the onlooking beachgoers, who were happy to let us know we were crazy).
We opted to spend that evening there on the beach, sitting in the sand until the sun set over a distant island off in the Mediterranean. A few of us did our laundry at a nearby laundromat, and then stopped at our favorite 4$ gyro counter for dinner! A spectacular end to our time in Greece!
Before becoming a historical tour guide, Eleni earned her degree in History and Archaeology. It was only natural, then, that we should visit the National Archaeological Society of Athens. Though Greece’s historical treasures have been plundered many times, they host a lion’s share of ancient art, tools, and cultural elements from eras long past.
Considered to be the greatest artistic masterpiece of the 5thcent. BC, this statue is a lost-wax bronze casting of a figure preparing to throw something. Archaeologists disagree on who exactly the figure is, but the two most significant parties contend that it is either Poseidon, god of the ocean, preparing to throw his trident, or Zeus, god the Sky, preparing to throw his lightning bolt.
When our tour concluded, we were provided the next 4 hours to use as we saw fit. Nearly the entire group opted to hike towards the Chapel of St. George, which sits on top of the tallest hill in Athens – Mount Lycabettus. The 300 meter climb to the top rewarded us all with fantastic views of the sun-washed city before us, and help realize the true scale of Athens, as well as the chance to view the peculiar little chapel which sits atop.