Monday, August 31, 2015

Welcome to the Incoming Honors Program Students!!

The Honors Program would like to extend a warm welcome to the Honors Program incoming students who are joining us this year!  

These students come to us from seven different states and with a wide variety of majors.  We are so pleased to have them all as part of the program!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Honors Bugle Newsletter: Spring 2015 Edition

The Spring 2015 edition of the Honors Bugle Newsletter is hot off the presses!

 Honors Bugle Spring 2015

This newsletter is written and produced twice a year by Honors Program students.  This issue has a number of interesting topics, including articles about the first annual Pie-a-Prof event and advice from the twelve students who graduated from the Honors Program this spring.

Enjoy this eagle's eye view into the Honors Program!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Days 10 & 11 - Rome and Ostia Antica

Underground church in Catacombs of Domitilla
Our penultimate day of touring Italy began with a tour of the Catacombs of Domitilla, one of at least 65 underground burial sites under Rome.  The different catacombs in Rome (many along the Appian Way) are named after the person who donated the land for the burial site and were often the burial sites for Roman Christians before Christianity was legalized.  The Catacombs of Domitilla include an underground church from the 4th century AD and 11 miles of tunnels on 4 levels.  As we walked through the tunnels, our guide pointed out the different types of burial chambers, terra cotta oil lamps and decorated tombs.  While she told us to make certain to stay close so we would not get lost in the catacombs, a few of us were separated from the rest of the group for a minute and had to call out to find the right path back to the group.

St. Paul's Basilica
Our next stop was St. Paul's Basilica outside the Walls which was originally built in the 4th & 5th century AD, though the original building was destroyed by a fire in 1823.  Its grounds are considered an extra territorial part of the Vatican as it is part of Vatican City even though it is outside the Vatican walls.  As with St. Peter's Basilica, St. Paul's Basilica has a Holy Door that is sealed shut and typically only opened during Jubilee years.  The central bronze door has biblical images including images of St. Peter and St. Paul that glisten unlike the rest of the door due to so many people touching the saints.  Inside the basilica, the ceiling and walls were ornately decorated and images of all popes are found on each side of the nave.  The altar of the basilica is located above St. Paul's tomb and there is a chain inside a glass case at the altar that may have been the chain used to imprison Paul.  

Fontana dell' Acqua Paolo
Our next destination was the Janiculum, one of the best locations to view central Rome as it is the 2nd highest hill in Rome.  After stopping for a few pictures, we began our descent to the Trastevere region of Rome.  During the descent, we passed the church San Pietro in Montorio which was built on what was formerly thought to be the location of the crucifixion of St. Peter.  We also passed the Fontana dell' Acqua Paolo (Fountain of High Water), built in 1612 and marking the end of the Acqua Paolo acqueduct.  The final landmark we saw on our descent to Trastevere was the Janiculum Ossuary Mausoleum, dedicated to those from Rome who died in the unification of Italy.  In Trastevere, we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the minor basilicas of Rome and one of the oldest churches, with the first sanctuary built in the 3rd century AD.  One unique feature of this basilica is the mosaic of Mary holding Jesus with 10 women on either side of Mary above the entrance to the church.  This basilica is known for its mosaics and I particularly enjoyed the symmetry of the patterned floors that contained a number of images that looked like Sierpinski triangles.  We returned to our hotel and went out for a late night snack of gelato during which one of our participants earned the nickname Stracciatella, the name for chocolate chip gelato.  This remained a joke between our group, our tour director Gesualdo and our bus driver Antonio throughout the rest of the trip.

Mosaic floor in Baths of Neptune
On our final day in Italy, we visited Ostia Antica, an archaeological site at the mouth of the Tiber River.  We passed through the Porta Romana on our way to the Baths of Neptune where we observed numerous mosaic floors from the 2nd century AD.  Our next stop was the theater (giving us an opportunity for a group photo) and the Temple of Ceres.  We walked along the outside of the Piazzale della Corporazioni (Square of the Corporations) which had a number of rooms along its outer edges that were likely commercial offices where the transportation of goods was discussed.  We saw a number of floor mosaics that were essentially advertisements for what goods could be transported.  Our tour continued to the granary where bread was made and the thermopilium which was essentially a tavern.  After visiting the thermopilium, we felt the need to confess and headed to the basilica and the Temple of Roma and Augustus.  We concluded our tour with lunch in the cafe before heading back to Rome for the rest of the day.

The Spanish Steps
In Rome, our first stop was the Spanish Steps, which of course required another group picture.  At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is the Keats-Shelley Memorial House where the English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821 from tuberculosis.  At the opposite side of the bottom of the Spanish Steps is Babington's Tea Room, though we decided not to stop for tea.  The rest of the afternoon was free time during which some of us finished our souvenir shopping while others enjoyed beverages at outdoor cafes.  We had dinner in central Rome before doing an evening tour of some of the sites that we had previously visited so we could admire their beauty while they were illuminated at night.  As our day came to a close, so did our wonderful experiences on Italy: The Grand Tour.  I would like to thank Ashland University, the AU Office of Global Education, our Tour Director Gesualdo, our bus driver Antonio and our tour company Education First for helping all participants have extraordinary experiences on not so ordinary days.  Arrivederci!

Moon shining through Colosseum

Monday, July 6, 2015

Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Rome and Vatican City - Day 9

Participants in front of Roman Colosseum
After our visit to Capri, we arrived at the Hotel Hermitage in Rome in the evening, leaving enough time for dinner, but not to do any sightseeing.  Day 9 was a full day in Rome and Vatican City and was probably the most jam-packed day of sightseeing, partially because the groups from the other two colleges that were traveling with us did not select the two-day extension in Rome as we did.  We boarded the bus after breakfast and Antonio dropped us off near the Arch of Constantine.  Our first stop would be the most iconic building of Rome - the Colosseum.  The Colosseum was built in 72 AD and we learned that its real name is the Amphitheatrum Flavium and the "real" Colosseum was a statue of Nero that stood 150-foot tall next to the amphitheater.  It was built after Nero, so stories of Nero feeding Christians to the lions in the Colosseum are not true.  The Colosseum has seating for 50,000 spectators, is 150 feet high and has 720 arches around its exterior.  Our tour guide Franco informed us of the multiple ways the Colosseum was used including gladiator shows (though the gladiators were often barbarian slaves dressed in gladiator uniforms), animal hunts, executions and even simulated sea battles during which it would be filled with water.

Temple of Castor and Pollux on Roman Forum
As we exited the Colosseum, we walked along the Appian Way, the first road and the same road upon which Julius Caesar would have walked, to the Roman Forum.  We walked by the Temple of Romulus and Franco mentioned that the she-wolf is the symbol of Rome due the myth of the foundation of Rome with Romulus and Remus being abandoned in the Tiber River, eventually being found and suckled by a wolf.  We then passed the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and Franco pointed out the grooves on the pillars from a medieval attempt to pull down the pillars.  We then moved to the Temple of Castor and Pollux followed by the Temple of Caesar, the latter of which was built upon the location of Julius Caesar's cremation.  We continued walking on the Roman Forum, passing the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Column of Phocas and the Temple of Saturn, the first bank of Rome in the sense that it housed the republic's gold and silver. We exited the Forum via the Capitoline Hill, the plaza of which contains a replica of the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.  It was time for lunch and then time to move onward to Vatican City.

Laocoon and His Sons in the Vatican
Upon entering the Vatican, Franco led us to the Belvedere Courtyard and spent about 30 minutes telling us the history of the building and painting of the Sistine Chapel.  He had an image of ceiling of the Sistine Chapel so he could explain in great detail the biblical scene that is depicted on each of the main panels as well as point out details as to what we should notice about these scenes.  For example, in the most famous panel, the Creation of Adam, Michelangelo may have intended the feminine figure under God's left arm to be Eve and God appears on a red shell in the shape of a human brain.  In the Creation of Eve, God was painted in the likeness of Pope Julius II (who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling) and a missing foot of Eve appears to be coming out of the dark stone instead of Adam.  Franco also talked about Michelangelo's painting of the Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel 25 years later, for example pointing out that the figure to the right of Jesus is St. Peter handing back the key of the kingdom of heaven to Christ.  Franco had to give all of this explanation to us outside of the Sistine Chapel as no one is supposed to talk inside the Sistine Chapel in order to allow for quiet reflection.  We exited the Belvedere Courtyard, walking by the Statue of Apollo and the sculpture Laocoon and His Sons, on our way to the Vatican Museums.  As we looked at the Belvedere torso dating from the 1st Century BC, we were informed by Franco that we were actually looking at a replica as the actual statue was on loan to England.  After looking at various tapestries, sculptures and paintings, we wound our way around to the Sistine Chapel.  Words cannot describe the feelings I had as I looked upon Michelangelo's masterful work.  While Franco's passionate presentation had partially prepared me for what I was experiencing, I wanted to spend time looking at each panel, admiring its details on my own.  Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the chapel, so I can only relive the experience by looking at the images in my mind, art books or on the internet.  Seeing the Sistine Chapel was definitely the highlight of the entire trip for me.     

St. Peter's Basilica
We exited the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums and walked towards St. Peter's Basilica.  While outside of the basilica, Franco told us about the Holy Door of the basilica, which is sealed shut and only opened during Jubilee years, the next of which will be 2025.  However, Pope Francis has declared that the door will be opened in December of 2015 as part of December 8, 2015 being the start of a Holy Year of Mercy.  Inside the basilica, we encountered Michelangelo's Pieta depicting the body of Christ on the lap of his mother Mary after the crucifixion.  It is the only work of art that Michelangelo signed.  We saw the bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys of heaven and Bernini's Baldacchino, a bronze covering beneath the dome and above the altar in the basilica.  Directly beneath the altar is St. Peter's tomb. The ceilings and walls of St. Peter's Basilica was ornately decorated as were the numerous tombs of popes buried inside.  As we stood beneath the over 400-foot dome, Franco explained the "small" letters surrounding the inside of the dome were actually 7 feet tall.  We exited St. Peter's Basilica and encountered members of the Swiss Guard on our way to St. Peter's Square.

Pantheon in Rome
As we exited Vatican City and returned to Rome, we visited the Trevi Fountain designed by Nicholas Salvi.  The fountain is symbolic of the abundance of water in Rome and stands 86 feet high with Neptune as its central figure.  Supposedly if you throw coins into the fountain, then you will come back to Rome some day.  While most of us do desire to visit Rome again, the fountain was under restoration and thus coins could not be thrown into the main fountain.  Our final stop for the day was the Pantheon, the original building of which was built in 27 BC, with it being rebuilt in 125-127 AD.  After passing through the portico with its Corinthian columns, we walked into the round temple that was created to honor all gods.  Inside the Pantheon are the tombs of two kings of Italy and Raphael.  We left the Pantheon with Gesualdo leading us to the place to get the best gelato in Rome, stopping by the Piazza Navona to see the Fountain of the Four Rivers as we walked.  As we enjoyed dinner that evening, we said goodbye to our companions from St. Andrews University and Southwest Virginia Community College as they would be departing the next morning before the continuation of our visit to Rome.  Our last two days in Rome will be the subject of the next (and last) blog entry.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Sorrento Region and Capri - Days 7 & 8

View from Piazza Tasso in Sorrento
View from room of Hotel Giosue al Mare

After departing from Pompeii, our tour continued to the Sorrento region of Italy, known for its high cliffs, lemon groves and views of the Gulf of Naples.  As I looked at our itinerary before we departed, I realized that this would be a more relaxing, laid back portion of the trip and that this is exactly what we would need after fast-paced visits of Venice and Florence and before our even faster-paced visit of Rome.  On our way to Sorrento, Antonio stopped along one of these cliffs so we could exit the bus and take pictures of Naples. As we arrived in the Sorrento, we were taken to the town center for individual exploration and shopping.  My wife and I decided to enjoy a snack at a restaurant just off the Piazza Tasso (named after the poet Torquato Tasso) as most students went exploring and shopping.   After completing the explorations and shopping, Antonio drove the bus to a drop-off location, high above our hotel for the evening.  Luckily, Gesualdo had instructed us to pack a carry-on bag for the night so that we did not have to carry our luggage on the 1/2 mile hike down to the hotel, and more importantly, so we did not have to carry it back up the hill the next day.  The setting for Hotel Giosue al Mare was by far the most picturesque setting of our trip.  Overlooking the Gulf of Naples, we could admire the high cliffs of the Sorrento region.  We ate dinner on an outside patio as we watched the sun set over the gulf.

Statue on rock along the coast welcoming visitors to Capri
The next morning after breakfast, we hiked back up the hill to our bus which transported us back to the Piazza Tasso where we  would hike down to the marina to ride a ferry over to the Island of Capri.  We learned that Americans often mispronounce Capri based on how we have heard people say Capri pants. Capri actually is pronounced like Opry, with a C on the front. Upon arriving in Capri, we met our local guide who led us on an island "cruise" (it was actually a boat barely big enough to hold all of our travelers) to explore the cliffs and caves of the island.  We met the boy statue on top of the rock formation that greets visitors to Capri.  In one of the caves, we observed red coral, which was often used for jewelry in ancient society.  While we did not have the opportunity to visit the Blue Grotto, our boat captain carefully maneuvered the boat inside various other grottoes along the coast.  We encountered the Faraglioni rock formations before turning back to the marina.  On our way back, we passed through the archway of the Faraglioni di Mezzo, with couples being encouraged to kiss and individuals yell as we passed through the archway.  Upon arriving back to the marina, we rode the funicular from the marina to the city center at the top of a cliff.  As we walked to the Gardens of Augustus, our local guide pointed out all of the designer stores in which the rich and famous shop while on the island.  He also stopped in front of a famous Capri night club (I believe the Anema e Core) where many famous people have visited.  He mentioned that the night club opens up after the last ferry departs from the island and thus most people must be staying in one of the expensive Capri hotels if they wish to go to the night club.  However, some Italians who are not as rich have been known to save their money for the opportunity to see someone famous and will get a ride on one of the garbage ferries which run later into the evening.  Our tour ended with a visit to the Gardens of Augustus, from which we could see another classic view of the Faraglioni rock formations.  After some free time in Capri, we rode a ferry to Naples where we met our bus driver Antonio who transported us to the final city of our tour - Rome.

Grotto along coast of Capri

Faraglioni rock formations of Capri

Monday, June 29, 2015

Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Days 6 & 7 - Assisi and Pompeii

View of Assisi from its outskirts
On the morning of Day 6, we ate breakfast at Hotel Olimpia in Florence and departed on a 2.5 hour bus ride to Assisi.  Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis who founded the Franciscan religious order and St. Clare, a follower of St. Francis who founded the Order of Poor Ladies which was renamed the Order of Saint Clare.  Our bus driver Antonio navigated the streets leading up to the town of Assisi on the western side of Monte Subasio beautifully, but had to drop us off just outside of town as the bus could not travel on Assisi's narrow streets.  This gave us the opportunity to admire the town from its outskirts as well as the beautiful view of the surrounding Italian region.  As we reached the town center, our tour director Gesualdo provided us with a wonderful map of the city that included some historical information of a number of its landmarks and then informed us we had free time to eat lunch and explore the city until our local tour later in the afternoon.  As the rainclouds started to move in, a group of students, my wife and I selected a small restaurant off a side street from the town center.  This was the only time on the trip when we encountered a restaurant in which none of the employees spoke English.  As we struggled to order lunch and pay for our bill, we gained a greater appreciation for the difficulty non-English speaking visitors to the United States must experience.

Entrance to Basilica of St. Francis
After lunch, my wife and I followed roads to one of the higher points in town to enjoy further views of the surrounding mountainous region.  We met our local guide at the Temple of Minerva which was built in the 1st century BC.  He led us down the narrow streets of Assisi to the Chiesa Nuova, the presumed birthplace of St. Francis.  This church also contains the room in which St. Francis's father locked him up due to his acts of giving away his money and clothing to the  poor.  We then visited the Basilica of St. Clare, the final resting place of St. Clare in its crypt.  Our tour ended at the Basilica of St. Francis, the final resting place of St. Francis.  We were able to visit the Lower Church and the Upper Church and view the numerous frescoes decorating the walls.  Our local guide pointed out how we could tell the different ages of the frescoes based on the styles, for example, whether there was depth perception in the fresco.  As our tour of Assisi ended, we met our driver Antonio who drove us down the hill to our hotel, Casa Leonori.  After having dinner in the hotel, some of us ventured out with Gesualdo to observe a ceremony at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  Inside this church is a smaller church called the Porziuncola, the place where the Franciscan movement began.

Great Theater of Pompeii
On Day 7 after eating breakfast at our hotel, we were on the road again, traveling to the Sorrento region of Italy, but stopping in Pompeii on our way.  Pompeii was a market city of 45-65 acres that was founded in th 8th century BC and destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Our local guide informed us that eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was the equivalent to two atomic bombs.  The excavation of the city began in the 17th century.  We walked through the Quadriportico dei Teatri to the Teatro Grande, or Great Theater.  Walking along the ancient roads, we observed the chariot wheel ruts in the paved stones. We visited the public bath and then the lupanar, or brothel, of Pompeii.  The brothel contained some eye-opening graffiti advertising what was being sold as well as symbols carved in the stone to denote the type of business that it was.  As we continued walking through Pompeii, we had the opportunity to observe numerous mosaic floors.  We then moved to the Forum, the location of the Temple of Jupiter and in which is a bust of Jupiter.  In the Forum Granary, we observed many ancient artifacts of Pompeii as well as plaster casts of a dog, sitting man and a baby.  Our tour concluded and we had some time to shop for souvenirs outside the ancient city before departing for the Sorrento Region.    
Plaster cast of Pompeii dog

Forum in Pompeii

Friday, June 26, 2015

Honors Italy: The Grand Tour - Days 4-5 - Florence & Pisa

Perseus with the Head of Medusa
On Day 4 after breakfast, we said goodbye to Venice as we departed for Florence on a 5 hour bus trip that gave some of us some time to catch up on sleep.  Unfortunately, the weather during our first day in Florence matched the weather on our last day in Venice - lots of rain.  As we met our local Florence tour guide Allesandro, we took shelter in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the Piazza della Signoria.  The Loggia consists of high arches that open towards the piazza, offering shelter from sun and rain, while an open air gallery of sculptures from the Renaissance.  Included among the artwork in the Loggia were Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa" (1554),  the "Medici Lions" (one of which was created in the 2nd Century AD and the second completed by Vacca in 1598) and Giambologna's "The Rape of the Sabine Women" (1582). 

Dante image in sidewalk
Florence Cathedral bell tower
After visiting the courtyard of the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence, we walked through the colonnade of the Uffizi Gallery on our way to the Arno River, admiring the statues of Florence residents that we had only read about in books - Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Galileo, Donatello, Machiavelli and Amerigo Vespucci, to name several.  We continued walking to the Ponte Vecchio, the most famous arch bridge in Florence, the top of which contains part of the Vasari Corridor, the passage that the Medici family used so that it did not have to walk among the public.  Our walking tour continued to  the Piazza della Repubblica, the location of our hotel, and then to see the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, also known as the Duomo.  As we walked to our leather-making demonstration, we passed by Dante's House, with our tour guide informing us that it is unknown where Dante actually lived, but the house was recreated with a medieval architectural style similar to which Dante would have lived in.  He then challenged us to find the image of Dante in the sidewalk outside of his house.  After the leather-making demonstration, we enjoyed a group dinner in Florence and some of us returned to the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo at night to admire the lighting of these buildings.

No caption needed here!
Day 5 began with a morning trip to Pisa.  Many of us had the impression that the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a stand alone structure from the images that we had seen throughout our lives, but in actuality it is the bell tower for the Pisa Cathedral and the Pisa Baptistry is another significant building in the area.  All 3 of these structures lean in different directions, due to the soft ground upon which they were built.  We first entered the Pisa Baptistry, the building of which was completed in 1363.  The pulpit inside the baptistery was sculpted by Nicola Pisano in the 13th Century and includes a nude sculpture of Hercules, the first nude sculpture inside a church building.  Next we entered the cathedral which contains a chandelier that Galileo supposedly may have used in his studies of pendulum motion.  The building of the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in 1173.  After the first 3 floors were built, the tower began to lean and thus an attempt was made to correct this.  Our tour guide Veronique noted that the tower actually has a "shape like a banana." 

Students at the top of the Duomo
Upon returning to Florence, we had some free time, so some of us decided to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo to see breathtaking views of Florence.  While the climb was a physical challenge, we all agreed that the views of Florence were well worth completing the challenge. 

Again, no caption needed!
While the official tour did not include a trip to the Accademia Gallery in Florence, I decided that a trip to Florence could not be complete without seeing the original Michelangelo's David.  (We had already seen a replica outside of the Palazzo Vecchio.)  The Accademia Gallery turned out to be much smaller than I expected, but another highlight was seeing Michelangelo's 4 unfinished Prisoner that were intended to be used for the tomb of Pope Julius II.  I personally thought this was a highlight given Michelangelo's quote, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."  It was interesting to see these statues that were only part way discovered.  Another highlight of the museum for me that I almost walked by without noticing was Leonardo Pisano's manuscript Liber Abaci.  Leonardo Pisano is better known as Fibonacci and this is the manuscript that contains a problem about rabbits that introduced the world to the most famous sequence in mathematics - the Fibonacci numbers.
We returned to our hotel for a group dinner and then our tour director Gesualdo led us on a walk to one of the most elevated points in Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo, from which we experienced a panoramic view of Florence (and another replica of David).  It was a fitting way to say "Arrivederci" to Florence as we would depart for Assisi the next morning. 

Panoramic view of Florence at night from Piazza Michelangelo