August 12, 2012

Back to the Ancients: A Class Trip to Oplontis and Pompeii

 The villa at Oplontis
By Kirsten Hower,
 ARCA European Correspondent

 Last Sunday, the ARCA class of 2012 ventured south of Rome to explore two ancient Roman archaeological sites that are currently preserved and used as tourist attractions: Oplontis and Pompeii. Of the two, Pompeii is the more internationally recognized by a broader audience, whereas Oplontis is one of the best kept secrets of Torre Annunziata. Both make for practical and interesting trips for the ARCA students: both are archaeological sites that the Italian state is preserving while also keeping them open to the public for educational purposes. This was a chance for the students to see, in practice, the different circumstances of sites that are viable both scholastically and economically.

Pompeii, 1900, Brooklyn Museum Archives
We were incredibly lucky to have an amazing guide for both sites, Dr. Crispin Corrado who is the founding instructor of the Brown University program in Rome, who gave a historical background of anything and everything pertinent to both sites: a brief history of Rome and these two sites, background for each site, explanations of the architectural structures, etc. A veritable font of information, Crispin was very animated and informative, bringing the sites to life while leading the students around under the hot summer sun.

Though Pompeii is always a popular spot for students, Oplontis has, perhaps, deeper connections with what the students study during the semester. Not only is the villa important for examining practiced methodology of preserving a ‘functional’ cultural site, but it also has ties with a now famous controversy of the Medici dossier. One of the rooms at Oplontis, which features some of best preserved Roman walls paintings still in situ, had a fresco detached from the walls in the 1970s which then entered the illegal art market, where it found a place on the Medici dossier. In 2008, the same fresco was recovered by police at a private residence in Paris.

First century Roman wall paintings
 were removed from a room
much like this one at Oplontis
The trip to Oplontis and Pompeii was a great success, giving the students a day to wander through archaeological sites and to gain an on-site perspective of the pros and cons of preserving a site of historical importance for the interest of both scholars and the public. Hopefully this site visit will continue to be a success in future years of the ARCA summer certificate program.


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