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  4. Discovering Our City with the City of Rome Class

City of Rome introduces ninth graders to their city through weekly field trips to sites such as the Roman Forum, ancient aqueducts, the Circus Maximus, and local museums such as Palazzo Massimo alle Terme which houses an impressive collection of classical sculpture. In addition to quizzes and written field trip reports, students have several opportunities to deepen their knowledge of specific topics through exhibitions. This fall, the City of Rome classes split into groups of 3 to 4 students to study the importance of water in ancient and contemporary Rome. Students “researched different water-related topics such as the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Aqueducts, the Roman baths, and Tiber River, as well as fishkeeping and fire fighting.

The project was kicked off with a lecture by Jens Koehler, a water archaeologist at the American University of Rome (AUR) and visits from AUR’s graduate students. With the help of the AUR Master’s in Sustainable Cultural Heritage students (including myself), the St. Stephen’s students made research plans, researched the historical background of their sites, found old photos from the 1800s in the British School of Rome digital photo archive, and, finally, visited the sites to take photos and interview staff and visitors.” The projects culminated in an afternoon exhibition which remained on display in the school cortile for a week. This project gave students a unique opportunity to study sites and monuments they may walk past every day but know little about. Selina, a current ninth-grader, chose to study the Baths of Caracalla for precisely this reason; in Selina’s words, “I walk past every day but [until last week], I had never actually been there.” This spring, City of Rome students will organize a second exhibition on “Rome’s forgotten monuments.”

City of Rome comprises six units: the year began with a unit on the Romans and their environment which included the water monuments project. The students are currently studying Roman art and architecture. In January, the students will begin a unit on Roman religion before starting the “Rome - from village to empire” unit. For this month and a half long unit, which begins in February, students will study power and different types of government, such as monarchies, republics, and empires. Late March and April will be dedicated to “August and his successors.” In April, the students will participate in the international Medusa Mythology Exam. To conclude the year, students will study ancient economics, which will not only help them better understand the structure of Roman trade and taxation but will also provide them with a solid foundation in basic economic theory.

Recently, I shadowed two City of Rome classes on their field trips to the Forum Boarium and the Roman Forum to get a better sense of what it’s like to be a City of Rome student.

On a sunny December morning, sixteen students gathered in the shadow of the Temple of Hercules in Rome’s Forum Boarium, an area just across the street from the famous Bocca della Verità. The teacher, Marije Van Der Vorm, passed out worksheets featuring architectural plans and drawings of essential artistic features of Greek and Etruscan temples. Worksheets in hand, the students, divided into four groups to answer questions about the Forum Boarium’s two primary attractions: the Temple of Hercules and the Temple of Portunus. First, the students had to determine whether the temples in front of them were executed in the Greek or Etruscan style. Matching the temple plans on their worksheets to the structure in front of them, the students explained to me how they had classified the Temple of Hercules: its circular shape, interior cella, and free-standing marble columns identify it as a Greek temple. On the other hand, the monumental front staircase, made of travertine, sourced from nearby Tivoli, and the engaged volcanic tuff columns (partly embedded, partly projecting from the wall) of the rectangular Temple of Portunus are signature features of an Etruscan temple. Once the students had successfully classified the temples, Marije called the groups together to discuss the history of the Forum Boarium. In ancient Roman times, this valley, nestled between the Palatine, Capitoline, and Aventine hills, boasted a bustling cattle market. The name “Boarium” comes from the Greek word “bous” meaning bull. Its strategic location along the Tiber River made it easy for merchants to bring goods from all over the empire to sell at the Forum Boarium.

The Temple of Portunus is dedicated to the god, Portunus, one of several Tiber River gods. The Forum Boarium was the perfect location for the construction of such a temple because religion was more important to ancient Romans than almost anything else. It would have been unthinkable for  business-savvy Roman merchants to set up their stall at the cattle market without first making an offering to one of many Roman gods, in the hope that the god would bless their assets and maximize their cash flow.

We know so much about the Romans and their daily lives because they have left behind monuments, some of which have been exquisitely preserved. But why are these particular temples so well preserved? And “why,” as one student asked, “were the columns not taken and reused for a different site?” As the ninth grade students have learned, the Romans frequently looted columns and building materials from ancient sites for the construction of new churches. At one point, one hundred and fifty columns were even taken from the Baths of Caracalla and reinstalled in St. Peter’s Basilica. Marije explained that these temples are so well preserved today because, when Rome became a Christian city, the temples were reused as churches. In fact, if you enter the central cella of the Temple of Hercules, you can still admire the frescoes painted above the small altar.

That same December day, I also joined Inge Weustink’s City of Rome class for their field trip to the Roman Forum. We began our tour on the Via Sacra, an ancient Roman road made of dark-gray basalt and volcanic tuff, two local stones found in Rome. The stretch of the Via Sacra, which runs through the forum, is the last piece of this ancient road used for triumphal processions. In antiquity, Roman generals paraded down the Via Sacra to celebrate victories in battle. This section of the Via Sacra, which runs from the Arch of Titus to the Arch of Septimus Severus, runs directly above the Cloaca Maxima, an Ancient Roman sewer that still functions today. Just above one unusually large sewer grate, along the Via Sacra, one can find an unusual monument: a shrine to Venus Cloacina. Here, Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, is worshipped as the goddess of the sewer. Ancient Romans prayed to Venus Cloacina in the hopes that she would keep the sewer clean and running smoothly. Continuing along the Via Sacra, we arrive at the base of our focus for the day: the Roman Curia. This former Roman senate building has been well preserved because, like the Temple of Hercules and the Temple of Portunus, it was repurposed as a church. The first Roman Senate House was built during the time of the Roman monarchy, around 500 BC. Julius Caesar moved the Curia to its current location, in the Roman Forum (though he never lived to see the finished Curia because he was assassinated by Roman senators on March 15, 44 B.C.). The current Curia is a restored version, built by Diocletian after the fire of 283 AD, of Caesar’s Curia lulia. While the Curia is currently closed for restoration work, the sheer size and monumentality of this brick structure (built to house the meetings of Rome’s six hundred senators) are enough to give you a sense of its importance to Roman civic life.

Like the Forum Boarium, the Roman Forum served multiple functions: it was a meeting point, market place, sacred space, a place of memorialization, and, most importantly, the headquarters of the Roman government and its law courts.

For 1000 years, Rome was the most important city in the ancient world. Today, Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage site, an open-air museum, and a lively multicultural city home to students, professionals, diplomats, artists, and writers from all over the world. Millions of tourists come to Rome each year to spend a day or a week visiting Rome’s monuments and studying its myths; but for our students, Rome is home. City of Rome affords St. Stephen’s students an opportunity not only to explore this home but, through written assignments, field trips, and two exhibitions, students learn how to direct their curiosity about life to greater depths of understanding and lifelong learning. City of Rome is just the beginning of their education.

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Ms. Egan is proud to present work that has been done in her Creative Writing Classes in the Fall and Spring Semesters. Enjoy!

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Children of the Red Dragon

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The Golden Children

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One of St. Stephen’s’ signature courses, Roman Topography, got an upgrade this year. The new course is called City of Rome. In the past, students were required to take either Roman Topography or Latin 1. Beginning in Fall 2019, all ninth graders take City of Rome and choose between three classical languages: Latin, Classical Greek, or Arabic.

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Hi, I'm Sofia Peng, and I am a Student Ambassador!

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Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020

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Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020

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Chapter 7: Scholastic Writing Awards

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 2020

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