Each time we visit another city, I’m struck with the stark contrasts between Italy and America. Initially it’s the physical differences – things I can see upon entering the city. A distinct lack of skyscrapers and high rises leaves the sky far more open, steel and glass towers are replaced with concrete and terracotta covered buildings, and (in the cities we’ve visited) cobblestones replace cement and asphalt roads. But the biggest differences all seem to come down to Italy’s stronger ties to its history and to its much, much longer history.
In every city we’ve visited, we’ve gone to museums and churches to look at art, all of which seems to fall into two categories: ancient Roman and Christian. The Vatican Museums, logically enough, were covered in Christian-themed paintings, as was the Basilica de San Francesco. The Uffizi contained a broader mix, with the majority of its sculptures representing Roman culture and mythology and the majority of its paintings depicting Christian scenes. This always reminds me that while we are often taught about the Roman empire as a separate subject from Italian history in school , they are really one and the same. Italy still has ties to the previous empire that it housed, and the evidence of that fact is in every city we’ve been to.
One aspect of this that I find especially fascinating is that such a heavily Catholic area is filled with huge quantities of art related to Roman mythology, a pagan religion. While the Vatican contained almost entirely Christian art, it was mere blocks away from buildings and statues that predated Constantine and the Roman Catholic church and that evidenced the pagan religion of the time. I would really like to look into Constantine and see how this shift in religion for the entire are could have come about so completely.