Europe Week Two: Abruzzo


This past week we finally started studio classes and projects. But with architectural design also comes history lessons, which calls for class fieldtrips every other day. We walk around Rome with our professor, studying basilicas, sketching piazzas, and immersing ourselves in the urban landscape. It's truly amazing to be able to get an education out in the real world environment. A few days ago we had an assignment that involved drawing the Pantheon and understanding its layout. So my classmates and I walked ten minutes from our school and, voila, sat down in the portico to study one of the greatest pieces of ancient architecture in all its glory. An architect's dream.


This week as a group we visited the Pantheon, Piazza del Popolo, Via Margutta, the National Gallery of Ancient Art, the Spanish Steps, Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum, and Renzo Piano's Auditorium. I myself took lunch breaks exploring the Campidoglio, Portico D'Octtavia, Piazza Bocca della Verità, Castel Sant'Angelo, Porta Portese Market, and Piazza Venezia, all of which are located within a twenty-minute walking radius from my school. Yeah, life is pretty awesome right now. I couldn't be more blessed to be living in one of the most historically rich cities and seeing new things everyday that inspire me.


In spite of all the amazing excursions within the city, the highlight of my week was a trip we took to the Abruzzo region of Italy, between Lazio and the Adriatic Sea. We drove up to the mountains to study rural urbanism and small villages that inspire a balance between human settlement and the natural environment. Our first stop was Onna, a village devastated by the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, and now in the rebuilding process. It was paralyzing to see a town so quiet, haunted by tragedy as almost all residents had lost loved ones. 

Then we quickly stopped by Santo Stefano di Sessanio, a quaint medieval hill town located in the highest region of the Apennines. Looking over the area that's considered the "Tibet of Italy," the views from the village took my breathe away. Walking along the cobblestone road under the bright blue sky and peeking through little stone archways into the most charmingly beautiful heart is still fluttering with butterflies. 

Not believing anything could top the beauty of what I had just witnessed, I was delighted to find my professor leading us on a hike up a mountain to none other than Rocca Calascio, a historical fortress located in Italy's first national park. (My princess fairy tale dreams were coming true!) At a height of 1500 meters, the mountaintop gave away to a breathtaking 360-degree view of the Gran Sasso mountain chain. I died and went to heaven; it was beyond surreal. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

We ended the beautiful day sketching in the nearby Castelvecchio Calvisio, a medieval ghost town abandoned but still intact. Characterized by narrow streets bordered by stone houses and steep stairs, the depopulated village appears to be a tortoise-shell outline compact clump of houses from an aerial view. Walking through the empty roads, I was haunted by the complete silence of the setting. I sat in a small courtyard blooming with flowers to paint the view. The gray clouds looming above released a few droplets of rain, and a cat ran past us, scaring me amidst the quietness. We kept to ourselves and continued sketching. By 5 p.m., the sun had come back out to bid us farewell as we finished up and got onto the shuttle bus back to Rome.

Escaping to the uncontaminated countryside was a much needed break from the daily hustle and bustle of city life. A breath of fresh air. A hike on a sunny day. A vista of rolling green hills. A taste of village life. These are the moments that have me pinching myself. I can't believe I'm in Italy. I live here now. I get to come to these beautiful places because of school. Wow.

La dolce vita sure is sweet.