I have always been intrigued by the Roman Empire as it was one of the largest empires and thrived in a large part due to their civil engineers. For the past year, I have been immersing myself in their history, learning about ancient construction and civilisation. I wanted to visit Rome to indulge myself in its history and architecture, to develop my understanding of their techniques and ultimately to further my growth as a well-rounded person and aid me in my civil engineering career in the future. As a Gold Scholar, I was able to apply for support from the GSP Opportunities Fund* to make my dream a reality.
Arriving in Rome around midday I couldn't have asked for a smoother trip, I had planned it to perfection. I indulged in the flavours Rome had to offer! I went to an authentic Italian restaurant and was served a two-course meal which almost had me rolling out the door and to top it off a home-made tiramisu. Whilst at the restaurant I sparked a conversation with an American nurse on holiday who recommended a few sites to see and one in particular.
The Victor Emmanuel II Monument, this humungous structure, was dedicated to the once King of Sardinia and first King of a United Italy till his death in 1878 - the Italians gave him the epithet of Father of the Fatherland. You could tell the King was loved as the structure gleams with detail and fine architecture. I took a walk up its numerous stairs to find a large statue of the King himself riding his horse, a few more steps to the top and the view of Rome is unbeatable. I stood in awe of such a mighty city, trying to rewind back the clock and build a picture of the many structures that were there before, reassured that they must have been as magnificent as the ones that stand today, are vibrant and blend well into the cultural ancient city.
Next, I visited the Colosseum: I was spellbound by the sheer size of the structure, let alone the fact that it still stands after so many centuries. What is left of the Colosseum allowed me to picture and imagine what it looked like: its seats still intact, the sandpit in the centre and roof that shielding spectators from the heat of the sun during the gladiator events. The arena was not just a place where Gladiators fought, but where people were crucified, used for rituals done by the church and to keep farm animals - all done at different times in the history of the Colosseum.
Visiting Vatican City was another amazing experience. I visited the Cathedral of St. Peter’s: in the main auditorium, I was spellbound by the fine interior and marvellous architecture. The ceiling was made of several arches connecting into each other and this I tried to understand but gave up quickly as I had not seen this level of complexity before. There was a separate prayer room in which I decided to go in and take a seat to breathe and meditate. Strictly no pictures allowed, and pin-drop silence was the order of the room. I stayed seated for almost half an hour till a priest came to do a service/ritual, which a few in the room took part in (singing song and reciting scriptures in Italian). When he was finished, he picked up a large monstrance and looked through it at all of us in the auditorium.
On my last day, I visited the Pantheon, the famous temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus, now a church standing with grace and elegance. From the outside, it looks like an ordinary temple but inside the artwork, the memorial plaques and the ceiling are a testament of the Romans’ exquisite taste. The first thing you do on entering the temple is a slight swirl of the head to take in what is on the walls then up towards the ceiling and from there you are transfixed. Well, that's if you are like myself and marvel at structures and I must say the Pantheon is one of my favourite buildings because of its huge dome ceiling made of Roman concrete.
Not too far of a walk from the Pantheon is a tall column structure dedicated to a great emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurilius, by his son Commodus. The structure depicts many honorific battles, including the Parthian War. I could only see the structure from a distance as police and the military were on watch in front of the column, but it didn't cause too much of a problem as the column is 100 Roman feet tall! I read a small article somewhere which stated that Marcus Aurilius went on 2-hour walks alone to think and meditate on the empire and how best to lead it. He inspires me as a person and has aided in promoting the art of reflection in my life.
Rome is a magical place, from the moment I landed I could feel it. The history of the city spoke through its structures to me. Although I did not understand how much of it was built, what I took from my trip was a challenge to understand buildings of old and new, and try to blend the ancient creativity with the current pressure for sustainability.
Exploring Rome and its culture has sparked a more adventurous side of me, and I will continue to travel and learn about life outside of my little bubble at home. It was a very daunting prospect of travelling to Rome alone but seeing the benefits of going I am happy I went. Now I am fascinated more by the historical structures in London. I realised that living in London before university, I had not appreciated the influence Rome had on the structures here; now, I smile as a few structures here look like replicas to the ones in Rome.
Lastly, I would like to thank the donor and the Gold Scholarship for the opportunity that was given to me. I have grown a lot since being in Rome and I am more appreciative of the world around me. I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with myself and explore a place far outside my comfort zone.
*The GSP Opportunity Fund provides Gold Scholars with an opportunity to apply for funds to support their participation in personal development activities. The Fund has been made possible due to a generous gift from a GSP mentor/donor. If you are interested in contributing to the fund, please contact Molly Southwood, Deputy Director and Head of Alumni Engagement: firstname.lastname@example.org