This Sunday morning, a brave group of students met at the early hour of 8:30am at the Basilica di San Giovanni to undertake the last optional orientation event of the semester: the Wall Walk.
The Wall Walk is more than just a walking tour of Rome. It’s an eight-hour long endeavor to explore both the city’s historic past and modern present through tracing the Aurelian Walls that enclose the ancient city of Rome.
Armed with headsets and our pre-packed lunches, we followed Professor Gadeyne throughout the city, as his narration informed us about all that we were passing. Professor Gadeyne balanced ancient history with facts and tips about life in modern Rome—he pointed out the only remaining “bathroom” hole jutting out of the Aurelian Wall that expertly employed gravity as a sewage system, and similarly noted the architecture of a popular shopping center and showed us the way to delicious cafes when our energy ran low and we needed to be revived with an espresso shot or two.
The cold and gray morning quickly turned into a clear and sunny day, urging us onward despite our aching feet. At each corner we turned, it felt as if we discovered an area of the city even more beautiful than the last. When we reached the Villa Borghese, we could not believe this breathtaking park is just minutes away from the Temple Rome campus. The park was full of people picnicking, rollerblading, and enjoying a relaxing Sunday. Friends and I oohed and aahed as we passed, hatching plans for study sessions and lunch breaks in the park during the school day.
As we climbed the Terrazza del Gianicolo to the stunning overlook where we’d have our lunch, we passed the villas of diplomats and took in a panoramic view of Rome. We sat in a quaint park and ate our panini, happy to have a break to catch our breath and absorb our surroundings.
Although I did not complete the whole eight hours of the walk, I felt very accomplished at the end of lunch and left with a new arsenal of knowledge about the city I get to call home for the next four months. One of the first things Professor Gadeyne told us on the walk is what most stood out to me: only 5% of the current population of Rome lives within the Aurelian Walls.
This fact really put my position in Rome into perspective for me. Firstly, it made me realize how once in a lifetime an opportunity it is be able to both live and study within the tiny area that accounts for the bulk of ancient Roman history. However, it also emphasizes how incomplete our current vision of Rome is. As Americans going abroad, we paint an idealistic image of fairytale Rome with ruins and monuments around every corner. Although it certainly can feel like that sometimes as I wander around near the Piazza di Spagna, I’m hoping to move beyond the tourist’s view of Rome and explore neighborhoods off the beaten path, perhaps even those beyond the Aurelian Walls. If 95% of Romans live out there, it’s impossible to leave with a true sense of Rome without venturing past what’s comfortable, easily accessible, and well-publicized.