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Rome: Eternal City, Eternal Fascination

Colleen Marshall —

Architecture virtually on your doorstep

Last year during the winter months I undertook a couple of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to while away the evenings. Both were about Roman architecture, one through Future Learn and the University of Reading, and one through Coursera and Yale University. Both were free but you could upgrade by paying a fee to receive a certificate after completing the required assignments.

The University of Reading course, developed by Dr Matthew Nicholls, involved reading the course material on each topic and then navigating a virtual model he had created of ancient Rome. You were able to navigate through buildings, fora and streets such as the Colosseum, the Imperial Fora, and the baths of Caracalla, and gain some understanding of the scale and majesty of these places. There were also interviews with various experts in Roman history and culture. One interviewee was Dr Christopher Smith, former Director of the British School at Rome, who was coincidentally in Dunedin while I was taking the course. He was delivering public lectures about the kings of Rome for the De Carle Distinguished Lecture Series hosted by the Classics Department at the University. I attended these lectures, and couldn’t help thinking what a small world we live in: I am doing an online course along with hundreds of other people from all around the world, and right in my own city at the same time was one of the featured experts.

The Yale University course was very comprehensive and consisted of a series of recorded lectures led by impressively authoritative Diana Kleiner, Dunham Professor in the History of Art and Classics. To support all this learning I sought out (naturally) books in our library, and there were many to choose from. Rome: Day One was recommended reading by Dr Smith, and written by  eminent archaeologist Andrea Carandini who excavated the Palatine hill, site of the earliest occupation in this area. Rome From the Ground Up is a tour of different districts of the city and their surviving monuments which are representative of different periods in the city's history. Rome: Archaeological Guide to the Eternal City by Sofia Pescarin is a pictorial guide to many of Rome’s monuments and archaeological sites, and was a helpful companion to Matthew’s virtual model.  The Blue Guide to Rome is an excellent source for Roman art, history and architecture. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard, another expert classicist, writes entertainingly about Rome's ordinary citizens and their lives. Domina: The Women Who Made Imperial Rome by Guy de la Bédoyère explores the dynastic power held by the women in the Julio-Claudian Imperial family, as the emperors often had no surviving sons to succeed them. The line of succession was predominately through the female line, beginning with Livia, the wife of Augustus, and continuing until Agrippina the Younger, who was murdered by her infamous son Nero. Rome by Robert Hughes and Rome: Eternal City by Ferdinand Addis are both journeys through nearly 3000 years of history, from the fabled foundation in 753 BC to Mussolini and fascism. The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey is an account of the end of the pagan Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. This was a time of fanatical violence where statues were mutilated and beheaded, libraries and temples were destroyed, and books and literature were burned, jettisoning civilisation into the Dark Ages.