by Jessica Rea
A fan of the film Roman Holiday from a young age, I always have had a pull to partake in the view I had of the quintessential Italian life. I’ll admit, I was taken in by the images I had in my head of Italy from the various media forms that I had seen throughout my life, depicting Italy and the Tuscan region as a place of charm, history, (and above all) fantastic food.
My desire to visit this nation only increased upon my architectural studies here at the University of Kansas, as I began learning about and studying the various buildings and public spaces that encompass the essence of Italian life. I strove to see and be a part of these spaces, learning about another culture and gaining knowledge of another architectural style. After gaining entry into the study abroad program, I finally received my chance to venture into this unknown world I had envisioned for so long.
Now reflecting back on my visit with help from notes, memories, and our various readings, I have come to see the essence of Italian culture as a combination of architectural elements, history, and civic life. Two cities visited had only one of the two characteristics needed to create the desired architectural experience within the cityscape: Siena and Florence. Florence, visited a few times by our group, resonated brilliantly with me in terms of architecture.
Siena, as our home base, was definitely the city I got most acquainted with, allowing me to better understand the complexities within its urban fabric. Although Siena has a few physical architecture gems like the Duomo and other fantastically designed churches, it by large consists of impactful urban space.
Upon visiting, one can sense an inherent responsibility to Siena as a whole and to their individual neighborhood, as civic duty was required of all citizens, and was rendered with pride and enthusiasm. This focus on a city-wide unity among citizens is clearly shown through the abundance of public spaces.
Through the various readings done, I was able to use questions raised about the Italian cityscape, about the historical significance of the Tuscan region, and about the influence politics has had on architecture to better understand and contextualize my experiences I had when abroad. It was even better than I could hope for, as I now can see past the given view of Tuscan and Italian culture that I’ve grown up with, and see Italy for the remarkable place it is.