Cinque Terre: The Ultimate Urban Hike

10401005_1020924963489_1054_n

Sunset between Corniglia and Vernazza

As a college student, I visited the Cinque Terre in the heat of the late summer in 2008 for a two-day trek over the coastline cliffs, visiting each city and taking in the spectacular views. We were on a tight budget, opting to camp for free along the trail versus finding a last-minute hotel option, and carrying all of our own food (minus the bottle of wine we picked up in Vernazza) it was a relatively cheap weekend trip. I was young, unprepared (my pack barely carried enough supplies for one night and we lacked a tent and sleeping bags, thus causing us to sleep under the stars), but it was in that trip that my love for the urban trails really came to be. It was a time when all I could do was say yes, and take in every moment on the journey.

After that initial trip, I swore I would return, this time with more money and more planning, and would spend my days hiking and writing from my Vernazza villa in the cliffs. Ten years later, I wouldn’t say I’ve achieved that level of awesomeness (yet!), but I was able to return to the region in 2011 to introduce good friends to a place I loved.

I wouldn’t advise travelers to take the same loose precautions as I did when planning a trip to the Cinque Terre, located on the northwestern coastline of Italy. Aptly named to represent the five fishing towns within this national park, the Cinque Terre is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and provides visitors of all ages and abilities to explore. For the avid hikers looking for a challenge, there are plenty of spur trails off the main route that bring you up into the cliffs, or, down to hidden beaches tucked along the craggy coast. For the more leisurely hiker, there are flat paths between some of the towns, passing through gardens and scenic overlooks. And for those of you who are not too much into the hiking part, but still looking to enjoy the Cinque Terre, there is a train that stops at each town, giving you chance to explore without climbing a mountain.

The journey starts by train in La Spezia, a coastline hub just south of the Cinque Terre. From there, buy your park and train passes from the ticket counter and take the 20-minute ride to Riomaggiore, the first town and the starting point for the 6.2-mile urban hike.

 

10401005_1020922283422_6993_n

‘Via dell’Amore’ or ‘Lovers Lane’ includes sculptures and murals dedicated to that wonderful feeling we call love.

1. Riomaggiore

As you ride the train from La Spezia to Riomaggiore, you pass into a dark tunnel through the cliffs—encased in darkness for a few moments, your eyes adjust long enough to make the glimpse of the crashing waves down below seem like a dream—in a moment, you see a sight that takes your breath away, only to return to darkness, craving more of the scenery you are about to encounter. Once you arrive, you are greeted by the pastel homes that trademark the five towns, with colorful boats docked along the inlet, waiting to head out in to the Liguarian Sea. The trail connecting Riomaggiore and the next town is also the region’s most famous, called ‘Via dell’Amore’ (‘Lover’s Lane’). The walk is paved for the most part, and features sculptures and lookout points, and is perfect for hikers of all levels. Take a stroll for 1.2 miles, admiring the kissing statue and the murals dedicated to love.

 

2. Manarola

Manarola’s church San Lorenzo dates back to 1338 and is the focal point of the village. Here, you can stroll down to the water to shop (look for the trademark painted potteryof the region) and try out some local cuisine (be sure to try Cinque Terre’s wine, as well as their white anchovies) before heading back onto the trail. While not as easy, the path between Manarola and Corniglia is a relatively flat 1.2 miles, and the last of the accessible trails before hikers have to head into the cliffs.

 

215610_1742002589979_4581932_n3. Corniglia

Unlike the other towns in Cinque Terre, Corniglia is set high into the mountain overlooking the sea, versus sitting on the coast. From the train station, you must climb over 300 steps to reach the town, so for the leisurely hikers, I recommend skipping this (if you are determined to see all five towns, but do not want to do the steps, there is an auto road with buses that will take you to the top. The hiking trail follows these steps up to the town, and brings you to the highest point in the park before you head back down a long, gradual descent to the fourth town (total mileage about 2 miles).

 

10401005_1020925403500_5961_n

Vernazza is the most photogenic of the five towns. 

4. Vernazza

My favorite town in Cinque Terre and one of the most picturesque, Vernazza features a stone fort and lookout tower you can climb, as well as a sleepy harbor perfect for lunch by the sea. I recommend setting aside some extra time to enjoy the town before continuing on your hike, or, even better, book a room in the town and spend the night. The final part of the trail leaving Vernazza is the most difficult, taking you high into the cliffs again, but at 1.8 miles, it gives you plenty of views to enjoy along the way.

 

5. Monterosso al Mare

Celebrate your accomplishment with a meal and some gelato, all while sitting along the beaches. With more flat terrain than the other towns, Monterosso has become more of a vacation spot than its sisters. Be sure to pack a swimsuit and grab a towel, because after a long hike you will need to cool off in the water!

 

48 Hours in Milan

Milan is a very livable city. While it may not be as packed with landmarks as Italy’s Florence or Rome, it provides travelers with a nice getaway filled with Italian charm, while also catering to the day to day lives of locals. With ample shopping and charming streets, Milan is perfect for urban hikers who love to people watch. On our last visit, we had 48 hours to take in as much of the city as possible, making time for some must-see attractions, and plenty of gelato.

IMG_8007

Milan’s Duomo lights up the streets at night.

Duomo di Milano

Dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, this breathtaking cathedral is a must-see when you visit. As you wander into the heart of Milan’s old city, you will catch glimpses of the Duomo’s pinnacles and spires, typical to Gothic style. The best view of the cathedral itself is from the piazza that surrounds it, but to really get a full experience, we recommend heading straight up to the roof, where you can walk among the spires and gaze out at the surrounding city. Tickets cost 9 euros to walk, or 13 euros to take the lift (NOTE: It is actually faster to wait in line for the lift instead of climbing the stairs) and you have to purchase tickets ahead of time either online or at the ticket center to the right of the cathedral’s façade. You can also buy tickets to enter the cathedral and visit the museum.

IMG_7975

View of Milan from the Duomo Rooftop.

 

The Last Supper

Art history lovers flock to Milan for this painting. Located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, this 15th century painting by Leonardo da Vinci shows the story of Jesus and his Disciples breaking bread the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. It is da Vinci’s second most famous painting, only behind the Mona Lisa, and is slowly deteriorating due to the painter’s methods and environmental factors. Only a small number of people are allowed to view the painting daily, so you need to book tickets far in advance, or book through a tour group (we recommend booking through Walks of Italy, which includes a guided tour and tickets to the Duomo roof).

IMG_7981

Take a break at Sempione Park, located just behind the Castello Sforzeco. In the distance you can view one of Napoleon’s many triumphal arches. 

Castello Sforzesco

This former castle for the Duke of Milan is now home to a complex of Milan’s best museums. The highlight is of course a visit to see Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta, but you can also explore museums dedicated to Ancient Art, Musical Instruments, Archaeology, and more. Entry to the castle is free, but you will need to pay to visit the museums. If it’s a nice day out, we recommend also walking through the castle and into Sempione Park (and be sure to grab some gelato on your trek!)

Urban Hiking

Milan’s layout stretches far beyond the old city’s walls, but when planning your trip, try to book a hotel close to the center. This way, you can spend your evenings eating in one of Milan’s many charming pizzas and people watch in front of the Duomo. If you’re an early riser like me, take some time in the morning to wander Milan’s narrow Italian streets, where you will encounter pockets of old world Italy molded into the modern feel.

If shopping is your thing, Milan offers plenty of opportunity to pop into stores on your walk. Visit the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (with its famous gold and glass roof) and browse top designer stores, or wander outside of the city center for more affordable fashions, food, and more. And if it’s food you’re looking for, keep an eye out for cheese and charcuterie shops to sample some of the best in the region!

IMG_7993

Even on a rainy day, Como has plenty to offer for travelers. 

Day Trip out to Lake Como

If you are in Milan for a weekend and want a change of scenery for day two, you can easily venture to one of the many towns surrounding the picturesque Lake Como. Como, the village at the southwest corner of the wishbone-shaped lake, is only an hour by train from Milan and has plenty to see in one afternoon. On a sunny day, take a ferry tour out onto the lake or rent a paddleboat, and even if it is raining, be sure to take the funicular up into the hills for a view of the Lake and its surrounding villages. On a clear day, you may even be able to see the Italian Alps in the distance. If it’s glitz and glamour you’re looking for, head a little farther by train to Bellagio, which has played as a backdrop for films including Casino Royale and Star Wars.

Basilica Hopping in Florence

As the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence has become a destination for art lovers, foodies, and the religious alike. With so much history around every corner, it’s easy to miss something when wandering the city’s cobble stone streets. But you don’t have to be a person of faith to appreciate the wonders of Florence’s many basilicas—with so many grandiose structures in a small footprint of the city, it’s easy to dedicate a day to see them all (with stops for gelato of course!). For this tour, we start at the Santa Maria Novella, located right by Florence’s main train station.

215522_1742054391274_5968351_n

Florence renovated the courtyard in front of Santa Maria Novella, creating the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

Santa Maria Novella: ‘Novella’ translates literally to ‘New,’ identifying this church as the first true great basilica of Florence. Commissioned by the wealthy textile merchant Rucellai family, this basilica was designed by architect Leon Battista Alberti and constructed between 1448 and 1470. It’s most prominent feature is of course the elaborate facade design that overlooks the courtyard, but be sure to visit inside to spectate Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, an early Renaissance fresco that brought perspective back in vogue.

Basilica di San Lorenzo: Our next stop takes us down Via Sant’Antonio and then turning towards Via de’ Gori, right to the façade of the Basilica de San Lorenzo, a final resting place for some of Florence’s most powerful patrons. What detail the outside of this church lacks is made up for inside, with its iconic white and gold ceiling. While much of the church’s design is credited Filippo Brunelleschi, it is not entirely of his doing. However, the true gem of this church and must-see for all visitors is the Cappelle Medicee (Medici Chapel), with Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florence’s golden child, designing the marble statues adorning the tombs of Guiliano di Lorenzo de’Medici and Lorenzo di Piero de’Medici.

216954_1742070671681_7395805_n

PIT STOP: For true Michelangelo fans, be sure to visit the Laurentian Library, an extension of San Lorenzo and a perfect example of Michelangelo’s renaissance architecture design with its oversized staircase and reading room.

LUNCH BREAK: Hungry and looking for something authentically Italian? Visit the Mercato Centrale, located on Via dell’Ariento, right around the corner from the Basilica de San Lorenzo. Here, you can eat at the take-out counters, or buy a variety of fresh fruit, meats, cheeses, and more to create a picnic. Staying at a place with a kitchen? Buy your ingredients here and cook at home!

208669_1742050551178_6953551_n

Walking along the streets of Florence, you can always catch a glimpse of Brunelleschi’s Dome.

Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo): As you walk the streets of Florence, there is one landmark you can always pick out. Whether you are hiking in the hills above the city, or catching glimpses of the great dome from Florence’s narrow streets, you can’t miss the city’s main attraction. Towering above the city, the most prominent feature of this basilica is of course its dome—designed by Filippo Brunelleschi after winning a contest to design it. The story goes, that while the Gothic Revival base of the church was built in the 1200s, it was left uncovered because the opening was too large for a traditional dome. And because the Florentines would rather die than see its beloved church supported by flying buttresses a la French Gothic design, they commissioned any eligible architect to find a solution. Thus comes in Brunelleschi, who designed a dome inside a dome (a double dome!) to top the structure. Today, you can climb the 463 steps and actually walk between the two domes to reach the top for spectacular views of the city and the surrounding hills of Tuscany.

ALTERNATE CLIMB: If the dome seems daunting, you can also climb the bell tower, designed by Renaissance heavyweight Giotto. It’s still quite a climb though, but at only 414 steps you’ll save that bit of energy for more walking later.

PIT STOP: All that dome climbing will absolutely make you hungry, so as you make your way over to the Santa Croce basilica, stop at famous gelateria Grom at the corner of Via del Campanile and Via delle Oche. It’s a popular spot, and once you have your first bite you’ll know exactly why.

216324_1742078431875_4107728_n

Santa Croche at sunset.

Basilica di Santa Croce di Firenze: You’ll have to pull your map out for this one—heading south towards the Arno River, take your time to explore the winding streets as you make our way to the smaller but dazzling Basilica di Santa Croce. Translated as “The Sacred Cross,” this church is a part of the Franciscan order and still has a functioning cloister. However, the true draw to this church is its collection of Renaissance history—here, you can view works by Giotto, Donatello, Cimabue, and Vasari, or pay respects at the tombs of famous Florentines including Michelangelo, Alberti, Galileo, Ghiberti, and Machiavelli.

San Minato Church: High above the city on a hill on the south bank of the Arno is the ever-popular Piazzale Michelangelo. For urban hikers, this is a true challenge as you climb the stairs up to the peak, but the view is worth it. From here, you get a full glimpse of the city, with the Santa Maria del Fiore watching over it. I love visiting this spot at sunset, but for the purpose of this walk, be sure to get there before 7 p.m. to visit the San Minato al Monte, a small Romanesque church near the Piazzale, and then venture over to the lookout point to watch the day end.

Happy Anniversary, Cinque Terre!

10401005_1020922283422_6993_n

A bench on ‘Lover’s Lane,’ part of the first leg of hiking paths through Cinque Terre.

You will have to excuse the sappy nostalgia of this weeks’ post—I discovered a recent photo a few months ago and was eager to write about the memories it stirred up in me. There’s a reason why this week is the week I write about it too, because September 8 is the eight-year anniversary of my hike through the Italian preservation known as Cinque Terre (translates to ‘Five Lands’).

If you read any travel guide, Cinque Terre is typically labeled as a ‘must-see’ for anyone visiting the Italian Riviera. It’s smaller than the trodden towns along the Amalfi Coast, but thanks to its National Park preservation status, the trails in between give you a more authentic look at the natural coastline of this country. Rick Steves (author of his self-titled series of guidebooks, aka ‘The Bible’) raves about the five towns in this region regularly, and encourages anyone planning a trip to spend at minimum two nights there. And with hiking trails, white anchovies, chilled Liguarian wine, and beaches at every stop, it’s not surprising why this place comes so highly recommended.

I think about this place all the time still, but specifically September 8, 2008. On this day, I woke on a beach hidden deep below the cliff side of Cinque Terre’s two towns of Corniglia and Vernazza.

It was actually Rick Steves’ guidebook that brought us there too–I had made friends with some hikers in my program, and we still had a few weeks left of warm, summer weather and wanted to take advantage of a trail with both stunning views and swimming. We did some research, and because of the guidebook’s heavy push to see this place, we decided it would be a great way to get that hiking fix. We took an early train from Florence’s main train station to La Spezia, a coastal town outside of Pisa, and switched there to enter the five towns. (A note if you want to visit there: Cinque Terre has its own rail system that stops in each of the five towns. You can hike between each one as well, but if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still go from town to town by train. All you need to do is buy a Cinque Terre rail pass at La Spezia train station).

10401005_1020922363424_7618_n

Cinque Terre has a rail system that takes you through all five towns for a good price–it’s a great alternative to see everything without having to hike.

Stop one on the train is Riomagiorre. The ride from La Spezia is only ten or so minutes long, with the final portion cutting into the rocks of the mountainside. Sitting in complete darkness, I was staring at my reflection, probably rearranging my ponytail or telling some story to my travel companions while simultaneously watching for a view to appear, when a short spurt of light poked through, revealing our first sight of the sea crashing upon the rocks. I gasped, audibly, so much so that my friend burst into laughter. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my entire life.

Our two-day hike had a lot of similar, jaw-dropping moments—the region is stunning, with pastel homes built into the cliffs overlooking the Liguarian sea. Life moves a little slower in Cinque Terre too—the locals are up early, taking advantage of the morning to get their boats out and bring supplies down to the ocean side stores and restaurants before the tourists roll in. You forget the rest of the world for a moment, with every turn bringing you a new surprise, a new photo opportunity, and new memory to store away.

I truly believe the best way to experience a place is on foot—it gives you a chance to take the time to see everything and to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of where you are. In Cinque Terre, walking the narrow (and steep) streets in many cases is your only option too—in the five towns–Riomagiorre, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare—cars aren’t allowed in the center part of the cities (Monterosso is the exception, with wider streets for cars and a more level beach).

10174787_10202180851022843_5620588635374209981_n

Be careful on some of the trails in Cinque Terre–they can be steep and rugged. If you are not an experienced hiker, I recommend taking the train.

For the amateur hiker, I would recommend walking the first two legs, starting at Riomagiorre and walking to Manarola and onto Corniglia, which includes the popular ‘Lover’s Lane,’ complete with locks along the covered stone pathway. You will need to purchase a pass to hike (it’s less than 10 euros for the day pass, and you can purchase it at any trail entrance), and be sure to check the weather and trail conditions (depending on the season, mudslides or the threat of falling rocks will close portions of the trails). Regular hikers will find more of a challenge between the last three towns, and there is a network of trails that go through the higher peaks if you have the time to check it out.

10401005_1020925403500_5961_n

View looking down to Vernazza.

If I can make one recommendation though, it is this—do not miss Vernazza.

On that particular trip in 2008, we climbed down a narrow, steep path (with ropes to attached to the rock for safety), which strayed from our main path, just to get to the staircase leading to the beach. Because it was so hot, we dedicated most of our afternoon to swimming. As the sun started to set, we climbed back up into the hills and stopped in Vernazza. If you do even the most minimal amount of research on this region, Vernazza will always pop up—it’s the picturesque cove town, with a stone watchtower looming over the curved docks. Here is where I spend most of my time when I return to Cinque Terre every few years—I would recommend trying to find a room here, but book well in advanced, most travelers will have the same idea.

On this specific occasion, we only had a short stay in Vernazza. We grabbed a few bottles of wine and pizza from a local shop, and ate dinner seated by the cove that protected the small fishing boats from the rough seas around the bend. The air was still that night, and we packed our bags to hit the trail one more time, this time, to find a quiet place to camp. We went backwards, back to the beach we had found earlier in the day, and watched the sun set, feet in the sand, wine passing around between the four of us.

The beach was small, only about 400 feet from the cliffs to the breakers. Between the two borders was a large rock, and we set up our camp behind that, lying our sleeping bags in a row with only the night sky as our cover. The idea was, with the rock there, we would have some protection from the tide, giving us a chance to pack up and move if it came all the way up to the wall. I doubt I slept for more than an hour or two that night, but looking up at the stars and hearing the faint sound of waves crashing, I felt comforted—I felt home.

As expected, the tide woke us first—it hit the feet of one friend, and started a chain reaction of us waking up in a rush, and we moved to higher ground to watch the sun rise from the vineyards above our heads. But before we climbed back up the cliffs to start our second day of hiking, we wanted to leave a mark, so we scratched the name of our school and the date into the cliff side. It was our small reminder of the memory we had there, of the experience we shared.

10401005_1020925323498_5229_n

Leaving our mark at the beach.

I don’t want to sound too corny, but I really fell in love with Cinque Terre on that trip—it was such a new experience for me, and between the hiking, the swimming, and the camping, I pushed myself way outside of my usual comfort zone. Since that first trip, I try to go back as often as I can. I brought my family later in 2008 when my semester in Florence was ending, and I returned in 2011 with two of my other friends during our trip across Italy. For me, returning to Cinque Terre is like returning to myself—I get a chance to revisit the place that help shaped who I am today. But I also love bringing people there who have never experienced Cinque Terre before. The reaction is always the same—we sit in the dark on that train, passing through the rock, and that first blip of ocean, that first glimpse, is enough to make anyone gasp. I still do every time.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

Return to Florence

215323_1742050231170_7302020_n

When you return to your home you realize you can be a little cheesy–tourist photos are allowed.

I have this necklace that at some point became more than just an accessory. It’s part of who I am, like a tattoo, but a little less permanent (the whole ‘you must keep this symbol on your body forever’ thing kind of creeps me out). It’s a simple chain with three charms attached, each with its own meaning. The first is a golden hen with a tiny pearl egg under it, like it’s nesting—that one is a gift from my mother. It’s my little reminder of the family that raised me. The second charm is a Tibetan dorje, which in Buddhism is a symbol of sudden enlightenment, of finding happiness within yourself. I wish I could say that the charm itself is a symbol for my own inner happiness, but I actually bought it in a store on MacDougall Street on my first day living in NYC—it was my official new home, and in my mix of excitement and fear for my big move, I wanted to buy something to commemorate the moment. So I bought the charm, and it has become a symbol of courage for me throughout my 20’s.

My final charm is my favorite—it’s a small silver heart with a blue cloisonné decoration inside, traditional to the craft done by Florentine artists. I bought this charm back in 2011 when I visited Florence again after four years of being away.

There are certain places in a person’s life that you can consider a true home. For some, it’s where you grew up, and no matter where your life takes you, that place will always be home to you. For me, it’s a little more complicated than that—home is where I evolved, where I spent time growing and learning to become the person I am today. And the list keeps growing.

Florence, Italy fell into the literal term of my home in the fall of 2008. It was my semester abroad in college, and I wanted to join a program where I could study art by looking right at it, and Florence, well, it was the perfect place. I immersed myself in the sculpture of Michelangelo, studied fresco techniques in a studio near the Arno River, and ate every type of pasta I could find. It was, to express my love for Florence, my Bella Citta, my amore. But even with four months of living in a city, you run out of time to explore, so a few of my ‘must sees’ fell by the wayside. One in particular was Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library, a manuscript repository and reading room in the cloisters of Florence’s San Lorenzo church.

1923973_1020387670057_6866_n

Family dinners were a regular item on the menu in 2008 Florence.

That was what brought me back to Florence in 2011—first, I wanted to carve out time to see the library, and second, I wanted to spend time with my home again, doing nothing but walking the streets, listening to the chatter of local Italians and sip coffee from an outdoor café while the world flew by.

The first thing I noticed when I returned to Florence was that there are more students there than I expected. I guess I forgot how popular this destination was for students and tourists, and I was disappointed to find that as I crossed the Ponte Vecchio I could hear young girls complaining about their art final in clear English. I wanted to decipher Italian conversation, I wanted to try my hand at speaking the language, an instead, I was dropped into a tourist destination overrun with Americans.

But I was being overdramatic. The memory of Florence in 2008 was still engrained in my head. I returned to recapture the days when I was 20 years old, reading about Botticelli in the morning, grabbing paninis with a friend for lunch, and walking down a new street in the afternoon with no real destination in mind. I wanted the fuzzy, wine-induced nights at the bars, I wanted the dance clubs, the late night snacks with my friends. What I forgot was that while Florence had left an imprint in my heart, the city itself would change and evolve, just as I had.

You cannot recapture a part of your life that has passed. This was the first time I really encountered this lesson—I saw Florence as one thing, but that part of my life ended when I boarded my plane back home. In the four years I was away, I had graduated college, landed my first job and was creating a new home. I was different, and I saw Florence in a new lense.

On our second morning in Florence, after spending the night dancing at one of my favorite clubs, I woke with the sun and slipped out while my friends still slept—I left them a note saying that I would return in time for our wine tour out in Tuscany, scheduled for the mid-afternoon. I was on a mission, I wanted to find that café, get my coffee, and just sit with my city. That’s the thing about these ‘homes’ we create throughout our lives, as we grow and change, we can always come back to that familiar place. We feel safe there—for me, Florence was my first time living in an apartment, cooking for myself and being away from my family. It taught me how to be confident, how to navigate city streets and find comfort in a new place. I missed Florence, and even though some things had changed, the spirit was still there. I just had to take some time to find it.

216458_1742069711657_4846759_n

The steps of the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo.

I took that morning to relax, I wrote in my journal while sipping coffee, and at 10 a.m. I was the first person to enter the Laurentian Library, right as they opened the doors. For a short period, it was just me and Michelangelo’s work. I had the time to walk down the center aisle of the reading room, the click of my shoes echoing on the walls. I saw every curve, every panel of the staircase for what it was, and I felt complete. I had found that feeling I was looking for, the feeling of home, of returning to a place I loved, and it gave me the renewed energy I needed to bring back to my life in the states. It’s funny, how those moments alone with something you love are the most rewarding.

I still dream about Florence. Every time the summer air cools, I’m brought back to those months of exploration in my favorite city. It was a city that taught me how to be independent, how to survive on my own, and it was the city that taught me how to embrace change. That is what keeps bringing me back—even though I don’t live there, Florence will always have lessons for me. It’s my home—like New York, or Rhode Island, or Worcester—and it will always be a part of who I am.

Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.

Sculpture Censors

ap_976614712288_wide-cef7f4e02196bcc288381fb57500e06b68fc76b8-s800-c85

Classical nudes were covered by large wooden boxes in preparation for Iran’s President’s visit to Rome.

I always find it fascinating when the media panics over the border between art and erotica. It’s not a new concept—some critics reject artworks out of fear that it may offend members of the public, whether based on religion, culture, personal comfort or other. Art history has seen its ups and downs—the classic nude was the staple of the cultural expression of ancient Greece and Rome, but was lost for centuries as new values (ahem, Christianity) came into play. Even after the revival of the classic nude, there were moments when the naked body was still seen as shameful or offensive (the fig leaf, a common symbol of censorship, has become an ongoing debate—some historians still see the added leaves to cover the genitals of classical art, specifically in the Vatican, as vandalism to the original piece, while others now argue that those added leaves are a part of history). Whatever the case, censorship in art has always been a touchy debate.

In the most recent news of art cover ups, an unnamed official at Rome’s Capitoline Museum actually ordered to hide some of the more ‘obscene’ nude statues in the museum with large white boxes—completely blocking any view of the statue. What was the reason: the recent visit to Rome by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had this official nervous about offending him. And what is more baffling, is that this order wasn’t given by Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini or Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi.

It’s a strange concept for me to understand—yes, I can admit that there are certain works of art that could be offensive (one that comes to mind is Egon Schiele, whose sexual figures border that line between sexual art vs. erotica)—but for the classical nude sculpture that typically graces Italy’s museums, I see no need to cover that up. Perhaps this official was taking the ‘better safe than sorry approach,’ but for a country that is so proud of their contributions to the art world, you would expect them to want to show off their collections, not hide them.

In Reuters’ report on this news, they cited Rome’s newspaper La Repubblica, calling out the decision, saying: “Covering those nudes … meant covering ourselves. Was it worth it, in order not to offend the Iranian president, to offend ourselves?” It’s a valid point, for sure, but in a world of continuous PC culture and fragile political ties, maybe hiding a few sculptures was worth avoiding the potential political backlash. Just a thought.

Read more about the visit here.