Settling in to Germany Immersion

Harrison Schafer ‘17 – Though we have been in Tübingen for just two days, I’ve noticed significant differences not only from Wabash, but also other German cities.

Professor of German Brian Tucker, at left, with students.

Professor of German Brian Tucker, at left, with students.

Elena Mezger, a former Wabash language TA, and her brother Pablo welcomed us to their town with open arms, as well as with gifts of chocolate & pretzels. Our group immediately embraced the city.  These first few days have involved quite a few hours of exploring the city. Our first stop was fittingly the building in which we would be learning on weekday mornings: the Neue Aula. This lovely building houses classrooms for science and law, but it will be hosting our intensive German class for a few weeks.

Unfortunately for the students studying here, they do not have the luxury of rolling out of bed and strolling right into Econ 101, all within five minutes; their university is strung throughout the town. Not too terribly long after our first stop, we ventured over to the Neckar, the major river, which cuts through the German city. While passing over the river, the group stopped to enjoy the quintessential picture of Tübingen and its slice of the Neckar. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves strolling through the Neckar Island, enjoying the calm waters surrounding lovely scenes of Tübingen’s greenery.

We were soon greeted by a daunting figure. Before us sat a large monument to Friedrich Silcher, a renowned nineteenth-century composer of “Volksmusik.” However, the artist did not sit alone. The group saw an odd juxtaposition of this German composer, fused with images of German soldiers. We learned that the Nazis in Tübingen erected this memorial in 1940. Utilizing Silcher’s music for the people, they sought to rally its citizens around passion for the war effort. As we wondered why such a statue would still stand today, Dr. Tucker and Dr. Thomas proceeded to explain; perhaps the German people chose to keep a reminder of the Second World War, creating a dual memorial: the statue itself, along with an informative sign to explain and contextualize the statue’s memorial function during the Third Reich.

Neue Aula, at the  University of Tübingen, where students are taking German classes. Photos by Mark Elrod '99.

Neue Aula, at the University of Tübingen, where students are taking German classes. Photos by Mark Elrod ’99.

We then broke into discussion; the group could not fully sympathize with the idea of keeping a memorial with such negative associations standing. Americans pride themselves on their patriotism, top to bottom. Surely, Americans would never keep a similar statue up, especially with the recent controversies surrounding Confederate flags. Fortunately for us, Pablo and Elena provided shared anecdotes about their German upbringing and about how Germany today still works to come to terms with its dark past: the frequent attention to the War throughout their education, the lack of German nationalism, etc. They talked about the new generation of Germans who are trying to balance the guilt of German history with a sense of pride for the role Germany plays in Europe today.

As mentioned earlier, Tübingen is a college town. Students breathe life into this city; with some 30,000 students, the students of the university compose a third of Tübingen’s population. Whether you eat at an Ethiopian restaurant or a cozy cafe, you cannot avoid the German students. As I walked through the university’s Mensa (their Sparks, or student cafeteria), faces both young and old soon were enjoying the day’s meal. That typical lunch hour looked ludicrously similar to our Midnight Munch with a sea of students coming together at common tables and breaking bread. Fortunately, we get to play pretend for a few weeks and “attend” this prestigious university.

With Elena as our hometown guide, we look to hone our German skills and perhaps fool a student or two into thinking we actually do study in Tübingen. Though we may be a tad more eager than our German counterparts in the Neue Aula, we have already tallied an effective three hours in the classroom, and I definitely look forward to more as I observe my progression over my two year stint studying in the German program.

Classroom Experience Very Exciting

Cole Seward ’17 – The experience in urban education is second to none. After day one of teaching, I can say that all expectations have been met. It may have been cheating, but I made all my expectations after researching the school I was placed at. I assumed I would have primarily Hispanic students and a bilingual teacher. Something that did catch me off guard was the ease to interact with these students of a different culture. With each student, I tried to be as welcoming as possible and also answer any questions they may have had. Something I found funny was the students’ shocked expression when they realized I was a Spanish minor. I believe the last thing they expected was a student teacher from some small town in Indiana to know some Spanish and have a general sense of what the students or the teacher may be saying.

Teaching in an urban setting is fun. I feel very comfortable because I came from a public high school where the culture was somewhat diverse. The biggest thing about teaching in Chicago is that my class is primarily Hispanic, which is something I have not experienced. It is a learning experience and is actually a great opportunity for me to work a little on my Spanish. There are a few students in each of my classes that do not speak Spanish, but they willingly spend their own time learning the language or at least some key words.

My classroom was very open with a lot of discussion and focus on real world applications. I think my host teacher does a very good job of setting up a lesson plan for the day while keeping an open mind and tending to the needs of the students. That is where discussion can really be useful because the students can express their understanding of the topic and apply their own thinking to try and solve problems in different ways.

Even though the experience in the classroom is great, the overall experience of the city of Chicago is very awesome as well. Living in a hostel is not bad at all and I would just classify it as a really big dorm building. Living with seven guys to one room is neat because it gives you a chance to connect with people from Wabash that you do not normally get to see. Also, experiencing the different cultures of Chicago is really cool, especially the food. It is a great opportunity to try new stuff and really put yourself out there.

If you ever get the chance to take this class, take it in a heartbeat. It offers cultural diversity and experience that not many other courses at Wabash can offer. It also gives you a chance to get an expense paid trip to see the “not-so-touristy” spots of Chicago.

New Teachers Must Go With The Flow

Tom Garrity ’16 – My first day at Wendell Phillips Academy High School was extremely hectic, especially relating to confusion about my placement in the early morning. My counselor, Ms. Kashual was giving an AP biology exam and was running around trying to find me a teacher willing to let me sit in on their class. After meeting my first teacher, Mrs. McMurray the atmosphere in the classroom was extremely different than my personal experience of attending a high school in a rural farm community. The energy in the classroom was at levels I had never experienced before. Mrs. McMurray, handled it in a very professional manner, and demonstrated her unique relationships with each of the students. Always maintaining respect from her students while keeping friendly conversations. Which was a big topic in multiple articles we read for EDU 330. Shortly after, I moved to Ms. Beans history class but not before I was in the hallway during passing period.

We read multiple articles in class about the security and other areas that were different than what we had experienced, but being in the hallway during passing period was something that had to be experienced in person. Almost the exact moment that I turned while I was walking out of the door of Mrs. McMurray’s classroom, I looked to my left and thought a fight was happening. Five seconds later, the two students who I thought were throwing down, began laughing and joking. After that surprising incident, it was almost impossible to walk in a straight line to my next destination. Students were running after each other, and bumping into everyone, that was the first real sense of cultural shock that occurred, with that kind of behavior being the norm of the school.

My advice to future students getting ready to experience an inner-city school setting for the first time is to be ready to go with the flow. The pace at the high school I was in was extremely fast, and you cant get caught up in making sure everything will go as planned, cause it won’t. However, getting ready to go into the second day of being in the school, I have a new level of confidence and also a new level of excitement.

School Experience Impress Mucha ’17

Jeff Mucha ’17 – I have been to Chicago many times throughout my life. Most of which have been day trips, or mini-vacations with my family, to the stereotypical tourist areas. However, after being here for a short time I have experiences Chicago in a completely different way.

I was exposed to Chinatown and ate traditional Chinese cuisine for the first time and have been staying in a hostel, which is a completely new thing for me as well. Despite the incredible experiences outside of the classroom, I would say the most interesting aspect about this trip is actually being in a school, and experiencing a different culture by being immersed in it.

As I walked into the school, I was greeted by the principal at the door. As soon as I stepped into the building, a huge number of security guards hit me with a barrage of questions, but as soon as they realized why I was in the building, they were incredibly nice to me, and wished me a wonderful day in Wendell Phillips Academy. That really struck me as a unique component of this school, but I was even more shocked at how receptive the students were of me.

This was the first time that I have been a complete outsider in a room, but many students greeted me with hellos, handshakes, or fist-bumps. The most shocking aspect so far has come from a few brief conversations with my host teacher about her students. Many come from broken homes, and have experienced tremendous loss. These are things I cannot completely relate to, but it is something that has already made this trip so meaningful. I have been given the chance to interact with some of these students, and can hopefully make an impact on them, despite my short time here. Simply being there with a smile on my face, and a willingness to work with them, has made this trip unique, and I look forward to the rest of my time in Chicago, and especially the time spent with these students.

Students Explore Italy’s Siena

James Fritz ’16 – The bus ride out through the suburbs of Florence was interesting, as the large bus zipped through tiny roads with precision skill of clear experience. Leaving the city behind, we twisted our way up into the Italian hillside.  Our destination was San Andrea, a tiny town with only Machiavelli’s villa and a restaurant. Seeing the house where he stayed in his exile from Florence – seeing the same far off view of Florence that Machiavelli would have seen in anger – was fun, but paled next to the beauty of the countryside itself.

Siena-CathedralAfter a tour we had an incredible full course Italian meal. Trays of meats and cheese and crustini were sampled first, then the pasta course, them the meat course featuring bistecca fiorentina, which is an amazing and beautiful thick Porterhouse seared for hardly any time at all. The dessert course rounded off our meal with an Italian take on Apple pie, and we were stuffed for the rest of the day. Italian dining hospitality coupled with excellent food makes for a wonderful time.

Adam Alexander ’16 – Wow. What a week! We’ve seen so many things and learned so much that it feels like we’ve been here for a month. I only wish we could be so lucky! Today we went to Siena and got to see many incredible things. But rather than the sort of academic report I gave on Wednesday, I’m going to share my more general thoughts on our trip.

I feel very blessed to call myself a sort of amateur traveler. Thanks to Wabash, I’ve been able to go to Cuba, New York, study abroad in England, and now Italy. I’ve also been fortunate to go on a couple of vacations with my family to the Caribbean. In all of these places, I’ve either been fluent (English) or had intermediate skills (Spanish) in the native language. Not so in Italy. It really makes me empathize with immigrants around the world. It’s a very powerful, humanizing thing to go into someone’s hometown and have no idea how to speak his or her language, and it’s something I’d never experienced before. Today in Siena, I went into a small neighborhood grocery store for some wine and olive oil. Unlike in the tourist-centric areas of Florence, the store owner did not understand a word of English, so we had to engage in a bit of charades and pointing at things in order to communicate. Even still, this man was completely polite the whole time, and never made me feel unwanted or disrespected for not knowing his language.

It’s impossible to express how lucky I feel to have had this experience in Italy, as well as all of the others Wabash has afforded me. You can spend hours in the Lilly Library studying everything there is written about a city, but until you actually see it for yourself, you cannot possibly reach full understanding. This is something that seems to fall on deaf ears to too many in the academic world. Not so for us. Wabash gets it. It’s one of the things that makes Wabash so great, and why I’m so proud to call myself a Little Giant.

When I was a prospective student, I attended an immersion trip panel discussion at Wabash, and I read through all of the blogs of the students who had the opportunity for immersion learning. I knew after reading them that Wabash was the place for me. To the prospective students who will read this post, I hope you will find that Wabash is the place for you, too. Our College will open so many doors for you, and take you places of which you’d only dreamed – maybe even to Florence’s Duomo.

Sean Best ’16 – Siena. A city with a conscience, and visible monuments to their failures and successes. A city with great history and great violence. Neighborhoods allied against other neighborhoods and a rivalry with Florence that is still visible in the graffiti all over the buses between the two. All this makes it the most obvious example of a republican city. Obviously I do not mean the American political party, but the classical ideals of civic responsibility and citizen sacrifices for the city. Their frescoes of martial skill in war and their sunken failure of a church to rival Florence were built by public funds. In success and failure, the people were together.

Siena is an example of why Alexis De Tocqueville believed American democracy was more successful in the nineteenth century than France’s: the power of association. As people joined smaller communities; fraternities, Kiwanis Club, etc, they cared more about their communities and made a conscious effort to improve it. In Siena, this took the form of the Contrada, neighborhoods where the people associated deeply with that neighborhood and would fight rival Contrada for influence. To this day, rival Contradas rarely allow marriages between them. This seemingly unhealthy relationship, similar to fraternity life at Wabash, made their republic stronger and more wholesome. It is a beautiful monument to what mankind can do when we care enough.

Dylan Miller ’16 – Today, PSC 335 ventured through the Tuscan hills via bus to the city of Siena. As soon as we arrived, we walked through the city’s small, winding, and hilly roads to a restaurant right off of Piazza del Campo, the city’s historic and current center. Like any good Italian meal, we ate for hours as course after course of bread, pasta, meat, dessert, café, and of course, wine were served.

Prof. Jill Lamberton talks with students about Siena's famed public plaza, the Campo.

Prof. Jill Lamberton talks with students about Siena’s famed public plaza, the Campo.

After lunch, we embarked on a much-needed tour of the city to walk off our meal. We began in the Piazza del Campo where the focal point is the large Palazzo Pubblico, which was the city’s main governmental building. The piazza is also known as being the center of Siena’s famous horserace known as the Palio. The 90 second, bareback horserace pits the city’s seventeen contrade, or neighborhoods, against one another. Continuing our walking tour, we explored the contrada onda neighborhood right off the Piazza del Campo. Here we discovered the amazing civic identity and pride the contrade of Siena represent.

Next, we explored the Siena Cathedral. The cathedral is adorned with an intricate façade, elaborate mosaic floors, and a beautiful dome. Despite the cathedral being obviously religious, the idea of civil identity and pride continued to be a theme throughout the cathedral similar to the themes we’ve seen repeated in Florence.

We finished our visit to Siena with a winding climb to the top of the unfinished extension of the Siena Cathedral for a spectacular view of the city. We crowded onto a bus back to Florence and enjoyed pizza and gelato on the steps of the Basilica of Santo Spirito as our final dinner in Florence. Arrivederci, Florence!

Florence Experience Tough to Beat

Nathan Bode ’16 – Buonasera da Firenze! My name is Nathan Bode, and I am one of the lucky senior Political Science majors visiting Florence over Spring Break. With Comprehensive Exams behind us, the seniors (and lone junior) on the trip have appreciated the chance to get off of campus and explore the Tuscan city and countryside. Don’t let the gelato fool you though – it’s not all play and no work! I researched and prepared a short presentation to introduce our class to one of Florence’s most iconic pieces of architecture, the Florence Cathedral, or La Catedral de Santa Maria del Fiore. Like constructing the cathedral itself, giving a sufficient introduction to the gargantuan gothic church was no easy feat, and describing the austere power of such a space in a mere blog post will be all but impossible. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

BodeBlogSanta Maria del Fiore, completed in 1436, contains art and architectural influences from many of the great Medieval Italian artists such as Brunelleschi, di Cambio, and Giotto. The cathedral is located directly across from St. John’s Baptistery, and was one of the first construction projects in Florence designed in two distinct directions: not only anticipating how Santa Maria del Fiore would appear from the Baptistery, but also how the Baptistery would appear from the church. Because the church was funded publicly, rather than commissioned privately, it was to serve as a “church of the state” and a church of the people (aka “People-Tested, Machiavelli-Approved”). This dramatic change in architectural mentality is also reflected in the impressive façade of the Cathedral, formed to be viewed at many different angles and approaches, quite literally from many different walks of life.

Representative of the attempt at a public reclamation of the city’s greatness, the Cathedral dominates the city, particularly “la cupola” or “Il Duomo,” the massive brick dome sitting on top of the church. Decorated on the inside by Vasari’s Last Judgment fresco, the dome rises 376 feet and offers a breathtaking view of the city. As Wallies, we were not content to see Florence from ground level, and climbed the 463 cramped, spiraling steps to the top, ducking through stone tunnels and shoulder-width passages. Considering an accompanying senior, Marcus Kammrath, measures 6-foot-8, this was actually a serious task. Whenever the foot traffic to the top would momentarily jam, we would entertain ourselves by reading the many languages of graffiti scrawled in Sharpie around the “Do Not Write On the Wall” signs. After what seemed like hours on an endless StairMaster from Dante’s Inferno, we finally completed our hike; we were not disappointed. The panoramic view of the clay rooftops, the bells ringing in Giotto’s bell tower, and the infernal squawking uccelli were entirely worth it, and resulted in a high point of the trip (no pun intended) – although I think our legs will certainly be sore for the next month. With a few more days left in Italy, I don’t think it’s necessarily downhill from there – but the trip to the Duomo will be hard to beat.

Happy travels, Wabash!

Class Visits Machiavelli’s Private Villa

Josh Bleisch ‘16 – Today has been the best in Florence yet! We began the day by sleeping in (relatively speaking) and having a nice breakfast in the hotel. After catching up with everyone and recounting details from the day before, we walked around the corner to catch the bus to Sant’Andrea. Sant’Andrea is a tiny town in the hills of Tuscany where Machiavelli spent his exile from Florence. It is a huge understatement to say that this place was beautiful, and photos simply don’t do it justice.


Prof. Hoerl talking with students before entering Machiavelli’s villa.

We walked around Sant’Andrea admiring the landscape for a couple minutes before our tour guide walked out. She showed us throughout Machiavelli’s family villa, explaining both what life would’ve been like back then, as well as how the villa has functioned in more recent years. Throughout this trip, we have walked around the same spaces that some of the world’s most important artists and writers occupied hundreds of years ago, but this experience was different. We were the only people there, and it was so easy to imagine Machiavelli sitting at his desk by the fireplace in a dark room writing The Prince—all the while thinking about how wounded and embarrassed he was to be exiled from his beloved Florence, which was still visible at the bottom of the valley outside his window.

We followed up the tour by having a massive and incredibly delicious lunch at the restaurant that is now part of the villa property. We ate many traditional Tuscan dishes including the much talked about bistecca alla Fiorentina. We all came away from that meal stuffed and satisfied. Needless to say, this day trip put a lot of what we’ve learned into perspective for me and for the rest of the group. Not only did we get to see some amazing scenery, we were able to learn and see what life was like for Machiavelli while he was authoring one of the most important texts in western political thought. We also got a great taste of Tuscan culture by dining and visiting a location that isn’t (at least constantly) inundated with foreign tourists.


Tyler Munjas ‘16 – As we returned from watching the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, which sits above the city and provides a breathtaking view of Florence, I was reminded of how fortunate I was to have the opportunity of traveling to the city for spring break. Having focused on how the architecture of early 13th, 14th, and 15th century Florence influenced political thought and vice versa, the only true way to understand our studies was to experience first-hand the art and architecture of the city.

The desk where Machiavelli wrote "The Prince."

The desk where Machiavelli wrote “The Prince.”

Contrasting the private palaces of prominent families such as the Medici and Pitti, to the public spaces of the Duomo cathedral, Palazzo Vecchio, and Piazza del Signioria, it makes understanding the literature we read prior to the trip far more relatable. Luckily, Dr. Hoerl and Dr. Lamberton both have extensive knowledge on the subject and Florence itself, so at each stop we have made, they have provided us with great detail on what to examine and how to observe these spaces in a way that coincides with our class, specifically Machiavelli’s political theory.

Along with the coursework, though, we have also been immersed in authentic Italian food, supplementary artwork (the original David being the most impressive), and of course Florentine night life. Simply walking around the city and finding local and tourist favorite spots after each day of work has provided us with some unforgettable memories.

In addition to Florence, we spent today touring Villa Machiavelli in Sant’Andrea where he spent two years after a brief exile from Florence. We studied how after his exile he became much more pessimistic, which became much more clear today when we saw how his Villa from atop the mountain overlooked the very city that he loved, but rejected him. Our eccentric Italian tour guide took us from room to room, showing us the spot where he wrote his most famous work, The Prince. Additionally, we will spend tomorrow in Sienna touring the Palazzo Publico and Duomo of Sienna. All in all, this week abroad has been an opportunity of which I am grateful to have taken part. Though the week flew by and we saw so many important and enticing things, there is still so much more to experience. Hopefully, I will have the chance to do that at some point later on in my life.

Florence ‘Astonishing, Breathtaking”

The ceiling in the Florence Baptistry.

The ceiling in the Florence Baptistry.

Blair Littrell ’17Today I gave my presentation on the Baptistery of St. John and how important it was in our study of Machiavelli. After researching for several weeks about its artwork, structure, and relation to the city’s cathedral, I was blown back by how amazing and intricate the artwork was inside the Baptistery. The detail and the magnificence of the mosaic of Christ in Judgment was amazing, and the fact that it was in such great condition added to its shock factor. Although I’ve seen several pictures of the building and the mosaic inside from my research, pictures simply just couldn’t do it justice.

When we’re reading Machiavelli’s works in class, we hear about how the various noble families, the powerful guilds, and the various religious orders were able to exert their influence over the city of Florence, but reading about this political dynamic of the city just isn’t enough. Seeing Lorenzo Ghiberti’s famed “Gates of Paradise” and the Franciscan mosaic of Christ in Judgment in person was not only astonishing and breathtaking, but it also helped deepen my understanding of Florentine government and why it is that Machiavelli would have thought about politics in the way he did.

Students Do Deep Dive on Florence Architecture

Prof. Hoerl describing the Santa Maria Novella.

Prof. Hoerl describing the Santa Maria Novella.

Marcus Kammrath ’16 – Today I gave my presentation on the importance of Santa Maria Novella and the artwork and chapels inside. The church is the oldest basilica in all of Florence, with the bottom portion of the façade being the oldest existing in the city as well. The top of the façade was later commissioned by the Ruccellai family. Inside, we saw many great representations of how the families would compete over the chapels to show their power and their hospitality towards the city and public places. The earliest piece we saw was done by Massachio, titled Trinita. It was a great representation of early Renaissance artwork using mathematical proportions as well as proper scale to give a more real look to the painting. Today was a great day and we saw a lot more in different churches. Florence is great and the troop that we are traveling with is even better!

James Fritz ’16 – Built in 1280 by the Vallumbrosan monks, the church of Santa Trinita sits on the square of the same name, and though it bears a mannerism façade, the interior of the church is the best medieval form restoration in the city. Notable about Santa Trinita is the fact it has the most interior chapels of any church in the city, which speaks to the lack of wealth of the monks and to the functionality of nobility in Florence. The most important of the chapels is the Sassetti chapel, commissioned by Francisco Sassetti. The chapel features frescoes by Ghirlandaio, which are incredibly beautiful and moving.  Not uncommon to Florentine frescoes, Ghirlandaio chose to blatantly put images of Florence into his frescoes detailing the life of St Francis.

The church, with its dark vaulted ceilings and corridors, gives the feeling of oppressive religion, embodied strongly in the period which the church was built.  Machiavelli would certainly disapprove of the entire church, as the chapel funding process causes issue in his opinion.  The desire to fund a chapel comes from ambition to grow family fame, or envy or another family, and this private funding creates public works, putting fame and power into the hands of nobility. This is very upsetting for Machiavelli.


Tyler Munjas ’16 – On today’s exploration of Florence, we once again visited numerous churches and museums, observing the physical structures that we have spent the last seven weeks studying in class. One stop, the focus of my research, was the Bargello Museum. Constructed in 1255 as the Palazzo del Podesta, this building was extremely significant for its role in helping the common people of Florence obtain a position of prominence within the government. Until the rise of the primo popolo (government of the people) in 1250, the city of Florence was subjected to the competitive nature of the elite families as their conflicts and inefficient ruling overlooked the needs of the common people.

Munjas '16 gives his class presentation.

Munjas ’16 gives his class presentation.

Once elected in 1250, they set to work constructing a necessary fortress to house the Podesta, the highest ranking official in the government. It was during this time that the Palazzo served as a place of discussion for the people’s dissent towards the nobles and helped initiate such urbanistic policies that chipped away at the noble’s extravagant display of wealth and power. Among these policies were the limiting of the size of each noble family’s tower to 29 meters and a call for the widening and reconstruction of the roadways. Through the latter policy, the common people were able to walk to the Palazzo without facing harassment from the noble families, as they were subjected to previously. The former policy, however, shows just how resilient the people were in rejecting the dominance of the nobles. The tower on the Palazzo stands 57 meters tall, much higher than the newly ordered limit of 29 meters which gives the impression that the common people have more power over the noble families.

Though the Palazzo del Podesta served its purpose as a governmental structure until the late 1500s, the primo popolo lasted only until 1260. The common people were resilient, however, and regained office in the 1290s. During this time, more action was taken by the people to keep power on their side. For these reasons, the Palazzo del Podesta was an extremely significant structure for the evolution of government in Florence. Also of note, many executions took place in the courtyard of the Palazzo, most notably the executions of many conspirators in the Pazzi attempt to overthrow the Medici. It was converted to a prison in the 1500s, when it was renamed as the Bargello. It served as a prison until 1865 when it changed into its current structure, the Bargello Museum. The Museum is home to famous works by Donatello, Michelangelo, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, and many other prominent Italian artists.


Josh Bleisch ’16 – Today, we visited the Palazzo Pitti, and along with it the Vasari Corridor and the Uffizi complex. The Palazzo Pitti is an absolutely massive building on the other side of the Arno River from most of Florence. The Vasari Corridor is an elevated and covered walkway that goes across the Arno at Ponte Vecchio, and ends all the way at the Palazzo Vecchio.

The Vasari Corridor runs atop the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge.

The Vasari Corridor runs atop the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge.

It was absolutely great to have the opportunity to see these places in person, and to put the things that we’ve learned in class into context. The Palazzo Pitti was built by a wealthy Florentine banker, and is much larger than most other family palaces in Florence. This really connects with the theme of private families competing with one another to create the grandest things—something Machiavelli sees as deeply problematic. Its walls also have many connecting arches, which are reminiscent of Roman aqueducts. This was done deliberately in order to convey a sense of Roman imperial power.

The Uffizi complex is now an impressive art gallery, but its original purpose was as an office building for Florentine city officials, connected to the Palazzo Pitti by the Vasari Corridor. This shows the disconnect between the ruling class and the Florentine people. Officials could move from their home, to the bureaucratic office building (the Palazzo Vecchio), and even attend church without having to mingle with the common citizen. This reflects the conflict between elite and common people that has existed throughout Florence’s long history, a topic that our readings of Machiavelli have addressed multiple times.


Adam Alexander ’16 – We had the opportunity to see many awe-inspiring churches today, as my fellow students have pointed out. The one I enjoyed the most though was the Basilica di Santa Croce, or the church of the Holy Cross. Santa Croce is unique in its very particular placement within Florence. Santa Croce and the Palazzo della Signoria are on roughly opposite ends of the old major north-south street axis of the city. In a sense, this ties the faith of the Florentine people with their government. Additionally, Santa Croce was originally built opposite Santa Maria Novella, with the two churches enclosing the city’s urban center. This was done to emphasize the spirituality of Florentine merchants, and to offer protective prayers for the city’s wellbeing.

Santa Croce is also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories. In the late 16th century, Santa Croce was chosen as the burial site for Michelangelo, after Florentines broke into a Roman church to smuggle his body into Florence. Galileo is also buried under the cathedral, but his body was not allowed a Christian burial until almost 100 years after his death in 1642. The cathedral also contains a tribute to Dante, but Ravenna did not allow Florence to reclaim his body, because the city had exiled him. Machiavelli was also buried under the church, although not until 1787, even though he died in 1527.

The church is particularly relevant to Machiavelli, as it was used by Walter, duke of Athens, as his personal quarters in 1342. The duke had taken over Florence and wanted to use Santa Croce to lend religious credibility to his rule. An emissary from the Signori went to Santa Croce to plead with the duke to change his mind about ruling over Florence. The arguments used by the emissary greatly influenced Machiavelli, including the untrustworthiness of the public, and how people will switch allegiances if it should ever become convenient. The duke ultimately rejected their wishes and ruled with a bit of an iron fist over the Florentines, until he was ultimately deposed and exiled from the city.

The trip so far has been phenomenal, and it truly is invaluable to be able to experience these places in person. I fully understand why the concept of the immersion trip is one of the hallmarks of a Wabash education, and I feel so lucky for having been given the opportunities Wabash has afforded me.

Exploring Churches of Florence

Dylan Miller ’16 – Just steps away from Florence’s famous Duomo, the Palazzo Medici and the Church of San Lorenzo can be found. The Palazzo, or palace, was constructed in 1445 by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo and commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici, a member of the incredibly influential and wealthy Medici family of Florence. Cosimo rejected an original design for the palazzo from Brunelleschi, one of Florence’s most well known artists, because the design was too lavish and magnificent. Cosimo feared that the magnificence would arouse envy among citizens; so rather, Cosimo insisted the palazzo be viewed as a public ornament for the city. The idea of magnificence and envy are foundationally important concepts in Machiavelli’s theories.

The Medici Courtyard

The Medici Courtyard

The original palazzo was shaped like a cube with a combination of traditional styles of sandstone and rustication as well as Renaissance styles. The traditional styles are reminiscent of ancient Roman buildings, which make the important connection between Florence and the famous Roman Empire. This connection to Rome was linked to the idea of Roman virtue, which Florence, as well as many cities in Italy, wanted to emulate.

The palazzo has many elements that project the feel of a public space such as the loggias, the benches, a courtyard, and a garden. However, the private dominance of the Medici family is still architecturally present. The rise of the Medici family led to its fall in 1494 when the family was exiled from the city, the palazzo was confiscated, and their property was sold at the local Orsanmichele. However, it wasn’t long until the Medici family returned to Florence and their palazzo in 1512.

Just diagonal from the palazzo, the Church of San Lorenzo acts as the official church of the Medici family, the Medici family’s crypt, and a library. The Church of San Lorenzo is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, but the Medici family commission Brunelleschi in 1419 to rebuild it. The Church of San Lorenzo has many important elements to it. It houses the last works of Donatello, Brunelleschi’s Old Sacristy, and the Laurentian library. The library was constructed by Michelangelo and contained the Medici family’s private collection. The proximity of these two Medicean buildings is an important spatial message. The neighborhood essentially became a Medici neighborhood, and their dominance is shown architecturally, which has very important political, cultural, religious, and economic implications.


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