Underground Rome

May 14 – 28
3 art history credits
Course number: IPD-3404 -A
Tuition : $4,000

In no other place can you find more layers of history than in Rome. In this eternal city, ancient Roman ruins sit side-by-side medieval structures, Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches, and modern street art.

This two-week program will explore the most hidden layer of the city: the underground. Participants become spelunkers, traveling deep below the modern city to explore some of its oldest and most hidden parts, including the Crypta Balbi, the stadium of Domitian, the catacombs, St. Peter’s tomb, and the church of San Clemente.

In addition to examining the physical spaces that lie below modern Rome, the program also includes guided visits to a more figurative interpretation of the underground: the unconventional and marginalized art scene in Rome. We travel to residential areas outside the historical center to discover the world of street art, including visits to Ostiense, Tor Marancia, and Tor Vergata’s Museum of Other and Elsewhere.

For two weeks, the city of Rome becomes our classroom. All lectures will be on-site and there will be ample opportunities for students to document their discoveries through sketches, painting, photographs, film or journaling.

Learning objectives
Upon completion of this two-week course, students will

  • have a clear understanding of the role of public art in both ancient and modern Rome, and how this visual language is used to communicate the values and ideas of the city
  • construct a visual timeline of Rome through its underground structures
  • gain insight into the political and social situations behind much of Rome’s public artworks
  • understand this complex “eternal” city as a palimpsest, made of multiple, superimposed layers that work together to tell the city’s story
  • apply this knowledge of Rome in the creation of the final project, a guidebook which focuses on the lesser known aspects of the city

Site visits
All classes will be held on site

  • Make sure to bring a notebook and sketchbook with you to every class.
  • There is a dress code for entering churches in Rome, so please dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered) for those visits.


  1. Participation and attendance 30%
  2. Short journal assignments (2) 20%
  3. Final project 50%

Final project
Using the knowledge gained through site visits, readings and course work, create a short guidebook that highlights your own interpretation of the “underground” aspects and layered nature of the city of Rome. The guide should be designed particularly for tourists visiting Rome, offering them the opportunity to discover the hidden treasures of the city.

You are encouraged to be creative and original, and to use various media in this project. Your guidebook should include text as well as visuals, such as photographs, sketches, handmade postcards, etc. or it can be presented as a short film.

You will present your final projects on the last day of class.

For more information, please contact Paloma Crousillat at [email protected].