A Vesuvian View
Like many young professionals, Audrey Fastuca, BA ’05, begins each morning by looking out her window and contemplating the day ahead. If she lingers there a bit longer than most, it is easy to understand why.
The breathtaking view from her apartment includes Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, Castellammare di Stabia, and the Bay of Naples. Wealthy Romans and powerful senators of the republic once gathered here, building elaborate seaside villas to host military discussions as well as the parties that took place before and after them.
“From my window, I can also hear when people are singing down in the piazza,” Fastuca says. “The whole thing is like something out of a film.”
Fastuca, a 22-year-old with a passion for art, packed whatever she could into two suitcases and moved to Europe last year to work as a coordinator for The Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation and its Vesuvian International Institute.
Stabiae, located three miles from Pompeii, was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Today, Pompeii and nearby town Herculaneum receive most of the region’s tourists, while lesser-knownStabiae remains largely unvisited.
The 3-year-old RASF project aims to change that statistic. The foundation is transforming 150 acres of ancient Stabiae, which houses several 2,000-year-old Roman seaside luxury villas, into a large archaeological park. Plans call for it to include museums and research centers as well as ongoing excavation sites. The park would be a continuing location for international studies and would help to boost tourism in the picturesque region.
While working to develop the archaelogical park, the foundation, a U.S.-Italian collaboration, continues to oversee excavation of the ancient villas and host the first international study abroad institute in the South of Italy.
The backdrop for Fastuca’s work is as aesthetic as the view she wakes up to each morning. “The villas of Stabiae are entirely frescoed, covered in mosaics and sculpture,” she says. “Villa Arianna, for example, is filled with art that celebrates feminine mythology. Villa San Marco has an enormous Roman atrium that wowed the guests when they entered.”
Fastuca’s responsibilities for the project are many. “Life is by-the-moment here,” she says. “The nature of my job requires that there’s no advance itinerary.”
Her roles include serving as a translator during archaelogical activity, communicating with school representatives and students in the United States about upcoming visits to Stabiae, and assisting the ones who are currently in town as part of the program.
When Fastuca speaks to them about the benefits of venturing abroad, she does so from personal experience. As a junior at GW, the philosophy major spent a semester in Florence taking courses in her minor, art history.
“Being Italian, I always had a latent desire to experience Italy in the flesh. My philosophy courses further convinced me to go for it. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life,” she says.
Fastuca’s stay in Florence not only inspired her post-graduate return to Italy—it helped prepare her for it.
“We only converse in Italian here,” she says. “Luckily, when I spent that semester abroad, the people I met taught me the language.”
Four years later, this young American is once again enjoying the hospitality of her international neighbors.
“I’ve made wonderful friends here and frequently dine with their families,” she says.
In her free time, Fastuca likes to travel around the region, take part in local dance festivals, visit the beach, work on a manuscript about her experiences in Italy, and read books she has held on to from her years as an undergraduate. “I enjoyed the texts so much from courses at GW, like 20th-century art, that I re-read them now for leisure,” she says.
The time Fastuca spent in Washington, D.C., outside of class left a lasting impression, too. She credits D.C.’s diverse culture with increasing her desire to live abroad.
That’s not to say that this alumna with family in Texas, Oklahoma, and Philadelphia has forgotten where she comes from. “I’ll be flying back home for Christmas,” she says.
Of course, for now, such a plane ticket remains a round-trip one, she says as she looks out her window. “How could I possibly give up this view?”
— Greg Forbes Siegman