Alessandro’s compassion was evident from the first moment that I met him. He can always be found laughing with downcast eyes, turning everything into a story—such as “docking” at the “Roman ports” of our swimming pool—feeding and sitting beside the cat Sebastian, saving insects, frogs, and lizards, speaking to inanimate objects, and dancing and joking with his fellow team members. He is a hard worker and competent leader, but these facts do not diminish Alessandro’s patience with his students or the warm comradery and acceptance behind every gaze that he gives. This friendly disposition allows the Ph.D. student to form close relationships with all whom he meets, and he believes that these connections are crucial. As an only child who left home at the age of eighteen to seek his independence at the University of Siena, Alessandro has had to form all of his associations from a blank slate; he grew up balanced between the two separate worlds of his best friends from childhood and his new network gained through university and excavations. Although he traveled often throughout his life both on his own and with his family, when he moved away, he had to learn how to manage his time, education, and money for both himself and his parents on his own; yet, he would have never expanded himself or his connections if he had not distanced himself from the sometimes oppressive attention and looming expectations of home for the life of a college city. Even though he now works closely with people who grew up in his hometown and who also went to the University of Siena for Archaeology, the age difference between the twenty-nine-year-old Ph.D. Student at the University of Edinburgh and his peers prevented their paths from crossing until recently. In fact, Alessandro only met Dr. Sebastiani after volunteering with the latter’s father in the Red Cross and excavating with Dr. Sebastiani’s significant other in Sicily.
While they did not know each other for many years, this bright-eyed and humor-filled director feels bound to his colleagues and new friends through their shared life experiences. Alessandro grew up beside rolling fields on the edge of Grosseto, spending his days exploring the common garden of his flat, playing with the neighborhood kids, and relaxing on the beach. He has always been fascinated with the make-believe worlds of fantasy and science fiction and was led to these interests particularly by the mythology and history that his mother would read him. When he was a child, Alessandro discovered an illustrated copy of The Hobbit in his mailbox, and he was bound to the images of elves and dwarves and trolls within. After that, he sat up in his parents’ library with his nose buried in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Silmarillion as well as Isaac Asimov’s works, and his father introduced him to Star Wars at the same age. Captivated with these miniature universes caught within bubbles, Alessandro’s curiosity has always been similarly entrenched in archaeology. He was first drawn to excavation in primary school by a teacher who took interest in him, school trips to different sites, and by a character named Espaldo—a local archaeological expert who is engraved into Alessandro’s memory and who always led them to different sites, especially to many Etruscan ones.
The director is drawn to archaeological studies, these tangible other worlds because they bring us “closer with our pasts,” and this interconnection is reflected in how important he believes present intimacy is amongst team members. When one knows a person’s strengths and weaknesses, according to Alessandro, any shared labor with that person becomes smoother and more productive. This is a knowledge cultivated by spending constant time with others on site and by undergoing hardships and life-changing experiences that an archaeologist may have never experienced with some of his or her closest friends—developing circumstances of bonding amongst strangers that are unlike any other. As Alessandro puts it, “the group of people you are working with is kind of your family,” even if you have met them just once and if you must always eventually leave. As he grinned with eyes gazing past me, Alessandro reminisced on one of these moments that spurred intense connection. Once, he and two others took a trip during the weekend break of their excavation on the island of Crete to visit another archaeological site. After almost becoming lost on their way there and after neglecting to bring water in the heat of July as they explored this abandoned place, the three “managed to survive…the near-death experience” with the help of perseverance and a brisk Byzantine cistern; they all still remember and discuss that moment to this day. That uncertainty and need to rely on one another, sharing in each other’s worry, adrenaline, and exhaustion, are the perfect catalysts for the sudden and deep intimacy created during archaeological excavations both on and off-site.
Despite intimacy achieved through shared study, Alessandro and some of his group of close friends at his university, who were bonded over their direction of classical archaeology, decided to change course. Most split into different eras or even left for different departments altogether; Alessandro himself, after following all of the courses of a fantastic professor and after traveling with that professor to excavate a Byzantine site in Crete, fell in love with the often disregarded era. He is fascinated by how much of the field remains untouched and unknown, and while much of his work sends him to Roman villas, this Medievalist still holds the job that he has always wanted. Working with the IMPERO Project at Castellaraccio has given Alessandro not only the opportunity to come back home but the chance to be at the forefront of uncovering an unknown site and documenting that history. With his sights set on the future, Alessandro now stands at the inception of a long and fruitful career beside his loved ones and new colleagues with laughter and kindness always inside of him.
Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes
Photo by: Riley James