Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

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Discovering why sandals are the shoes of choice in the Roman Empire

Discovering why sandals are the shoes of choice in the Roman Empire

Not your average shoe store!

In July 2015 I found myself in Rome, Italy completing the last required course of my master’s degree: what a terrible hardship, I know!  As a cohort of aspiring international educators (now graduates of Loyola University Chicago’s International Higher Education program), my classmates and I had the opportunity to facilitate uniquely Italian cultural excursions.  After initiating many Internet searches and discussing several ideas, my group and I decided to embark on an exploration of the history of cobblestones and the role of sandals within the Roman Empire. 

For those who thought that sandals emerged as an antidote to smelly sneakers and blisters from pumps, think again.  In fact, as a result of this cultural excursion, our entire class learned that Romans pioneered the modern sandal as a sign of status.  As the Roman Empire expanded, the use of sandals did too. 

Why sandals, you might be thinking?  While tennis shoes are often considered a safe-choice when it comes to travel footwear, it is HOT in Italy during the summer months.  Take it from me: walking miles and miles on Rome’s cobblestone streets in approximately 100-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures will almost certainly result in sweaty, swollen, and potentially blistered feet!  Never fear, hand-crafted Roman sandals will protect your feet and make for enjoyable sightseeing no matter how uneven, sharp, slippery, or hard-to-walk-on Rome’s cobblestones streets may be.

Getting back to the field trip, my group and I took our classmates to Oriani, the workshop of an artisan sandal-maker.  Oriani’s owner learned the trade from his uncle who runs a sandal store in Napoli and supplies the raw materials that are used to make sandals like mine!  In order for my classmates to truly understand the sandal-making process, someone had to volunteer their feet, pick a style, choose one or more colors of leather, and watch their one-of-a-kind, Roman sandals being crafted.  Just think, this someone could be you!

We cannot recommend a visit to Oriani enough!  Not only will you receive a generous dose of Italian hospitality, but you will also have the opportunity to be a designer for a day.  Custom-made Oriani sandals are made from Italian leather that comes in a variety of colors and thicknesses.  There are models to suit even the most particular man, woman, or child’s style and feet.  When in Rome, you won’t want to miss Oriani. 

To learn more about artisan sandal-making and probably fall in love with a pair of your very own Roman sandals, visit: Via Torre Argentina, 43a.  The storefront is about as wide as a doorframe so pay close attention, and happy adventures! 

Danielle Breidung

M.Ed., Loyola University Chicago, 2015