Students of four Colombo schools – St. Bridget’s Convent, Bishop’s College, Ladies’ College and Visakha Vidyalaya, studying Greek and Roman Civilisation as a subject for their A/Ls, got to experience a bit of Roman history recently. Embarking on a trip to Italy along with their teachers, the trip was organized by Jetwing Holidays and conducted by Ellenora Rochhi.
The Trevi Fountain – In the midst of the busy city where a few narrow streets conjoin, you find an enormous marble mass surrounded by crystal clear waters of a fountain. Beneath the water at the fountain’s surface, thousands upon thousands of euros glitter. We toss a euro in, turning our backs to the fountain; one coin in the hope of returning to Rome, and the other that our wishes would come true or so the legend goes. The marble mass turns out to be a marvellous example of the skill of Rome’s ancient artisans – the sea god Neptune, flanked by his ste – a gorgeous place to see and the perfect spot for a couple of selfies.
The Navona Square (Piazza Navona) – Other than the quaint little shops and cafés surrounding the square, it shows off three sculptural masterpieces, the most famous being the Fountain Riviera. Commissioned by Bernini, the statues on the fountain represent the four greatest rivers known at that time to the Romans: the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata. Interestingly the Piazza was said to have been a stadium during the Emperor Domitian’s time.
The Colosseum – Undoubtedly the most popular monument in all of Rome, this towering engineering marvel is replete with stories and legends of the gladiator games fought there. The underground tunnels beneath the arena are clearly visible as well as the slightly elevated stand where the emperor would sit and watch the games. Of course, the view from top is incredible.
The Pantheon – One of the grandest ancient temples in the center of Rome, once the home of pagan gods, it is replete with traditional Greek architecture and an enormous dome rivalling the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica itself.
Seeing the Pope – By far the highlight of the trip was the day at the Vatican City made special by a chance to attend the papal audience and glimpse Pope Francis. The audience was vast, the excitement even more so and as we gathered at St Peter’s Square that moment and the special blessing from the Pope for the delegation from Sri Lanka, moved some to tears.
The Vatican Museum – Corridors filled with ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, tapestries and painted maps of Rome and hand-painted ceilings that gave an incredible three dimensional effect, there was so much to see and learn in the Vatican Museum. A whole wing had been opened up for the works of modern artists- albeit a little confusing to understand. Of course, the tour ended with a visit to the Sistine Chapel, to see Michelangelo’s Creation and The Last Judgement.
The Basilica – With marble statues of past Popes sitting in their own enormous alcoves, gorgeous pews, the dome of the Basilica towering above, tombs and sarcophagus’ of past popes… there was no end of things to marvel at, most of all Michelangelo’s Pieta that was on display.
Pompeii – It’s impossible to wander around Pompeii (which still has buildings, mosaics and streets of a Roman city almost perfectly preserved) without having Vesuvius looming above you, its caldera very clearly visible. Despite the clear signs of that mass destruction, there are even more signs that once upon a time, Pompeii was a thriving port city, with bars, shops and streets and grandeur in its amphitheatres.
Florence – Its no surprise that Florence was a centre for art, architecture, culture and fashion and the domain of the powerful Medici family. There was no end to the art- most importantly the visit to the Uffizi Gallery where the original works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Gentileschi held us spellbound. Not to mention one of the replicas of the Statue of David.
Pisa – As it turns out the Leaning Tower of Pisa isn’t the only tower that is leaning here. The Cathedral connected to it and nearly every building on that ground leans at least a little bit and yet somehow stands seemingly sturdy. The architecture and engineering feats that had gone into this construction as well as a peek into the city made the day all the more worthwhile.
Ostia Antica – Our final destination -the ancient city at the mouth of the River Tiber where murals and mosaics depicting Neptune and his entourage, the tombs, a vast amphitheatre and marketplace still preserved, make Ostia Antica a must-see on a tour of Italy
But Italy wasn’t just sight-seeing and learning alone. We visited the oldest Gelato factory in Rome and learnt the art of Gelato making, not to mention pizza making, wandered around, visited quaint little shops and sampled everything Italian cuisine had to offer making this a truly incredible experience.