Italy, a dream destination | Sunday Observer

Italy, a dream destination

The history of the famous classical civilisation of Rome is a vivid and interesting one that has been studied by many and has appealed to many students around the world. However, facts and dates are not sufficient to truly understand the history of an entire civilisation that has influenced the world as we now know it. It’s through experiencing it first hand, that we can truly understand this subject. It was with this intention that the students of St Bridget’s Convent, Bishop’s College, Ladies College and Visakha Vidyalaya, studying Greek and Roman Civilisation as a subject, along with our amazing teachers, decided to experience history through a trip to Italy organised by Jetwing Holidays and executed to perfection at that end by Ellenora Rochhi.

An amazing albeit hectic week touring from Rome to the Vatican to Pompeii to Florence to Pisa was the result; art, architecture, fashion and history and most importantly…the food, made the trip worthwhile.

We begin with the Eternal City of Rome, where its ruins still stand in all their glory today. Where the central point of the greatest empire in the world stood and where emperors such as Julius Caesar and Domitian ruled their state.

The Trevi Fountain

In the midst of the busy city where a few narrow streets conjoin you find an enormous marble mass surrounded by the waters of a fountain. It’s crystal clear and beneath the water at the fountains 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 so 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 the ancient artisans of Rome: The God of the Sea Neptune flanked by his steeds. Needless to say it is a gorgeous place to see and definitely the perfect spot to take 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 recognised being The Fountain Riviera. Commissioned by Bernini the statues upon 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 Navona was said to initially be a stadium during the Emperor Domitian’s time before it was beautified into becoming a square.

The Coliseums

Undoubtedly the most popular monument in all of Rome and the most well-known. This engineering marvel towers over the roads of Italy carrying with it the stories and legends concerning the Gladiator games that were fought there.

The underground tunnels beneath the arena floor were clearly visible as well as the slightly elevated stand where the Emperor would sit and watch the games. The Pantheon

One of the grandest ancient temples in the centre of Rome, sporting traditional Greek architecture and an enormous dome rivalling the dome of the St. Peter’s Basilica itself, once the home to pagan gods, now a Roman Catholic church.

The next attraction and by far the highlight of our entire trip was the day at the Vatican City made special by a chance to attend the papal audience and glimpse a sight of Pope Francis himself. The audience was vast, the excitement even more so and as we gathered at St Peter’s Square it did not go unnoticed, the absolute honour to be there at that moment and the special blessing from the Pope for the delegation from Sri Lanka. Some were moved to tears.

The Vatican Museum

One of the greatest feats of art and architecture we had ever seen. With its corridors filled with ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, tapestries and painted maps of Rome and with hand-painted ceiling art that gave an incredible three dimensional effect, there was so much to see in the Vatican Museum and so much to learn. And it wasn’t only Michelangelo and Raphael that we were privileged to see. A whole wing had been opened up to display the works of modern artists albeit a little confusing to understand but still interesting enough to look at. Of course, the tour of the Vatican Museum ended with a visit to the Sistine Chapel, with us marvelling at the meticulous artwork of Michelangelo’s The Creation and the Last Judgement.

The Basilica

With marble statues of all past popes sitting in their own enormous alcoves and gorgeous pews and the infamous dome of the Basilica towering above you and the tombs and sarcophagus’ of past popes, there was no end to the amount of things we had to look at in the Basilica itself, not to mention that Michelangelo's Pieta was on display.

The buried city of Pompeii was one of the more interesting visits of the tour, given the legendary story behind it: buried under volcanic debris and wiped off the map until excavations began. It’s impossible to wander around Pompeii (which still has the 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 that mass destruction had ruined the city, there are even more signs that once upon a time, long ago, Pompeii was a thriving naval city, with bars and shops and streets and immense grandeur when you consider the amphitheatres, mosaics and the bronze statues towering above the city.

Florence of course was far by the busiest and prettiest, no surprise considering that it had been a centre for art, architecture, culture and fashion and once the domain of the powerful Medici family. Of course in Florence, there was no end to the displays of its artistic heritage, primarily being the visit to the Uffizi Gallery. Thousands upon thousands of perfectly sculpted masterpieces depicting gods, goddesses and monsters not to mention the original works of Leonardo Dan Vinci, Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi held us spellbound in this gallery that had once being the residency of the Medici family, while one of the replicas of the Statue of David that all our attention as did a number of photographs.

Pisa was our next stop and of course our interest was focused on its main attraction, the Leaning Tower. As it turns out however, it isn’t only the tower that is leaning.

The cathedral connected to it and nearly every building that had been constructed on that ground is leaning at least a little bit in different directions and yet somehow standing quite sturdily. And of course the architecture and engineering that had gone into this construction as well as a peek into the city made the day all the more worthwhile.

And our final destination in the tour was the ancient Roman harbour city of Ostia Antica at the mouth of the River Tiber where murals and mosaics depicting Neptune and his entourage and the tombs and a vast amphitheatre homes and market place were still preserved in near perfect condition. It is a must see on any tour of Italy

But of course the trip wasn’t just sight-seeing and learning about sites pertaining to our school syllabus. We visited the oldest Gelato factory in Rome and learnt the art of Gelato making not to mention pizza making, We wandered around the different cites, visited quaint little shops and of course sampled every single bit of Italian cuisine on, truly making this an amazing experience.