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City travels to Rome

Tuesday, 07 November 2017

During Half Term, 14 boys from the 5th and Junior 6th Form took a trip to Rome. Sixth Former Mansur wrote about the experience:

My trip to Italy’s capital remains one of the best I’ve ever been on; it was certainly the most comprehensive in terms of sightseeing. During Half Term, 14 boys, from the 5th and Junior 6th forms, accompanied by Mr Swann and Mr Pile, left for Rome (a city we now know to be more steeped in history than any other) on a flight from Heathrow Terminal 5. One three-hour flight and a short coach ride later, we arrived at our accommodation for the next few days, the ever-wonderful Hotel Lux.

That very evening, wasting no precious time at all, we paid a visit to the Ara Pacis. The Ara Pacis (Latin for ‘Altar of Peace’) was commissioned by the Roman senate in 13BC to commemorate the return of Augustus from Hispania and Gaul. We were fortunate enough to get extremely hands-on with the altar, and many of us walked through and around it, studying the various depictions of gods, goddesses and people (with the aid of a certain Mr Swann). Around the altar itself is now a museum, in which Mr Swann and Mr Pile educated us on the impact Augustus had in Rome, how his right-hand Agrippa also had a vast influence, as well as the Julio-Claudian family tree.

On that same night, we, rather unexpectedly, managed to witness a 3D light show of what the Forum of Augustus would have looked like, in the prime of the Roman Empire. This 40-minute-long spectacle was extremely detailed, but also rather moving; the grandeur with which the Forum once stood is, unfortunately, no more.

The second day in Rome brought with it a visit to Vatican City. Though we didn’t see the Pope, the amount of classical art we saw was, in many ways, overwhelming. Paintings, statues, mosaics and more flooded our brains for the next few hours. Mr Pile, in his usual brilliant manner, lectured on one Greek ceramic masterpiece: the ‘black-figured’ Attic amphora, signed by Exekias, depicting Achilles and Ajax, playing a board game of some kind. Another highlight was, of course, the Sistine Chapel. As you enter, there is a slight hush as crowds of people angle their necks towards the heavens, to see Michelangelo’s enormous Last Judgement as well as his frescoes from the Book of Genesis, including Adam and Eve, creation and the Great Flood. However, in my eyes, the real showstopper of that day was, in fact, St Peter’s Basilica. In the 20 minutes we were given to explore it, many of us simply floated around in awe. The sheer height of it alone, nearly 137m tall, is staggering. This, coupled with the beautiful architecture and statues, cemented it as my favourite part of an amazing trip.

Our third day was no less memorable than our first two. It began with a train to Ostia Antica, a large archaeological site, that was the location of the harbour city for Rome. Though it used to be at the mouth of the River Tiber, due to silting, the site now lies 3 kilometres from the sea. It was astounding to see the shops and houses of the common people of Ostia, most of which have been preserved to a very high degree. Since Ostia was a small, yet crucial, city for Rome, Roman emperors would’ve walked down the city’s road, having come back from a trip abroad. The fact we did the same over 2000 years later is rather enthralling.

Our third evening involved a visit to somewhere Rome is almost synonymous with these days: The Colosseum. Construction for it began in AD72, under Vespasian, and ended in AD80, under Titus. Originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, this colossal space housed approximately 50,000 and was, as you all know, used for gladiator fights. To stand inside the largest amphitheatre ever built, and to see the main central space and all the rows of marble/stone around it, was surreal. Despite the undeniable sense of awe, there was a rather morbid undertone. To think that 5000 people died here in one day, how many would have died over the 500 years of the Colosseum? Nevertheless, the Colosseum certainly lived up to, if not exceeded, everyone’s expectations.

Before I talk about the final day, I really should address the food. For many, it is just as important as all the tourist sites we see, hence it was imperative that the quality be high. Luckily, Mr Swann had lived in Rome before, and subsequently knew the very best places to eat in the city (The best of them was ranked 400 out of 10,000). The food was stunning. From the suppli, to the pizza, to the various pasta. Every morsel of food consumed was divine. What’s more, is that despite the overwhelmingly good quality, the prices of meals remained low. Hence, on the food front, Rome did remarkably well!

Our final day in Rome saw us visit Palatine Hill and the Trevi Fountain. Palatine Hill provided an excellent view of the rest of Rome, and was also steeped in its own history; it was the centremost of the seven hills of Rome, is right above the Circus Maximus and was very much home to the Emperors. Incidentally, it’s also where we get our English word, ‘Palace’. The Trevi Fountain was equally inspiring, and, in the Roman tradition, we each threw a coin into the fountain, to symbolise that we’ll return to Rome.

The trip to Rome this year was exceptionally good and will be etched in the memory of all who came for many years to come. I’d especially like to thank Mr Swann and Mr Pile, for their seemingly never-ending knowledge of the history of the city and their capability as excellent tour-guides!

The amount of classical art we saw was, in many ways, overwhelming.
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