My memories from my trips to Italy are a little bit hazy. My first was aged 12, in the days when cameras took film. Unfortunately, I mixed my films up and lost half my photos and now, all these years later, it appears that my memories have gone with them.
Thankfully I returned on a school trip a few years later, and whilst I didn’t have the foresight then to keep a travel journal, a picture tells a thousand words and mercifully, this time, I have hundreds of them. Pictures that is, not words, as I’m sure you’ll be happy to hear.
This was my first family holiday where we were on a mission to see the place we had come to. My parents took us on a five day march across Rome. As a 12 year old I was less than amused. I mean, everything was impressive and I liked ancient history, but I looked forward to my pizza and lasagna breaks.
The Pantheon was pretty impressive but I didn’t understand it. There was a hole in the ceiling and water on the floor- surely that was a great inconvenience. The Sistine Chapel was beautiful but there were just so many people. There was a huge monument that looked like a classical temple, but I couldn’t be sure. The cathedral we passed was grand, but that was it. The Vatican was packed, the then Pope was carried past us- sure, I knew that wasn’t something you see everyday but I didn’t really know who he was.
Upon returning to Rome aged 17, my interest in ancient history and art history had grown as a result of my studies. Now, I shake my head at 12 year old me.
The Sistine Chapel ceiling took one of the world’s most famous artists, Michelangelo, four years to complete. His Last Judgement fresco on one of the walls, took a further five. The man carried past me in the Vatican was Pope John Paul II- the second longest serving Pope, holding the office for more than 26 years. That huge monument was not a temple at all, but the Altare della Patria, built in the late 1800s/early 1900s to the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel II. That cathedral was St Peter’s Basilica, the inspiration for St Paul’s in London. The hole in the dome of the Pantheon is called the oculus, and whilst there is no certainty as to its reason, it has been suggested as a way of providing structural support, letting in light or acting as a sundial.
Rome is just the most fantastic place. In a day, you can see a history that spans millennia. You’re walking down the street, turn a corner, and you’re faced with the Colosseum, a huge marble gate (the Arch of Constantine being my favourite) or a towering column.
On my second trip to Rome, I was there only for a couple of days before heading to Naples. On the first day, we started just outside of town, at the site of the harbour city of Ostia and explored the ancient town- the buildings, the amphitheatre- standing there as it did all those years ago. We then entered the city where we found a list of ruins, left, right and centre, in the Roman Forum. Before visiting the Trevi Fountain. The fountain is particularly stunning lit up at night- and romantic, explaining the love locks nearby. I found it particularly nice on a warm night with ice cream- you cannot go to Italy without buying gelato.
The next morning we visited the Colosseum itself. The floor has been stripped back so you can see the tunnels below. In the peace of wandering around the stone stadium, it is hard to imagine the brutal activities that took place there in the days of ancient Rome. We then headed up to the Palatine Hill and found greenery and views of the city, of the ruins below, whilst wandering around even more ruins.
So, what have I learnt? When you’re going to a new place, it is all the better when you understand and appreciate the things you are seeing. Also, bring a good camera.