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Classics Trip To Rome 2018

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Although over the past ten years Port Regis pupils have visited no fewer than nineteen Word Heritage sites on Classics Department trips, the nearest they had got to Ancient Rome was Fiumicino Airport. That omission was put right in March this year as 21 children accompanied by 4 teachers stayed at the seaside town of Lido di Ostia from where they were able to take the five-minute train ride to the nearby site of Ostia Antica and, a further twenty-five minutes down the line, to the centre of Rome.

On our first day in Italy, after travelling into Rome on the train, we walked along the magnificent ancient Roman walls, still in fine condition as they served to fortify the city right up until the nineteenth century, before turning right down the Appian Way. Several hundred metres further on, in unlikely surroundings with a dog-training school, a lock-up coach park and allotments for its neighbours, was the famous gladiatorial school. Here, after showing off military and gladiatorial weaponry and armour, our energetic gladiatrix, Flamma, put the children through their paces. Mr Stone was typecast as the barbarian thug, massive and heavily armed, but easily brought down to size by the jab of the wily Romans’ gladius – as a variety of Port Regis pupils demonstrated. There followed some gladiatorial circuit training and drills, overseen by the multi-tasking Flamma who at the same time was plaiting the girls’ hair, Roman style. In the end, the training arena was filled with pairs of juvenile gladiators fighting with wooden swords, just as their counterparts had done two thousand years before. The military discipline instilled in them by Flamma ensured that all came through without a scratch and were fit to catch the 118 bus to the Colosseum.

En route we hopped off at the Circus Maximus to learn the ins and outs, and rough and tumble, of Roman chariot racing before resuming our journey to the heart of Ancient Rome. A picnic lunch was taken on the Palatine Hill and then we went on a whistle-stop tour of the Forum with some of the children acting as guides. Among the buildings they showed us were: the Arch of Titus, built to celebrate that emperor’s capture of Jerusalem; the massive Basilica of Maxentius with its huge concrete vaults; and the Temple dedicated to the Emperor Antoninus, famous for building a wall across Scotland. It was left to Dr Freisenbruch, a leading expert on Ancient Roman women, to talk us through the House of the Vestal Virgins.

The novice gladiators then made their way to the Colosseum marching in, as can only groups by special arrangement, through the entrance reserved for their forerunners in ancient times. Standing in the arena they could look up at the tiers of seating with space for over 70,000 and down at the maze of cells and cages beneath the floor where the gladiators and wild animals would have waited nervously. It was indeed an awe-inspiring experience.

But Rome is not just about gladiators and emperors. On the following day we toured the site of Ancient Ostia, one of the two ports of Rome at the mouth of the River Tiber. Because the course of the river had altered over the years and the sea had silted up, the town became redundant as a port and so was not built on in medieval and modern times. It is the perfect place to learn how ordinary people lived in Roman times in a space, not unlike Pompeii but without the mass tourism and selfie-sticks. Here we saw where the taxi-drivers (muleteers) bathed and socialised, where the firemen, who kept the city safe at night, were billeted, and where the locals, leaving the squalor of their five-storey flats, got their take-aways and relieved themselves. We ate our lunch, a picnic bought by the children in a sort of “supermarket sweep” challenge in Carrefour, on the seats of the ancient theatre. Post-prandial entertainment was provided by the B Form girls testing the acoustics of the place by reciting First World War poems. In the afternoon we returned to Ostia for games on the beach and the traditional sandcastle competition, where the judges were looking for the most accurate model of the Colosseum.

In this uncertain world, even the best-laid plans can be scuppered by external forces. In the past we have had to postpone a trip to Tunisia following the Jasmine Revolution, a strike by BA cabin crew once put our flight to Naples in jeopardy, and three years ago we were held up in Athens for two hours by a pensioners’ demonstration. Whilst we had been in Ostia, there had been a security alert in Rome and major sites like the Colosseum had been closed. Although this had proved to be a false alarm, we decided to stay on the coast for our third day just to be on the safe side. The benefits of an Italophone on the staff team soon became clear as, with the help of hotel staff, Mrs Cardozo quickly arranged revised activities. And so the children spent the morning on a sun-drenched beach where the usual games were later supplemented by a voluntary clean-up of assorted flotsam and jetsam. After a picnic on the beach, these a.m. eco-warriors became p.m. laser-warriors at a nearby adventure park where a low-ropes course was also on the menu. They might have missed out on Trajan’s Column and The Pantheon, but they certainly enjoyed themselves.

On our final day we returned to Ancient Ostia for a treasure hunt which tested the children’s knowledge gained from their previous visit, as well as their expertise at reading a map. A team of budding Indiana Jones’s from B Form tracked down the clues with speed and precision to find the treasure – on this occasion a packet of Easter eggs. Before catching our flight home, the children were at last allowed burgers and nuggets from the McDonalds which was temptingly situated beneath our hotel. These were supplemented by rather more traditional fried calamari from a nearby café. Throughout this trip we ate very well. The breakfasts in the excellent Hotel Scaletta were especially good and, in addition to traditional Italian pizza, pasta and bruschetta, evenings meals also included Chinese, Thai and sushi.

This was a wonderful trip: the sun shone throughout, we had a crack team of staff, but most important we had an enthusiastic bunch of children determined to make the most of the experience. I hope that some will want to come again next year. But where will we be going? Watch this space!

 


Pupils’ cultural development is outstanding.
Independent Schools Inspectorate