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Classics Tour to Europe

August 01, 2018 at 11:19 AM

With thanks to Senior College Head of Cargill, Mr Steve Broun

The Classics Tour during the July holidays saw 22 students from Years 11- 13 explore amazing places at the heart of the classical world; a world that has had such a lasting impact on Western civilisation. The trip was an unqualified success! A rich tapestry of art, architecture, stories, history, language and legacy combined to complete the experience.

Landing in Athens, the tour began with a climb to the Parthenon, the surrounding theatres and Roman agora. The day’s exploring concluded with walking to the boundary of the ancient city and exploring the ‘kerameikos,’ the ancient cemetery.

From there, site visits included a journey to remote Epidaurus; home to the healing sanctuary of Asclepios and the site’s beautiful 14,000 seat theatre. From there, the students explored the ancient citadel of Mycenae, reputedly home of King Agamemon; who led the Greek expedition to Troy.

Surprisingly, the journey to ancient Olympia began with a physical challenge: to climb the 900+ stairs to Palamidi Castle! The trial was accepted as the students took to the wending stairs with gusto! The reward at the climb’s end was worth it! Views, vast and commanding greeted everyone from the battlements at the top. The theme of physical challenges set the scene for our next visit, the site of ancient Olympia – birthplace of the Olympic Games.

Located in the mountains, the village was welcoming and set the scene for the impressive ruins we were to explore. Highlights of the visit included a race on the original Olympic race track, where Isaac Woodd was awarded the laurel wreath for his victory! From Olympia, our intrepid crew journeyed north to the remote site of Delphi, home to the legendary Oracle of Apollo.

Delphi was a place of great significance to the ancient world. We walked through the ancient ruins with the Temple of Apollo at its heart. Here pilgrims would petition the Oracle to divine the will of the gods.

Following an early flight to Italy, the students began their Italian adventure by exploring the stunning town of Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. Fuelled on pizza and lemon soda, the students explored the vast ruins of Pompeii, making their way through the homes, shops and streets of the town before finishing their time entering the amphitheatre – once the preserve of gladiators.

Bidding farewell to Pompeii, we journeyed to Rome – the Eternal City. Our accommodation lay within easy reach of St Peter’s Square and a visit began the afternoon’s exploration. The Square is truly vast and together with the gigantic statues of the apostles looking down on us from St Peter’s itself, it was a reminder of our place in the world.

Wending our way through the maze of Rome’s back streets, we finally arrived at our next destination, The Pantheon. The vast size of the building gave scale to the sites we only saw as ruins in Greece. Upon entry, the enormous dome inside left jaws dropped. The following day saw more exploration, visiting both the legendary Colosseum and the Roman forum, the social and economic centre of the once vast Roman empire.

Our time in Rome was rounded off with a visit to Vatican Museum and the majestic basilica of St Peter’s. The tour saw but a part of the museum’s vast collection and ended with the fabled Sistine Chapel. Long-suffering security guards did their utmost to maintain the sanctity of this remarkable place. This room - vast, contemplative, awe-inspiring – was a juxtaposition to the jumble of humanity moving slowly through the space. The scale of the paintings contained in this space was incredible.

After a suitable time of contemplation, the challenge was issued by the staff to climb to the top of the dome of St Peter’s. The tribe voted: we were to take the many stairs! The view: outstanding! From this vantage point, the ancient heart of Rome lay before us, with the landmarks we had visited in the previous two days visible in the distance. Satisfied smiles abounded and more than a few pictures were taken!

In addition to the Roman world, the legacy of the empire was also explored in visits to Florence and Venice, where the impact of the ancient world was ever-present in the art, sculpture and architecture of these famous cities. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence provided a veritable cornucopia of art experiences. Highlights, apart from the amazing display of Roman sculpture, were many. The great masters – Botticelli, Caravaggio, Da Vinci - all had works to admire up close. The day ended with a pleasant walk over the Ponte Vecchio to watch the sun set over the River Arno. From there, we climbed the hill to Piazza Michelangelo to admire Florence by night. Many, many photos were taken!

Our final stop was Venice, City of Canals. Exploring the maze of the city’s streets and alleyways, all the essentials of Venice were brought together: canals, gondolas, ancient buildings and bridges.

Firm friendships and a multitude of experiences were brought home to New Zealand – in addition to one or two souvenirs!
Ciao Italia!

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