Ciao from Firenze!
This first month has truly been life-changing. For our first weekend in Italy the entire Gonzaga-in-Florence program took a weekend trip to Rome for our opening tour. Yes, 160 college students piled into three buses and then two hotels to tour for three jam-packed days of history, exploration, and discovery.
Day one: The bus ride was four hours long and once we arrived in Rome we were on the go! We got to the hotel, set our bags down and off we went on our first tour. During the first tour we walked for three hours around the city. We saw so many landmarks! Three that I really loved were the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Victor Emmanuel monument. The Pantheon was a Pagan temple that was taken over by the Catholic Church and for that reason it is still standing today, otherwise it would have been destroyed during the Fall of Rome. The copper from the Pantheon was removed and is now in St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. What I really loved about the Pantheon was the open top. While we were visiting it was raining slightly and it was truly amazing to look up and see the rain falling through the top of this huge structure and onto the floor. What I loved most about Rome was that fact that the history is enclosed right in the city; you could turn the corner and there are ancient ruins and then on the next street, this huge, white and blue fountain. The Trevi Fountain was recently closed for two years for cleaning and so I felt very lucky to have been able to see it open and freshly cleaned! When going to the Trevi Fountain the legend says that you are to throw in three coins: 1 coin to ensure a trip back to Rome, 2 coins for a new romance and 3 coins in order to ensure marriage. Each night, over €3,000 (about $3,300 USD) is collected. What made the Trevi special to me was the fact that this money is used to fund a charity for the homeless and lower-income people of Rome.
Day two: It was an early morning after a long night of walking and we were back at it. On our second day we toured the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I truly enjoyed getting to listen to our tour guide talk about what used to happen where we were walking. The Forum is filled with temples, the Via Sacra (or the Sacred Street), as well as places where the emperor would live and paths where he would be carried. There were areas were all the people would gather in order to deliver a speech. Because there were no microphones, there were people who would repeat everything the speaker would say and spread the message to everyone in the back. Personally, this sounded like an old version of the game telephone. I wonder how many times a message got misunderstood because of this. After this we saw the Colosseum. It is a landmark that I have seen many times in movies and photos. Seeing it in person really is something else. The sheer size of the Colosseum is amazing. They estimate that 6,000 people were held in this structure. When I look at these structures I am truly amazed at how they were constructed without modern-day tools and technology. Even though earthquakes have destroyed parts of the Colosseum and even the outer-perimeter has been taken away, it is still amazing to be able to see and go inside it. Side note: there are some steep stairs in there. Our last stop of day 2 was the Borghese gallery. It is a famous art gallery in Rome that belonged to the nephew of the Borghese Pope. Inside were many works by the artists Bernini, Rafael, and Caravaggio.
Day three: On the third day we took a trip to Vatican City. The Vatican is so beautiful. There was so much art, detail and precision that went into everything there. We first walked through the museum (after going through a lot of security) and then went into the Sistine chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I loved being able to see the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, the very famous work done by Michelangelo with the Creation of the Earth. That day the chapel was closing early for the Pope because he can announce at any time that he would like to use it. From December 2015- November 2016 is a holy year, The Jubilee. This only happens every 25 years. Because it was a holy year, the holy door to St. Peter’s Basilica was open. People come from all over the world just to walk though the holy door during a holy year. If you walk through this door during a holy year, it is said, you will go to heaven. This for me was a truly moving experience. Our tour guide told us about people that bring in crippled babies, and people who are very sick just to walk through this door. This night we also had our second group dinner and it was the largest dinner I have ever eaten. I cannot even begin to describe the amount of courses that we had!
Day Four: We went to an optional tour back to the Vatican to see the Pope’s weekly blessing. I really enjoyed seeing the Pope because I feel that he has had many profound comments and more liberal views on the Catholic religion and on humanity as a whole. Even though the blessing was in Italian it was very powerful just to see the Pope in his window and see the mass of people who came just to see him for 15 minutes. In all, I loved Rome, and because I threw coins into the Trevi Fountain, I will be returning!
In total, Rome was not only a success for myself but the GIF program. As per tradition we were assigned random roommates and were really get to know others and branch out of our usual circles. We were able to walk on history and be a part of it. I feel that this tour will always be remembered by all of the students as something we were all able to experience together.