Our Sixth Formers enjoy a Classics Trip to Italy

At the start of the October half term, thirty-six students from years 10-13, accompanied by four members of staff, set out for a five-day trip to the Bay of Naples – our first Classics trip since 2019! Based in Piano di Sorrento, we took in all the major Roman (and Greek) sites in the area. After a first day spent travelling, including a two hour flight delay, we hit the ground running, climbing through the morning mist, to the crater of Mount Vesuvius, the still active volcano which buried the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the catastrophic eruption of 79AD. The mist added to the sense of foreboding but also meant we missed out on the stunning views. After a well-earned pasta lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring the ruins of Herculaneum. Only a quarter of the town has been excavated (the modern town of Ercolano having been built on top of the rest), but wandering the streets, in and out of the well preserved houses, bathhouses, shops and bars, gives a real flavour of what life would have been like for the 5000 people who lived there. After dinner, we had an evening out in Sorrento, sampling gelato and the shops of this famous seaside town.

Day three took us to Pozzuoli (Roman Puteoli), at the top of the bay, and into the caldera of another active volcano – Campi Flegrei. Luckily the earth stayed still while we were there! First, we explored the Flavian Amphitheatre, which was the third biggest in the Roman empire, after the Colosseum in Rome and the Amphitheatre at Capua. While the outside of the amphitheatre was stripped of its marble by later inhabitants after the collapse of the Roman empire, the inside was left largely untouched. This made our visit all the more evocative, especially when we explored the tunnels under the arena floor, imagining what it would have been like for those gladiators and prisoners who were kept down there, waiting for their turn to emerge into the light and fight for their lives. Afterwards, we went to see the Macellum, or market, (previously misidentified as the Temple of Serapis), with its famous pillars, used to prove the existence of ‘bradyseism’ (raising or sinking of the earth’s crust without noticeable earthquakes). The sea shells embedded in the columns show that the Macellum had sunk below sea level in the Middle Ages, before re-emerging as the ground level rose due to the seismic activity below. Next, we went into the centre of Naples, first stopping for lunch in the Piazza Cavour, and then discovering all the wonders in the National Archaeological Museum, including wall paintings and other artefacts from Pompeii we had only seen in pictures.

Day four saw us driving through the mountains to Amalfi (unfortunately the famous coast road was shut for roadworks, although the mountain road was precipitous enough!). We spent the morning relaxing in this delightful Italian town, exploring the sites, the shops and the gelateria. Some of us even paddled in the Tyrrhenian sea! We then travelled by boat to Salerno, before driving to Paestum. Originally a Greek colony, before being Romanised, it was abandoned in the Middle Ages as it was too far from the coast. It has three of the best-preserved Greek temples in Europe, which you can actually go into, rather than just view from the outside. This gives us a real sense of the awe and wonder these buildings would have inspired, and how they were built to honour the Greek gods.

We saved the best until last – on day 5 we checked out of our hotel and went to Pompeii. Unfortunately, we had left the sunshine in Paestum, so we made a rather rainy pilgrimage to the house of Caecilius (star of the Cambridge Latin Course). We then spent the morning exploring the town, with an especially keen group of travellers making their way all the way through the town, out of the Vesuvian gate and down to the Villa of the Mysteries, with its stunning frescos still in situ. Finally, we all met in the forum, outside the temple of Jupiter, just as the inhabitants of Pompeii might have done 2000 years ago! Then there was time for one last pizza before we made our way to the airport for our homeward journey.