5th Form's Stunning Latin Trip to Pompeii
Seventeen 5th Form pupils and three teachers spent four days exploring classical sites in the Bay of Naples during the Autumn half term holiday. The hotel was situated in a stunning location overlooking the bay, and we were blessed with constant, balmy bright weather.
The first full day was spent exploring the ruined remains of the Roman city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. Armed with picnic lunches, maps, information booklets and instructions to come back with questions and discoveries, students dispersed in groups. It was particularly rewarding for those taking Latin GCSE to view and interact with monuments they had been studying in detail for their Literature and Culture paper – the amphitheatre, theatre, streets lined with tombs and the enormous temple of the Jupiter in the forum. In competition with this, the brothel was a key attraction, as well as the bath complexes, mosaics, graffiti and the spectacular paintings on the walls of the House of the Mysteries on the outskirts of the town. Students and teachers were particularly impressed with the paved streets, with cartwheel ruts worn into them, and huge stepping stones carefully set to allow pedestrians to cross from one pavements to the other without soiling their feet in the undesirable contents of the thoroughfare. Despite being tired by the time we returned to the hotel, all enthusiastically dropped bags and rushed off to go down to the beach together in time to enjoy the stunning sunset, skim stones and watch night fall over the Mediterranean Sea.
The next morning, we climbed to the top of Mount Vesuvius. The weather at the top was temporarily cloudy, providing an extraordinarily eery experience, especially since much of the forestry on the way up had recently been burnt by forest fires, giving an uncannily post-apocalyptic feel to a journey up a dormant but very much active volcano. We missed the panoramic views available in clearer weather but the sulphurous air, view into the vast crater and an excellent talk by a specialist tour guide made it a unique and chilling experience. Onwards to Herculaneum – a smaller classical site of a town that had also been destroyed by Vesuvius. A personal favourite of mine - Herculaneum feels better preserved, with multiple-story buildings, astonishing wooden remains, beautifully-decorated grand houses, and (perhaps the most haunting of all) the skeletons in the vaulted buildings down by the harbour (as was) of those who had failed to escape by boat… A visit to the Virtual Museum of Archeology at Heculaneum complemented all we had seen and learnt on our visit so far, with a well-informed guide leading us through its interactive exhibits. More stamina was drummed up for an evening of shopping in Sorrento after dinner and the students embraced Italian culture in every way.
On our last day, our first stop was the amphitheatre at Pozzuoli. The third largest of its kind at the time, the amphitheatre here has the most spectacular hypogeum – a cathedral-like underground world of rooms and corridors in which gladiators and animals were ‘stored’ between rounds of games in the arena above. Those students who watched the film ‘Pompeii’ in the Classics & Film activity at school noticed straight away that the underground set of the amphitheatre in the film was based on that of Pozzuoli (noting also that the amphitheatre at Pompeii doesn’t actually have a hypogeum at all!).
Our final lunch was taken in Naples at a local pizza restaurant while our last stop was a visit to the magnificent Archaeological Museum of Naples. It was such a pleasure to see the Latin pupils in particular being able to show off their knowledge about how to ‘spot’ statues of specific gods and goddesses by their attributes, with the unparalleled Farnese collection of statuary housed in the museum. Rooms upstairs included finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and all students were quite expert in their understanding of what they were looking at and how it might have fitted into the sites we had visited. The mosaics and other remains were breathtaking, and the students were delighted that the curators were not, for a change, guarding the entrance to the ‘Secret Room’ which ordinarily has a minimum age limit…
As Head of Latin and Classics, it was a delight for me to watch all these pupils (and the teachers!) grow so much in their understanding of the ancient Roman world. Those not studying Latin were just as enthused and embraced the whole experience. Throughout our visit I was bombarded with interesting questions, and the students even formalised some of their new-found knowledge through impromptu presentations given to the whole group after dinner.
My thanks go out to all the students for behaving so well and giving their all to the trip. Particular thanks to James Finch who took responsibility for filming the event from start to finish, and to all those in the U5 who have shared their photos with me. An especial thanks to Mr Sutherland and Mrs Davies for their amazing support before and throughout the trip – great travelling companions and unstintingly caring in helping to look after the students.
Dr Cresswell, Head of Latin & Classics