Above: Watch the full-length documentary- “La Villa Choir Tour of Italy.”
As I peered out the window of the plane on our final descent into Rome, I noticed an oval-shaped building far below. “Oh wow,” I thought, “that’s the Coliseum.” Having just watched Gladiator days before, the Coliseum was an unmistakable landmark in the Roman cityscape and definitely one of my most anticipated destinations in the three days I’d spend in the city out of seven days in Italy total.
Yet this was not a meer site-seeing tour for me. I was here with a group of Florida middle school students to videotape their concert tour across Italy. During this trip they would perform American spirituals at cathedrals in Rome, Vatican City, Florence and Venice preceded by daytime guided tours of each destination including a day trip to Pisa along the way.
After departing the airport, our large group split into two and boarded tour busses waiting outside for us. Since it was still very early and our hotel was not yet ready, our tour company decided to take us on a short tour of a few of Rome’s most famous destinations: Trevvi Fountain, the Pantheon, and ??? Square.
On the way into Rome we passed through the ancient city gates in the massive wall that once protected the city from invaders. This wall was indeed massive, larger than any wall I had even seen before. I immediately grabbed my camera and started rolling as we drove through the wall and into ancient Rome.
All along the way were amazing ruins and monuments. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a single square foot of Rome that didn’t hold something of historical, archaeological, or architectural significance. And much to my surprise we passed the Coliseum! I wasn’t expecting to see this grand structure until the following day and it was every bit as spectacular as I had imagined.
Once in the city center, our first stop was Trevvi Fountain. This fountain has a long history, beginning in 19 BC as the endpoint of one of the ancient aqueducts that supplied water to urban Rome. The massive water basin was added in 1453 after the aqueduct was repaired and returned to service. (It had been destroyed by the Goths a thousand years earlier.) It was redesigned in 1639 only to be torn down and redesigned again in 1732 and finally finished in 1762. It was restored in 1998 to its current condition.
Unfortunately for our group, we arrived quite early and the fountain was closed for cleaning. Little men in bright orange jumpsuits were scrubbing the fountain, inside and out. I assume this is also when the over 3000 Euro coins are recovered that are thrown in the fountain each day for good luck.
Our tour guides gave us some time to explore on our own and I tagged along with a group of students and chaperones who were searching for a place to eat. We’d been in an airport or airplane for over 12 hours now and we were all starving.
Surprisingly, even at this early hour there was a little pizza shop open for business. We decided our first meal in Rome had to be an authentic Italian pizza…for breakfast! After this culinary pit stop, we headed to our next destination: the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was originally built in 27 BC but burned during a great fire and wasn’t rebuilt until 125 AD by Emperor Hadrian. This is the building that still stands today, a testament to its engineering and construction. It holds the record for the largest, unreinforced concrete dome. In fact, it would take another 1300 years before a larger dome structure was built which, unsurprisingly, was inspired by the Pantheon. Originally built to house statues of all the gods. today it serves as a Catholic church.
Our final stop on this, our first day in Rome, would be a large square famous for its artisans. Here I would see another of Italy’s famous arts: film.While standing in the square I noticed a film crew in a cafe. Apparently they had just wrapped up a scene inside the cafe and were now relocating the camera outside to film a scene at the tables and chairs located there. It was a lucky break to get to witness Italian film in action.
We soon loaded back into our two busses and headed for our hotel. Having now been up well over 24 hours (I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane over), I was definitely looking forward to resting up for the second day of my tour of Italy which would include visits to the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Spanish Steps, and the first concert by the middle school students I was traveling with.