After our morning walk observing the aqueducts and surrounding neighborhoods, we grabbed a meal of kebabs at Ali Baba ristorante. We then boarded a bus and enjoyed a pleasant drive up through the countryside of Italy, passing numerous landmarks and different styles of architecture along the way. Our drive took us continually upwards, slowly rising above the surrounding area and catching glimpses of increasingly faraway towns between the trees and structures. Finally, we came out atop a ridge: on our left, we found ourselves high above an ancient volcanic crater, filled at the bottom with cool blue water, perfectly reflecting the cloudless sky. To our right was the beautiful patchwork countryside of Italy extending to the horizon; for a moment, I thought I could make out the sea, far away, amidst a heavy haze that made it difficult to differentiate the earth and sky. The bus suddenly came to halt– it would take us no further. Most students by this time had fallen asleep after the long hot morning, so after rousing them, we began trekking up through the streets.
The angle was steep and our feet were aching, but after three blocks of climbing we finally approached the ornately decorated gate to Vatican-owned land. This was the entrance to the small town of Santa Maria, situated high on top of the ridge, home to various shops, ristorantes, and most importantly, a Vatican-operated and owned church, Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo, designed by Francesco Borromini. In the center of town was an open square in front of the church with a beautiful fountain as the centerpiece. We dispersed to explore the area, and most of our group went to the steep drop at the town’s edge to look down at the lake and admire the natural beauty of the 3-4 mile wide crater.
Once everyone had thoroughly enjoyed the sights, we hopped back to the main square and got Italian gelato, which was enormously refreshing on the 84 degree day and allowed us an opportunity to rest our weary legs. Popular flavors were mango, pistachio, cocciato, and “fragola” or strawberry. One of our group also got “Steve Martin” flavored gelato, an almond and caramel flavor that we thought was interesting. After this reprieve, we all felt cooled and revitalized.
We also explored the interior of the church by Borromini. Although it was simple compared to some of the grand interiors we’ve seen on the trip, the vaulted ceiling was still a sight to behold, with its ornate carvings of biblical events, and the altars featured beautiful oil paintings. There was a class of elementary school children from France, which made us consider how interesting it would be to grow up in Europe and take class trips to other countries– it would certainly encourage a much more worldly perspective.
Having finished our exploration of Santa Maria, we walked back down the outside edge of the ridge to our bus and proceeded back to the city of Rome.
Blog by Luke Somerville