Roman ruins to recovery

Central Italy – Rome to Naples

A highlight of our travels through Italy was connecting with ancient Roman history. We visited the incredible Roman ruins of Pompeii and Ercolano at the base of Mount Vesuvius near Naples, and the Colosseum and Forum in Rome. Walking through the ancient streets, exploring homes with mosaic floors and painted walls, imagining the baths, markets and theater of the time, linked us to the history of this important era. We developed a deep appreciation of the challenges and work of historians, archeologists and scientists piecing together the past to tell amazing stories for us today.

Pompeii, house of the fawn
Guests at the House of the Fawn in Pompeii, almost 2000 years later.

Conversation starters

  1. Describe the geographical spread of the Roman Empire at its peak.
  2. What different cultures came together in the Roman Empire because of its dominance of the Mediterranean?
  3. What lead to the “fall” or divide of the Roman Empire and what were its greatest contributions to developing civilization?

Links and Resources

The Riddle of Pompeii – Timeline documentary

Secrets of the Colosseum in Rome – National Geographic documentary

Octopus on mosaic floor
Mosaic floor in Ercolano (Herculaneum) beautifully preserved by volcanic ash and mud from the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Leonardo Da Vinci and fidget spinners

Venice, Italy

Leonardo da Vinci was not only an amazing Italian artist – best known for his works Mona Lisa and the Last Supper – but also an inventor, engineer and architect. This exhibit, housed in the beautiful Chiesa di San Barnaba in central Venice, makes you feel like you are in a 15th century workshop where the great minds of the time experimented with physical forces of nature. Interactive wooden models of machines from Da Vinci’s journals (his codici) allow you to pull, spin, lift and crank – learning about inertia, forces, friction and gravity, the mechanisms of mechanical and hydraulic engineering. Levers, gears, screws, pulleys and ball bearings reminded us of fidget spinners and building with modern-day Lego Technic sets.

Interactives at the Da Vinci exhibit in Venice, Italy
Interactive machines from Leonardo’s codices demonstrate principles of mechanical engineering.

Conversation starters

1. What defines a machine?  What was a favorite machine from Da Vinci’s codices?

2. How do machines transfer motion from one form to another? (i.e. circular motion to alternate motion)

3. How did Da Vinci’s study of nature for painting and sculpture help him understand engineering?

From flying wings to swinging bridges to a rudimentary bicycle – machines from Da Vinci’s codices.

More info and resources

The permanent exhibit in Venice

History Channel DaVinci and The Code He Lived By

Ondeck! Circumnavigating the globe

London, England

While exploring the southbank of the River Thames, we were delighted to come upon a reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hinde, nestled in the tight alleys near London Bridge and Borough Market. The kids had fun playing hide-and-seek from the main deck to the gun deck to the hold, among thick cannons and wooden barrels, steep ladders and rigging. We identified the fo’c’sle and poop deck, and poked our heads into the captain’s quarters and great cabin where the officers would play chess, dice and cards. This reconstruction of the original ship (England’s first to circumnavigate the world) is a fantastic way to imagine life at sea in the 16th century and leads to great discussion about history and science of the time.

The Golden Hinde ship used to circumnavigate the globe
A reconstruction of The Golden Hinde warship captained by Sir Frances Drake
  1. What kinds of challenges did the crew face on their three year voyage to circumnavigate the globe?
  2. Which countries in Europe lead maritime exploration and how did this link to colonization?
  3. What were the most important items traded at this time (1600s) between the different continents?
The helm of Sir Francis Drake's ship, The Golden Hinde
An historic playground on the southbank River Thames in London