• Seventh-grade students from Vicenza Middle School gather in front of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantova, Italy, May 10, 2013. Two busloads of the seventh-graders, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the Lombard city following in the footsteps of Etruscans, Gauls and Romans on a scavanger hunt through the town's history.

    Pumas in Mantova, Italy, May 2013

    Seventh-grade students from Vicenza Middle School gather in front of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantova, Italy, May 10, 2013. Two busloads of the seventh-graders, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the Lombard city following in the footsteps of...

  • Seventh-grade science teacher Kim Stephenson leads a pack of Vicenza Middle School Pumas through the streets of Mantova, Italy, May 10, 2013. Two busloads of the seventh-graders, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the Lombard city following in the footsteps of Etruscans, Gauls and Romans on a scavanger hunt through the town's history.

    Pumas in Mantova, Italy, May 2013

    Seventh-grade science teacher Kim Stephenson leads a pack of Vicenza Middle School Pumas through the streets of Mantova, Italy, May 10, 2013. Two busloads of the seventh-graders, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the Lombard city following in...

  • Seventh-grade Vicenza Middle School Pumas pose for a goofy picture at the statue of Gonzaga's Fool in Mantova, Italy, May 10, 2013. Two busloads of the seventh-graders, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the Lombard city following in the footsteps of Etruscans, Gauls and Romans on a scavanger hunt through the town's history, which included finding the statue of figure known around the world from Verdi's opera, Rigoletto.

    Pumas in Mantova, Italy, May 2013

    Seventh-grade Vicenza Middle School Pumas pose for a goofy picture at the statue of Gonzaga's Fool in Mantova, Italy, May 10, 2013. Two busloads of the seventh-graders, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the Lombard city following in the...

  • This casting, based on an early 18th-century map of Mantova, Italy, served as a jump-off point for an historical scavanger hunt through the Lombard town May 10, 2013, by seventh-grade students from Vicenza Middle School. Two busloads of the Vicenza Pumas, their teachers and chaperones swarmed into the city following in the footsteps of Etruscans, Gauls and Romans.

    Pumas in Mantova, Italy, May 2013

    This casting, based on an early 18th-century map of Mantova, Italy, served as a jump-off point for an historical scavanger hunt through the Lombard town May 10, 2013, by seventh-grade students from Vicenza Middle School. Two busloads of the Vicenza...

VICENZA, Italy - Two busloads of Vicenza Military Community teenagers swarmed into the Lombard city of Mantova, Italy, May 10, following in the footsteps of Etruscans, Gauls and Romans.

But the aims of the Vicenza Middle School seventh-graders were considerably more benign than those of many of their historical predecessors: the Byzantines, the Franks, Napoleon and the Habsburgs. The Cougars were out for a low-key scavenger hunt through history, tasked with tracking down and capturing short video clips of several dozen monuments and artifacts of the city's storied past and its sophisticated, yet welcoming present.

Splitting up at the northeast entrance to the centro storico, where the late 14th-century Castello di San Giorgio stands guard by the banks of artificial lakes built as far back as the 12th-century to defend the town, the teens took off with their teachers and chaperones to find and document their having been to such landmarks as the 11th-century Rotonda di San Lorenzo and the 16th-century Palazzo Te.

It wasn't quite clear to what extent the historical significance of the Palazzo Ducale, home for centuries of the ruling Gonzaga family, the Basilica Palatina di Santa Barbara and the beautiful Piazza Sordello impressed the youngsters. Some at least took the time to sit in near silence for several minutes inside the 14th-century Duomo di Mantova's peaceful interior to drink in the Renaissance symmetry of the sacred space.

Meandering teams of Cougars hailed each other as they passed in the streets and piazzas, rubbing elbows and exchanging looks with delegations of a large touring group of Alpini and vacationing families from around Europe and the world. Many paused for refreshment at the gelateria Vecchia, across the way from the Palazzo Ragione and its impressive clock tower.

Likewise, the importance of Mantova as a major center of the European painting and musical arts, home at various times to the likes of Mantegna, Donatello and Rubens, Monteverdi and Giuseppe Verdi, may or may not have made a deep impression on the American teens. Yet, it seems fair to say that many of the Cougars drank in the ambiance of an historical gem of an urban center, the importance of which may come more clearly to their attention some day in the future.

At that time they may remember back to the day they spent ambling about its alleys and courtyards with their friends, and if they do remember Mantova, it's safe to say those memories will be happy ones.

In any event, the field trip broke the tension of the final stretch of the school year, a welcome reprieve from the classroom for students and educators alike. It was a chance for the teens to socialize and, for adventurous individuals, an opportunity to try out a never before tasted flavor of gelato and maybe even pick up a pair of sunglasses for the summer days ahead.

Page last updated Mon May 20th, 2013 at 00:00