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Visiting Montessori’s First Casa dei Bambini

Edit, June 2013, Please read before emailing me: I am not affiliated with the Montessori school currently operating on the site of Dr. Montessori’s original Casa dei Bambini. I was lucky enough to visit, but I do not have a contact there. I have received emails almost daily asking for help, and I am so happy to connect with other Montessorians, but I cannot facilitate a visit for you. If you do visit, I would love to hear all about and see photos, too! :)

At the casa, begging our lovely hostess to take my photo before I left, just as Annabelle woke from her nap.

At some point during my training, I decided that one day I would visit the site of Dr. Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini. There was no if. I was determined to do it, but it always seemed like a far off, distant dream.

Now, friends, I have finally done it and it was every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped. I am not overly sentimental, and I don’t get particularly excited about historic places in general. They’re interesting, sure, but nothing to get all worked up over. This is different. I am so inspired by Montessori’s work, her words, the very idea of what she gave to those children all those years ago, and to all children, that visiting the first Casa dei Bambini really did feel something like I imagine a spiritual pilgrimage would. I had a grin on my face that could be rivaled only by that seen on my wedding day, and following my daughter’s birth.

Via dei Marsi, looking down the block the school is located on.

When I came to Italy, I had two goals: spend some quality time with one of my dearest friends, and see the first Casa dei Bambini. Yeah, the Coliseum was neat to look at, and Venice is lovely, but I would have been satisfied with those first two things alone. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework and for a few days it looked like the second might not happen. I knew that there was currently a school operating on that location, but my blinding passion for Montessori led me to expect that many others like me would want to visit the site daily. I expected something akin to a museum. I expected to find all of the information I needed from a minute or two on google, and have a whole list of Montessori history related sites to visit. Unfortunately, it took more than that just to find the exact address of the first San Lorenzo school, and I realized that this was not going to be all that simple.

We made it!

Once I had the school’s contact information, I expected that arranging a visit would be a breeze. I tried email first, and when my message bounced back, I started to worry. Then I spoke with someone at the Opera Nazionale Montessori, who explained that it is “impossible to visit,” since it is a public school. My heart sank.

Thanks to my poor planning and inability to speak Italian, I feared I had ruined my chances, but I decided to try anyway. I sheepishly explained my situation to the lovely, bilingual girl who ran our bed and breakfast and asked her if she would call the school on my behalf, and beg for permission to visit. I told her I only wanted to go in, just for a minute, and would even extend my stay in Rome if I needed to. She called. I listened in anticipation. I heard “ahs” and “mhms” as she looked at me defeated, and shook her head no. I almost cried. Then she stamped her foot and waved her fist in triumph and I almost cried again, this time in joy. She hung up and gave me a name, explaining that I should go during the children’s forty five minute lunch period and ask for this person, and maybe she would show me everything.

The next morning, I set out with Annabelle on my back, directions in my hand and a heart full of hope and determination. If nothing else, I would stand outside the gate and take a picture. I walked to San Lorenzo, made it to Via dei Marsi and felt like I was bouncing on air as I looked for addresses on the buildings and walked in the direction of the school. I found the school’s address and took care to ensure that my grin wasn’t so overwhelming as to be creepy as I walked through a little walkway and toward the garden. A kindly elderly man pointed me in the direction of the school’s entrance, and as I walked toward it, I saw the words CASA BAMBINI di MARIA MONTESSORI on the wall. I got butterflies, and pulled out my camera.

At that point, I thought to myself, even if this woman refuses to see me, I was here! I am here!

Inside the first classroom.

I walked inside the building and came to the school’s doorway. Okay, now I’m really, really here! I knocked and waited, containing myself as much as possible. A woman answered, and I nervously uttered the name of the person I had been instructed to ask for. She asked something that I hope I understood and answered correctly, but who knows, really. She held up a finger and closed the door. I waited, fingers crossed.

The door opened again and I was invited in. Inside! I was now with two women, who noticed now sleeping Annabelle on my back and smiled, oohed, and ahhed. My hostess kindly showed me inside the classroom that was just inside the door. I apologized for my inability to speak Italian, and she sweetly spoke as much English as she could manage. She allowed me to look around, and to take pictures, but I was filled with so much excitement and nervousness that I couldn’t focus. I took quite a few shots, but none of them very good. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I felt so grateful that this woman was giving up some of her lunch break for me, that I didn’t want to be too greedy. I have mixed feelings about that now, but then again, who cares. I made it!

The garden and play areas.

Next, she took me outside, through the garden, and into the other little classroom. She kept telling me, half apologizing, how “little” it was. She was such a lovely woman. Looking at some of the things on the shelves that were not Montessori materials, and at the little tables and chairs, I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it is that these items no longer need to be specially made just for Montessori schools. They’re actually available from many sources, and offered to children in virtually every early years setting. Progress – and it had all been set in motion from this very place!

Finally, she showed me the children’s play area. It was strange to see the contrast between old and new, with the modern playground equipment against the backdrop of buildings well over a hundred years old. Looking at the gardens themselves, I imagined the children of the current school cultivating the same soil that children first transformed into a garden in 1907.  Our tour ended there, and as my hostess said goodbye, I worked up the courage to ask her to take our picture. It’s funny now how very nervous and shy I felt, as though I were in the presence of a celebrity.

She headed back inside, and Annabelle and I lingered in the garden, soaking up as much of the wonder of that space as we could. She had just woken up from her nap, so I took her out of the mei tai on my back and she ran around for a moment, while I took pictures of her everywhere. I could not have been more happy.

The urgency I had felt since arriving in Rome, to see and do as much as possible in our short visit, completely disappeared. I had what I came for.

You can look more closely and these photos and a few more in a facebook album here.

39 Responses to Visiting Montessori’s First Casa dei Bambini

  • How exciting to be able to see something you had been thinking about for so long!

  • What an amazing experience! Thanks for sharing your pictures with us so we could “be there” too.

  • Amy says:

    Amazing trip! What a great example you are setting for Annabelle by ensuring that you explore places that are meaningful for you throughout your journeys and not just hitting the tourist locations.

  • Beautiful! What a privilege. Hard work pays off, you should feel proud of yourself for making this happen. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Rach says:

    I am so happy for you and glad you persisted. It must have been spine tingling.

  • Anna says:

    It never even occured to me that the building might still be there. I am so happy it is and that it is still a Casa. How wonderful that you have actually been there!

  • Theresa says:

    What a once in a lifetime experience! You said it was a public school now, but I saw the room you took photos in had a Pink Tower and Red Rods. Is it a public Montessori school? It’s a shame they don’t have one of the rooms roped off like a museum for people to come visit, or at least have photos or materials from the original room. Montessori was so important in the history of Italy, that she was pictured on their liras!

    • melissa says:

      Yes, it is a public Montessori school! So much more true to the original aim than all of those expensive private schools, no!? The space is so small that I don’t think they could have a school if they converted part into a museum, but I’m super grateful they’re willing to let visitors like me fulfill a dream.

      • Shiva says:

        Hi

        I am visiting Italy in July-
        Aug 2012. Just wondering if I have to call the casa bambini de Maria Montessori office to fix an appointment or just walk in. also just wondering if they will be working in July and august.?

        • melissa says:

          Hi Shiva,

          I visited in the winter, so I’m not sure what their summer hours are. Visitors do need to schedule an appointment, as it is an active public school. The current school on the site of the original Casa dei Bambini is called VII Circolo Montessori, and you can find their website here: http://www.viicircolomontessori.net. They have more than one location, so you’ll want to be sure you have the one at Via dei Marsi.

  • I LOVED reading about your visit to the first Casa dei Bambini, Melissa! What an amazing experience for both you and Annabelle. Your words and photos created a truly fascinating and inspiring experience for anyone reading! Thanks so much! :)

  • What an wonderful experience! Your photos are so beautiful, and I’m sure it was even more amazing to see in person. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  • Emily says:

    I have also made this promise to myself that I will visit this school. I hope that someday I can. I didn’t realize it would be so hard, but hopefully it will happen. What an amazing experience!

    • melissa says:

      If you plan ahead, I don’t think it’s all that difficult. My problem was that I expected it to be easy! I’m sure you’ll have an amazing experience all your own!

  • Helen says:

    Wonderful!
    I’ve read all about the school, and it must have brought it so much to life for you to have visited it. And well done in persisting.

  • ame nengite says:

    What a wonderful experience! I look forward to visiting the casa myself someday. Thanks for sharing because now I know it has to be planned and appointments should be made before hand.

  • Thats so fantastic! Where there is a will, there is a way! :)
    Im so glad you got to see it, your excitement is catching, now I have a huge grin on my face! ;)

  • Niki says:

    I am so happy it all worked out for you Melissa! What a beautiful experience for you and Annabelle! The school being difficult to get into makes the experience all the more special. Thank you for sharing. Love you sweetie. :)

  • Angela says:

    Melissa, my 2 children attend a Montessori private school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada……and my third will attend when she’s old enough. We are going to Rome in June 2012 and I too am determined to visit the first Casa dei Bambini. It would mean the world to me if you could help me out. Do you have a phone number to the school or an email address? I can speak italian ok as well as write. I realize that you broke your back to get this information, but I truly would treasure it. Please let me know if you can help me out. Many thanks. Angela

    • melissa says:

      Hi, Angela. The school on the site of the original is called VII Circolo Montessori. I’m on mobile so can’t grab you the link now, but they have a website with contact info. Just make sure you get the Via dei Marsi location, as they have more than one. I do remember that the email address listed there did not work, so I’d recommend calling. Best of luck – I’d love to know how your trip goes!

      • Angela says:

        Melissa, thank you very much for the information. I have a cousin visiting from Italy at the moment so I think I will ask him to call the school on my behalf to ensure they understand just how important this is to our family. I really appreciate you getting back to me so quickly. I will most definitely share any photos with you if I am successful. I know that my 7 and 5 year old will love the experience (unfortunately my 7 month old is too young). Thanks again, and I will be in touch. Happy Easter.

        • melissa says:

          Not a problem! Looking forward to hearing your impressions and seeing some more photos of that magical place :)

  • jenny says:

    Your story is great. I would love to go. I’m going to italy soon in october and would love to visit some if not all of the montessori areas. It you know of any in Rome please could you let me know of them?? Thank you so much as for sharing your story.

    • melissa says:

      How exciting, Jenny! I’m sure you’ll enjoy your visit. It’s such an enchanting city, whether you’re passionate about Montessori or not. Most of the significant sites seem to be outside of Rome, but may be worth putting on your itinerary if you’re interested enough. One thing I wished I had thought ahead and made arrangements to do is to visit the other schools that opened in the period shortly after the first Casa. I’m not sure of a list of them online, but the addresses are all given on one of the boards I photographed, and if you’re interested I’m sure I could send you the original photo later this week and you could enlarge it to get the addresses and start researching. To get ideas of other places, you can always look at the study tour itinerary for those who went to Rome for the big centenary back in 2007. You can find it here, and may see some things that spark your interest: http://montessoricentenary.org/studytouritinerary.htm Enjoy your trip! I’d love a report when you get back if you feel like gushing :) Obviously I did!

  • You have so much wonderful information in this post and comments. Thank you for sharing. Maria Montessori was such a great women, I could understand the desire to see the first Casa and I am so happy for you that it was fulfilled!

  • Sharon Caldwell says:

    Please will you email me with your own email address – can’t find it here. I would like to chat to you about permission to republish this article and pictures.
    Sharon Caldwell

  • Vicki Barratt says:

    Melissa, Thank you so much for having this blog! I too went to Rome without finding a way to set up an appointment. However because you had shared your experience I did have an address. My husband and I mapped out our journey for the day from our apartment in the Trestevere district and walked to the San Lorenzo district. As you, I was so excited to be making a dream come true and it was my 59th birthday. What a gift! When we got to Casa dei Bambini the street-door was wide open! We stood not knowing if we should enter. It was enough to just enjoy the same space were Maria Montessori had stood. We took pictures from the street. However, curiosity got the better of us and we entered. We read the placards talking about the school and her vision. Then we wandered into the garden area and there it was! The window to the classroom was open and we could hear the voices of the children and teacher. It was so serene, a beautiful sunny day, and the chatter of the Italian voices in the classroom was so sweet to my ears. We walked up the steps to the classroom door and stood and listened. The door was closed and it was so difficult to not give a little knock. I restrained myself knowing that where I was and what I was seeing would have to be enough. We took more pictures, wandered around the garden area, and then pulled ourselves away. We went back outside, crossed the street, took more pictures of the building, and had a very hard time leaving. As we stood across the street it was then we realized that we had the good fortune of someone leaving the door open. Residents of the apartments were coming and going using their keys to gain entrance. It was truly a magical moment. Once again, thank you for your article. I am so happy you too were able to have a dream come true! Vicki Barratt

  • Vicki Barratt says:

    Melissa, Thank you so much for having this blog! I too went to Rome without finding a way to set up an appointment. However because you had shared your experience I did have an address. My husband and I mapped out our journey for the day from our apartment in the Trastevere district and walked to the San Lorenzo district. As you, I was so excited to be making a dream come true and it was my 59th birthday. What a gift! When we got to Casa dei Bambini the street-door was wide open! We stood not knowing if we should enter. It was enough to just enjoy the same space where Maria Montessori had stood. We took pictures from the street. However, curiosity got the better of us and we entered. We read the placards talking about the school and her vision. Then we wandered into the garden area and there it was! The window to the classroom was open and we could hear the voices of the children and teacher. It was so serene, a beautiful sunny day, and the chatter of the Italian voices in the classroom was so sweet to my ears. We walked up the steps to the classroom door and stood and listened. The door was closed and it was so difficult to not give a little knock. I restrained myself knowing that where I was and what I was seeing would have to be enough. We took more pictures, wandered around the garden area, and then pulled ourselves away. We went back outside, crossed the street, took more pictures of the building, and had a very hard time leaving. As we stood across the street it was then we realized that we had the good fortune of someone leaving the door open. Residents of the apartments were coming and going using their keys to gain entrance. It was truly a magical moment. Once again, thank you for your article. I am so happy you too were able to have a dream come true! Vicki Barratt

  • Hi, just want to know if the first Casa dei Bambini is still operating and open up to now? Please reply, Thank You so much !

    • melissa says:

      Hi Kristine. When I visited Rome a little less than two years ago, there was still a Montessori program operating on the site of the original Casa. You would have to check to make sure this is still the case, but I am not aware of any change. The school operating there in the present day is VII Circolo Montessori.

      • Okay, Do you have any suggestion,where i can get any information about the first Casa ??? Thank You so much Melissa, your reply is much appreciated ..

        • melissa says:

          Kristine, are you looking for historical information on the original casa as it was under Dr. Montessori’s supervision? That information can be found in her books, as well as in a large number of online articles. If you’re looking for information on the school that currently operates on that site, VII Circolo Montessori, their website is probably the best way to begin. Their site also links to some wonderful information about the origins of the method and of the school itself here: http://www.viicircolomontessori.net/centenario.htm Of course most are in Italian, but if you are not an Italian speaker, google translate is a wonderful help.

  • Amber says:

    Hello, I just needed to write to tell you that today, inspired by you, I too made the journey to visit the Casa. It was a sublime experience and I was so thrilled to find myself standing inside that sweet little room – much smaller than I had envisaged actually – where Maria once stood.

    Thank you for your inspiration. One of my dreams came true :)
    Amber. x

    • melissa says:

      Oh my goodness! That is so wonderful, Amber! I saw from your blog that you were in Italy and I imagined you might be headed there. So glad you made it. I’m sure there will be gorgeous photos to come – they’ll put mine to shame, I’m sure :) Can’t wait to see!

  • Dearest Melissa, I have a montessori school here in Brazil and am going to Rome to visit the First Casa Dei Bambini on the afternnon of the 13th of June. But I need all the help I can get on where to stay, how to get there and even whom should I call/e-mail to get more information like best timing and even the adress… Thank you so much for the support you are giving us Montessorians. Love, Camila

    • melissa says:

      Hi Camila,

      When I visited, I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast that had been recommended by a friend called The Five Oscars Inn. I was very happy there. It was not especially close to the Casa, but I was able to walk there. I have the woman who worked the desk there to thank for helping me arrange my visit to the school now operating on the site of Montessori’s original Casa. I gave her the phone number and explained the situation, and she was incredibly kind to call and beg for me in Italian :) The school there now is called Vii Circolo Montessori, and their contact information is on their website. At the time of my visit, emails to the address listed there were bouncing back, so it seems that phone calls are, or at least were, ideal. I hope you have a lovely visit to Rome. Please do come back and share how it goes if you have a moment!

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