Our second day in Rome we had booked tickets to check out the Colosseum (or as I always spell it, the Coliseum). Had we done this on the first day, the day we were supposed to arrive in Rome, we’d have missed the tour since we’d missed our connecting flight to Rome with a ton of added security at the Frankfurt airport. Tip: always book important things you must see from the 2nd day onwards, since you never know what sorts of travel issues you might run into on your first day getting somewhere.
So! The Colosseum. After we got ready the second day and headed out, we needed to make our way to the Termini station and from there catch the metro to the Colosseo stop. While exiting the metro, I was looking around inside the subway station, when Imran pulled my hand and told me to look outside. Right outside, across the street, were the beige concrete walls of the Colosseum peeking through. Just getting a first glimpse of this giant, historical building, so known to us from history and movies and tv shows, was high-inducing. We hurried out to on the street and were in awe of literally how big the structure was with its wide columns. The beauty of this building really is in the neat setup of the arched columns. They are so perfectly positioned and just their breadth is shocking – how could people create such a massive open structure almost 2000 years ago that lasts to this day.
We’d booked a tour through Viator/ Greenline Tours that wasn’t starting for a few hours, which gave us lots of time to explore the streets around the Colosseum. Our tour would include the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill so we explored more of the city streets rather than the area right next to the Colosseum.
The streets of Rome are hustling and bustling. It’s a good mix of tourists and residents coming together to enjoy places, piazzas, fountains and just the Roman way of life. There are locals who dont speak a word of English but would still help you if you asked them for directions. There are buildings that you wouldn’t know what they are but end up being huge empty churches when you step inside – lit up with candles in the middle of the day, offering quiet and serenity in the middle of a lively, hectic city. We stepped into one of these churches (donating a couple euros to the young female beggar at the door of the church), into a super high ceiling church, carved out with idols and statues and colorful stained glass windows.
Once it was time for our Colosseum tour to start, we headed back to the meeting point. Our guide was a young, hip Serbian who’d been living in Rome for 5 years and loved showing tourists around the buildings. Just opposite the Colosseum, some 200 meters away, they’ve recently excavated an area where gladiators were trained. It’s still being dug up. They found out about it when the city decided to make a building there and uneathered ancient Roman remains. This seems to be a big theme in modern day Roman construction projects: they always unearth old buildings that need to be preserved. Apparently this is a major reason why there is no subway running through the middle of Rome, and it’s taken 12 years to extend parts of it.
Coming back to the Colosseum, we made our way towards it and thankfully the fast-track tickets with the tour saved us hours of time. Our group was about 20 people and all were eager to check out the inside of the building and learn about it’s colorful history. Fun fact: the outside of the Colosseum was made of marble! Imagine how it would’ve looked with beautiful, shiny marble exterior glowing in the sunlight when it was built and used by the Romans! Now, there are big and small holes all throughout the limestone exterior of the Colosseum – this is because many later sculptors needed the material to create their creations (i.e. Michelangelo) or Churches for the popes at the time, and they’d ask the city’s or the pope’s permission and be granted to take marble/rock/metal from the Colosseum to create their own artwork, churches, sculptures, etc. Hence, holes all over the building.
This giant amphitheater took about 10 years to build. That’s it?! That was my first reaction when I heard that by our tour guide. The reason it only took that long (highways in Canada take like 5 years to build lol) was because there were 20,000 slaves working on it for about that long! Makes more sense now, right? It was also discovered that the first performance that happened there, basically the inauguration of the building, was a naval battle. This wasn’t proven until recently where they found tunnels leading to the water source that used to fill the bottom of the Colosseum up with water. Where would they get naval ships from to battle it out? They’d build them in the Colosseum! We learned so many amazing tidbits from our guide that I was just in awe hearing everything.
The fact that the biggest amphitheater at the time was having celebratory events for days and weeks all for free was surprising too. How could visitors attend all the crazy gladiator battles, animal fights, public executions, wild beast hunts and not pay a penny for anything (no entry fee, no food fees, no wine charges). It was all for free to the 50,000 people that would attend. That is mind-boggling to hear in today’s times considering we pay hefty prices for everything entertainment related. Our guide explained it easily. The events were hosted by public figures, often rich, who would sponsor the event and keep the wine flowing and the entertainment coming. If a general was wanting to enter into the political world and needed the votes, he’d throw a big, bloody party at the Colosseum at his expense. If a public figure wanted to celebrate his son’s 16th birthday party, 50,000 people would come celebrate at the Colosseum all for free. The Romans definitely knew how to throw wild parties 2000 years ago 🙂
Today the building is used to host small events and there’s even a modern stage set up inside. There are also thousands of people visiting all at once, and the building is constantly under some sort of construction or restoration. Regardless, it’s just one of those places in Rome where the inherent curiosity of the tourist will always ensure a trip. Going with a tour guide is absolutely recommended.
Our tour guide also showed us the Palatine Hill which was the residency area of the political figures in ancient Rome. The houses were created on the Hill and the Roman Emperors would reside there along with the political community. It is now a buried ground with ongoing excavations. The rooms are pretty small by modern standards and it forces you to consider how the Romans (or anyone during that time) lived without electric lights at nighttime and modern washrooms. Apparently, the open bathroom area was a place to socialize back in the day, spending anywhere from minutes to hours there. So while you did your business, you also caught up with the gossip of the day. Our tour group crinkled their noses hearing that little bit of info from our guide.
Last but certainly not least was the Roman Forum. This is a collection of the ancient buildings left in one place. This is where the first Christian church with it’s purple columns was accepted, the area where the first African Roman Emperor (Septimius Severus) and his crazy son ruled for a time. This is the place of the Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Vesta, the triumphal arches, the shrines and temples and many other ancient buildings located in this little nook of the modern Roman city. It looks beautiful all combined in one area, hundreds of years of history preserved in this large square. On the far side of it is the “Wedding Cake” building of Rome. I shall come back to that in a later blog post as it’s interesting on is own.
All in all, our second day in Rome was exciting, informative, and long! Lots of walking, eating gelatos along the way, stopping for lunch in between, visiting the large, empty church away from the crowded Colosseum… One of my fondest memories from that day is of a young man sitting at a small piazza, in front of a fountain, reading a book and engrossed in its contents while the people of Rome busily moved around him. He personified ancient Rome for me – staying still and elegant while the modern world energetically took over.
p.s. We also visited another evening to see the Colosseum at night and it is just as magnificent, all lit up. My favourite part of this was a busker was singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody! A grand song alongside a grand building was an unforgettable experience for me (my husband calls me a nerd for this but I loved it!) 🙂