For day three we had planned the highlight of my visit: the Colosseum.
Despite being weathered by the changing seasons and the passage of time, the structure is still jaw-droppingly impressive. It was perfectly highlighted by the clear blue skies and the burning sunshine.
The Colosseum is believed to have inherited its name from the Colossus, a huge statue (of what was originally Nero) that used be located right outside of the arena. After the statue fell, the name transferred onto the arena, which was formerly known as the Flavian Amphitheatre.
The amphitheatre was free to enter, but everyone had to sit in a strict order according to their rank. Workers and freed slaves sat right at the very top, with senators and other important dignitaries near to the arena floor. Each visitor was given a wooden ‘ticket’ with their gate number and seat. With the arena capable of holding over 50,000 people, this level of organisation is highly laudable.
For our visit, we once again beat the queue with pre-booked tickets, although we were quite early and the ordinary queue was not too frightening to look at. However, I have heard terrible stories of lengthy lines, so I would again advise to book in advance.
We’d booked a tour of the upper and lower levels for later in the morning, which meant that we had plenty of time to look around and take photos beforehand. The height of the building was much greater than I had imagined, but the arena itself was surprisingly small. As our guide later explained, this was because a huge arena would have meant that the fighters and animals would have been ‘lost’ in all of the excess space. A smaller arena meant that the action could be contained much more easily.
Another surprise to me was the sheer number of animals estimated to have died in the arena. It is all too easy to focus upon the gladiators, but there were thousands of animals slaughtered as part of the entertainment, too. The animals involved ranged from bears, leopards, bulls, and even small animals such as rabbits. The arena would be decked out with scenery to reflect the animals’ habitat, and then hunters would chase them down.
After we had had our fill of photos, we joined our tour group. Our guide was fantastic and was so knowledgeable. The best part was when we were taken to the lower levels, where the hundreds of slaves needed to ensure the smooth running of the entertainment worked in a close darkness. Our guides told us about the elevators that it is believed were used to raise animals, and later gladiators, to the arena floor. There were over 80 of these lifts – an impressive amount. It is believed that a system of hoists was used to raise the lifts upwards, although experts are still in disagreement as to how exactly these worked. It’s possible that the lifts were carefully choreographed, so that animals or gladiators were revealed to the audience in a pre-planned way.
In the belly of the Colosseum, traces of the original floor are still in evidence, as is the entrance to the tunnel that led from the gladiator’s school to amphitheatre. With the guide’s help, you can get a far clearer impression of how the arena functioned.
Our tour then rose up to the very top level of the area, opening up fantastic views. From this vantage point, you also got a better view of the overall layout of the amphitheatre.
Once we had finished our tour, we headed out and went to the forum and palatine. These two locations are included on your ticket to the Colosseum, and can be viewed on a subsequent day.
The forum is a jumble of ruins, which can make it hard to work out what is what. I didn’t mind this so much, but you may want to hire a guide instead.
Climbing up onto the palatine hill, lovely gardens are revealed. There are also some fantastic tumble-down buildings that left me yearning to have seen them in their prime. Sadly we missed the opportunity to see Augustus’ house, so I will have to remember that for another time.
Next week I will go through our final day’s walk.