Roman Forum and the Colosseum

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Flag of Italy  , Latium,
Saturday, May 5, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

My very last guided tour in Rome was that of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, a wonderful area of ruins that is near the Colosseum. A word about guided tours: if you only have the money for one guided tour, get a tour about ancient Rome, because it's quite difficult to see or understand exactly what you’re seeing without a guide.

Our guide, Paola, is actually a historian of ancient Rome, which led her to make historian remarks such as, "Yes, this Roman structure has some modern accretions, such as this Renaissance church built on top," which led me to quip, “You mean, the Renaissance is modern?!” She laughed, saying that’s just the terminology which historians use.

We started out at the Roman Forum, an area which I had previously seen (without much understanding). Rome is actually a city built on earlier ruins. We headed first for Trajan’s column, which is a tall marble column that scrolled upward with a pictorial depiction of the victories of Trajan. I think (if I recall correctly) Trajan actually conquered Jerusalem. He brought home loads of gold, from the Temple of Jerusalem, and thousands of slaves, which he used to build the Colosseum, and Trajan’s column celebrates his victory.

We moved onto Trajan’s marketplace, where people sold everything under the sun, oils, vegetables, perfume, and alcohol! The photo I took was of the part of Trajan’s marketplace for the wine sellers, which goes to show: empires rise and fall, but the wine-sellers remain forever.

We entered into the Roman Forum and wandered around. The guide led us to a mound of dirt behind a stone façade, dirt that is still piled high with fresh flowers. This is where Julius Caesar was said to have been cremated. His name is still revered by some Romans; hence the fresh flowers.

The next stop was the rather unprepossessing façade of one of the greatest areas in Rome, the Roman Senate. You’ll have to imagine it covered in marble. It’s a really tall building, and your voice echoes wonderfully in there – great acoustics, all the better hear the orators and the Emperor as he speaks.

A rounded colonnade and a courtyard with two stone ponds is all that is left of the temple for the Vestal Virgins, the virgins entrusted with keeping Rome’s sacred fire burning. If they lost their chastity (or were suspected of losing their chastity), they died in the most horrible way: they were given a lamp and then locked into an underground prison to starve to death. But if they did their job well, they had a lot of status. Vestal Virgins even had their own special box at the Colosseum.

The bronze door with the red pillars is the front of a small temple dedicated to Romulus, the young son of an emperor. It’s notable because this bronze door is original: that is, it dates to sometime in the 2nd century A.D. And the doors still have the original locks.

The next stop were the remains of an enormous basilica, which is not a church, but like a public place, a Roman forum, if you will. Christians met in basilicas when the Christian church was first starting out. So, when Christians became prominent in Rome, they created churches modelled after what they were familiar with: Roman basilicas.

We then saw an arch of Trajan. You can see, faintly, the outline of an menorah on the inside of the arch. That arch was indeed created to celebrate Trajan’s victory over the Jews in Jerusalem – the sack of Jerusalem meant piles and piles of gold went to Rome, along with thousands of Jewish slaves, all of whom were commandeered to build the Roman Colosseum.

Finally, we ended up at the most magnificent of structures, the Roman Colosseum. It was originally built by Trajan, who razed Nero’s palace (I think Nero must have been hated by the nobles of Rome) to give the people a place for themselves, where they could watch the games. And those were some games! When the Colosseum was built, the Emperor ordered 100 days of games for the populace, games of animal hunting, criminal executions, and gladiator contests. There was a precise schedule: the mornings were devoted to animal hunting; the afternoons, to criminal executions, and the late afternoon, to gladiator contests.

Romans entered the Colosseum much like we go to stadiums. Each Roman who wanted to enter had to get an invitation, or a ticket, which was usually a piece of broken pottery with the date and seat number on it. Then the Romans would queue at turnstiles, and be directed to their exact seats. Each Roman arch had a numeral on top of it. Nobles and the Emperor sat the first tier of the Colosseum; men at the second and third tiers; and the highest tiers, which were wooden and not marble, were given to slaves, foreigners, and women.

While waiting for the games to start, people would eat and drink (archeologists have found remains of nuts, raisins, and cookstoves), or play games of chance (dice, knucklebones), or maybe draw some graffiti on the seats (of the gladiators, naturally). Then, when the games began, the animals and gladiators would enter the Colosseum through trap doors in the ground. Pulleyed up, they’d appear on the sandy arena of the Colosseum as if by magic.

I was quite awestruck by the Colosseum’s size. It’s really the size of a football stadium – maybe even bigger. It’s an oval shape, and so huge that it can accommodate up to 50,000 people a day. Romans, with their genius for architecture, knew how to build something like this, so there were proper entrances, seat numbers, even reserved box seats for the Vestal Virgins and the Emperor. Even the stairs were precisely engineered to be tall steps, so that people would take a longer time to come into the stadium, and a short time to get out. The Colosseum, amazingly enough, had a canvas roof which was retractable – and taken care of by a group of sailors, hired precisely for this task. So, not only was the Colosseum the first stadium in the world, it was also the first stadium with a retractable covered roof. I kid you not.

All this for entertainment! The church hasn’t exactly liked the Colosseum very much. First the church ignored it, then said that actually it was a site of Christian martyrdom, and so incorporated the Colosseum into the church’s Easter Parade (that still goes on today). So, around the Colosseum, you’ll see a large cross, Christian frescos, and smaller crosses. I don’t think it’s true that the Colosseum was the site of Christian martyrs. Historians think that Christians were martyred by being executed in public squares, not at a colosseum.

Paola, our tour guide, answered our questions quite amiably, and let us take as many photos as we wanted. She took care to show us the rest of the Colosseum complex, and to explain its history. A great guide, and a good tour!

After the Colosseum, I was spent. I still had a cold. I wanted to go back to the Capitoline hill and have a snack at the Capitoline café, but unfortunately, I felt like I was going to drop from exhaustion. So I took the metro back to Termini station, and just chilled out at an Asian fusion cafe for a few hours, reading my guidebook, and refreshing myself with curry rice, fruit salad, cappuccino, and water.

Then I checked out from my hostel and found the new hotel, where I took a shower and slept until our evening meeting, day one of the G Adventures tours.

That was Rome! Rome is wonderful, and I hope to come back!
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Comments

Chris on

Beautiful and exquisite photos, my dear! Love hearing about the history of the Colosseum! Do take care of yourself as it is easy to pick up a bug while you are travelling, since you are interacting with a lot of different people and places. It's ok to take it easy some times. Much hugs!

Mom on

The photos are awesome. You are now an official journalist. The change of weather from rainy London to sunny Rome is so ideal for photography. Am glad you can rest a while.Take care.

Dad on

Beautiful photos...you should send to some your friends about your travel...love..Dad

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