It took five years, six trips to Rome, and a tour with Walks of Italy get me inside the Colosseum.
I think the reason I had not previously gone inside was that I felt I’d already seen it: on television, in movies and guide books, and on websites. You’d have to have been living under a rock buried deep in the dirt not to recognize an image of the Colosseum.
The persuasion? I was taking the Colosseum VIP Night Tour which includes the recently opened underground areas where the animals were kept, and the arena area. Best of all, there are no crowds or lines at night! Obviously, I was not going to pass up a chance to experience the atmosphere of the Colosseum at night and to have access to areas that you can only see with a guide.
The Colosseum by day and from the exterior is impressive even by today’s standards, but seeing it at night and having access to all these previously inaccessible areas made it all the more special. Our guide, Jeanette, really brought the history of the Colosseum to life – and somehow with all the juicy details she gave us, it wasn’t as creepy being there at night as I thought it would be.
What did I learn about the Colosseum? For starters, it was not always called the Colosseum, but was previously known as the Flavian Amphitheater. It took 100,000 slaves something like ten years to build, and it was constructed over a pond, requiring some pretty advanced engineering skills. Those ancient Roman engineers were very sophisticated.
The Colosseum is the model for arenas as we know them today. There were seating tiers (just like today), and running water. They didn’t have elevators, but used a system of pulleys and ropes to accomplish the same tasks.
Though admission was free, you still had to have a ticket to get in, and the wealthy of Rome occupied the seats closest to the arena floor, while the general public occupied the nose bleed sections above. Seems to me that not much has changed.
The Colosseum was an active arena for 500 years before it closed and became a sort of quarry for the city of Rome to salvage the marble it was built from.
Now let’s get on with the really interesting bits: lions and tigers and bears and…gladiators.
I’ve often wondered how Romans could be so bloodthirsty. Were these friendly people I’ve met on my travels really descendants of the same people who willingly witnessed (and cheered on) these cruel and violent events? As it turns out, it wasn’t all about blood and guts.
Imagine you couldn’t book a safari in Africa, or sit in the comfort of your living room and watch elephants, lions, and zebras run across the screen on the Discovery Channel. Witnessing the games at the Colosseum was the one chance for thousands of citizens, wealthy and poor alike, to see exotic animals never seen by anyone in the civilized world before.
Somehow this makes me feel a little better about it all…at least it wasn’t 100% about blood and violence.
What about the gladiators? Jeanette explained that there were actually worse things than being a gladiator. They were kind of the rock stars of their time. People had their favorites and dying on a stage in front of 50,000 cheering and screaming fans must have been preferable to hanging out in the hypogeum with the animals, slaves, and accompanying smells. The chances of dying down there were just as great as if going to battle with another gladiator or an animal. And there was no glory in it!
Being a gladiator wasn’t just about brute physical strength. The gladiators had never seen these animals before, either. Can you picture an ostrich running at you – full speed? Or a lion who’s been starved for several days being unleashed on you? Not only did a gladiator have to be strong and quick on his feet to overpower the animal, he had to out think the animal, as well.
The victor was led out of the Colosseum for a “victory shower.” Waiting for them outside would often be the wives of the wealthy and powerful citizens of Rome. Just like rock stars, gladiators got the girls after the gig.
I can honestly say I felt like I had experienced something really special on this tour and left with a better understanding of the people and times of ancient Rome.
The VIP tour of the Colosseum was with Walks of Italy. All comments and opinions are my own.
©PennySadler 2013. All rights reserved.