Rome: Colosseum and Forum

Day 16 – Rome

Daily Wrap-Up

One Word
  • Barb: Spectacle
  • Mike: Colosseum
  • Jen: Mayhem
Two Words
  • Barb: Cat-iatorial combat
  • Mike: Juxtaposed ruins
  • Jen: Trenitalia trip
Three or Four Words
  • Barb: It’s always something
  • Mike: Brutality as entertainment
  • Jen: New ‘uns on ruins
One Sentence
  • Barb: You can’t go there.
  • Mike: I’d like to witness, from above and down in the bowels, the most over-the-top spectacle of the Colosseum in its prime.
  • Jen: Country girl visits ancient ruins in bustling, foreign city.

Our first visit to Rome. Our first train trip.

We had planned to do a dry run of the Chiusi train station prior to this day, but a long day after a long day after a long day prevented it. After asking Maria, we had an idea of where we could park, and we understood it was free parking. The rest, we hoped, would be self-explanatory and/or obvious. We allowed a half hour to get there (a few minutes’ drive away), park, get tickets, and get to the track. It’s a small station, not many tracks.

Of course, nothing in Italy is that easy.

We found what we figured was the parking area; although, Maria indicated it was “under the bridge,” and where we parked was not under anything at all. There was a bridge over the tracks nearby. Does that count?

It did appear to be free. At least, the machine at the end of the lot had a plastic bag taped over it, and the other cars in the lot didn’t have tickets or stickers or anything that appeared to give them special permission to be there. We decided to go with it.

We headed in the direction that we believed would lead to the station and biglieteria (ticket office). It wasn’t where we thought it would be, but after circling an abandoned building, we discovered it farther down the tracks in the other direction. We had less than ten minutes left of our half hour. Would the station master speak English? Would I be able to ask for three tickets to Rome? Would I be able to inquire about return tickets? Mike wanted to know if we got return tickets now and missed our first-choice 5:00 return train, would we be able to use the same tickets for the 7:00 train? ACK!

I had looked up the phrases I needed and practiced them. I stepped up to the window and said, “Vorrei tre biglietti per Roma, per favore, andata e ritorno.”

The kind man behind the counter asked, “You want to come back today?” Yes, in English.

“Si.” I stuck with my practiced Italian.

“What time?” He turned his computer screen toward me and pointed out the times of the return trains.

“Diciasette.” (17:00) I’d practiced that, too. I have trouble with numbers, and Mike had looked up the train schedule online.

Bing, bang, boom, we had our tickets. He told me to validate the ones to Rome now and pointed to a machine by the window, and then to validate the return tickets in Rome before boarding the train back. It took a few seconds to figure out how to validate the tickets, but we were on the track then on the train faster than you can say, “Italian drivers are nuts, and it will be nice to let someone else do the driving today.” We had a minute or two to spare before the train pulled away from the station.

Mike and Jen on the train.

Trenitalia trip from Chiusi to Rome.

In Rome, it took a little time to figure out the Metro system, and in the heat of the moment I inadvertently pulled out my Spanish instead of my Italian, confusing the woman behind the ticket counter. She figured things out faster than I did. To the best of my knowledge her response was something like, “You’re in Italy, not Spain, you moron.” But she said it kindly. We got tickets and were off to the Colosseum.

Under normal circumstances, we would have climbed the stairs from the Metro station, crossed the street, and been standing smack-dab in front of the Colosseum. Sigh. These were not normal circumstances.

Today, the streets around the Colosseum were blocked off for a marathon. Who knew? Well, loads of people, it turns out, just not us, and for three people who do not like crowds, this was a disappointment. But what were we going to do about it? Instead of 50 yards, we walked a mile up one road and down another. It’s not as if we weren’t prepared to walk miles and miles and miles today.

Along the way, we passed the ruins of Trajan’s markets, an ancient Roman shopping center. About 150 shops sold food, fabrics, and whatever else the hip, urban Roman might want or need. Ancient ruins in bustling, modern, downtown Rome—crazy! The juxtaposition is wild.

Brick ruins of Trajan's marketplace and the Imperial Forum in Rome.

Trajan’s Marketplace at the Imperial Forum (not to be confused with the Roman Forum; different emperors built different forums). See that row of arches on the left side? Those were some of the shops.

Barb then took us to the Capitoline Museums on Capitoline Hill. We weren’t visiting the museums today but walked through the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, to an overlook providing a nice view of the Roman Forum. Two-thousand-plus years ago, the Forum was the hopping downtown area, with food stalls, brothels, temples, and the Senate house. Over time, as ancient Rome sought to improve its image, the food stalls and brothels were replaced with more respectable businesses, triumphal arches, and more temples. You can’t have too many temples, and as Rome grew, Romans adopted the gods of the cultures they absorbed, so there were more and more gods to pay tribute to.

Wide angle view of the ruins of the Roman Forum.

Ruins of the Roman Forum from the Piazza del Campidoglio. The seven pillars in the center are part of the Temple of Saturn. The thick archway just left of the pillars is the triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus, built in AD 203 for the 10th anniversary of the emperor’s accession. On the right side of the photo, to the right of what appears to be a runway (it’s a road), are the remains of the House of the Vestal Virgins. Priestesses tending a sacred flame in the temple lived here.

As with Pompeii and Paestum, it was fun to see what remained of the ancient structures and to try to imagine the place in its heyday. Don’t tell Barb and Mike I said so, but maybe the marathon crowd helped give a sense of what it was like then: lots of people, noise, and activity. Although, I suppose the pop music and DJ voice over the loudspeakers was a little anachronistic.

Next, we visited the Colosseum. The gruesome activities that took place here, the surprisingly good condition of the building remains, and the complex system of tunnels and cages in the bowels of the building make this a fascinating place. I could stand still in one place and just look and look and look. I’m sure that wasn’t annoying to anyone.

The Colosseum viewed from the Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum.

The Colosseum viewed from the Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum.

As with other sites of ancient ruins, stray and feral cats have taken up residence. These “catiators” roamed through the maze of passageways and lounged in nooks and crannies out of the rain. Fairly nice accommodations for a feral cat, I think.

The bowels of the Colosseum.

Where the magic happened. A maze of passageways connected people and animals to rooms, cages, elevators, and who knows what until they were needed on stage.

I enjoyed climbing the stairs to the upper level, the cheap seats. I’m pretty sure the metal railing I clung to was not there back in the day, just very tall steps, sloping down, with dips hollowed out by millions of feet. Maybe they weren’t quite so sloped or worn then, but still…. Something about those steps made me feel as though I were stepping back in time. It was interesting and creepy.

Inside the Roman Colosseum.

Inside the Roman Colosseum, from an upper level, looking down into the bowels and across to the stands where people watched the brutal spectacles.

Built from AD 72–80 and able to hold 55,000 people, the Colosseum was the site of deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. At the inaugural games, over 9,000 wild animals were killed.

Modern sensibilities make most of us today feel horrified by the idea of these violent events held for public entertainment. Do you suppose any ancient people felt the way we feel? Did some people not cotton to the common practice of brutality for fun? I believe there had to be people who thought it was awful. The smell alone had to be awful.

From the Colosseum we returned to the Forum to walk around inside for close-up (sort of; areas that Barb once walked through are now roped off) views of the different temples and buildings.

Headless statues at the House of Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum.

Headless statues from the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum. Vesta is the goddess of fire. Six virgins kept her flame burning in the temple. The girls, from noble families, were chosen when they were 6–10 years old and served 30 years. They were held in high esteem and were financially secure, but if they lost their virginity, they were buried alive, and if they let the sacred flame go out, they were beaten. While they were free to marry after their term of service, few did.

We opted to walk back to the train station rather than take the Metro because, really, walking the extra distance around the marathon wasn’t much different from walking to the train station. We arrived early enough to make use of the little grocery store in the train station. The wait for the train, however, seemed extraordinarily long. Despite No Smoking signs, some 90% (or so it seemed) of the zillion people waiting for trains were smoking. Either Italian smokers haven’t gotten the memo that secondhand smoke is harmful to non-smokers, or they simply don’t care. My sinuses are killing me, and I’ve blown through miles of tissue.

Categories: Italy, Travel