Visiting the Colosseum and the Roman forum are on the top of most travelers list of must-see places when visiting Rome, Italy. And they should be. You can’t walk through these iconic sites without feeling more connected to this ancient place.
The Colosseum is a massive structure, actually the largest amphitheater in the world, that reportedly took only 8 years to make. Imagine what a feat that would be when its construction began in 72 AD. It was made to hold between 50,000 and 80,000 people at a time. And the acoustics were so good that it is reported that people at the very top level were able to hear voices in a normal tone on the stage.
But it isn’t what’s at the top of the structure that holds the most interest. Visible at the base of the Colosseum is the beginnings of a reconstructed stage with a trap door. Below you can see what was 2 levels (originally only one) of small windowless compartments and narrow passage ways.
Just imagine the sights and smells in this area, where hundreds of gladiators and exotic animals were held, awaiting their fate.
In Roman times, day at the Colosseum started with a what the Romans called “venatio” or hunts. Trees and scenery were brought up through the trap doors, followed by groups of animals, or men and animals, paired against each other. The animals were frequently exotic beasts, including bears, lions, panthers, leopards, crocodiles, elephants, and ostriches that were brought over on ships from conquered lands. As you can imagine, very few survived the journey to be unlucky enough to make it to face their day on the Colosseum floor.
For lunch the spectators were treated to public executions. This intermission was followed by the thrill of the day, the gladiator fights. The gladiators were mostly made up of prisoners of war who were “sponsored” by businessmen who made large amounts of money by wagers on their fighters success.
Gladiator fights continued for some 650 years and eventually both human and animal battles discontinued. Over time the Colosseum became damaged due to fires, earthquakes, and the harvesting of metal and stone for more modern buildings. Restoration efforts are underway but it is still astonishing to see what remains standing and to wonder what it was like to attend an event here in the height of its time.
This sense of wonder travels with you as you walk the short distance to the ongoing excavation of the ancient Roman Forum. The forum was once the central market and place of business for the people of Rome. The first building dates back to the 8th century BC. It eventually housed the emperor of Rome and was flanked by elaborate arches that celebrated the concur of far away lands. Huge processions were made through the public square. You can image the parades of chariots followed by soldiers, captive soldiers in exotic uniforms and strange animals being marched down the streets.
As the area aged new buildings were erected in different sections of Rome and eventually the forum was abandoned. Unfortunately the area that the forum was built-in was swampy and subject to flooding from the Tiber River. Sediment accumulated over the centuries and many of the buildings were partially or completely buried. In some areas new buildings were constructed over the old resulting in layers of a city built upon a city.
Excavation efforts began in the 18th century and continue on today. It’s an awe-inspiring day and one where you can actually sit under the shade of a tree and take it all in – as people have been doing for centuries.
Here’s a tip to get the most out of your visit. Go with a local guide who knows the area and can answer all of the questions that are bound to have swimming in your head. We joined up with City Wonders and were guided by Mariella. She is an archaeologist who fell in love while excavating the Forum and who now gives guided tours several times a week. You didn’t think I just knew all of that stuff, did you? She really brought the places to life for us and it made all the difference in us walking away thinking, what an interesting place, and walking away thinking “Wow.”
Thank you to City Wonders for providing us with this tour. Our story and our opinion are our own.