The Colosseum is the big time and I really can’t believe I’m sitting here telling you I touched it. (Who am I kidding, we stomped the yard.) It was heady stuff, after “seeing” ancient things, to be able to touch them. It was an interactive smorgasbord. Nick-named for a colossal bronze statue of Nero at the door – that no longer exists – the Colosseum is one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”. So naturally I showed up wondering several things.
- How do I get in there? Much like opening day in AD80, the hatbox was surrounded with spectators and lines and vendors. We swatted the vendors away and took our “skip-the-line” ticket (an online voucher, not a pottery shard) to the group entry area. Once inside, we followed the posted signs for a self tour, taking a staircase that led up to this breath-taking view:
- What am I looking at? True Roman organization at its finest. We hadn’t paid for the fancy marble seats, nor did we qualify for the Vestal Virgins box. Our area was at commoners level, which I suppose is better than the nose-bleed section. I couldn’t really see an American football game held in here, but definitely indoor soccer or ice hockey. It’s got a nice hometown stadium feel at ringside and there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
- How did they make this? Romans invented concrete. Then they added travertine, marble, bricks and about 100,000 slaves from the sacking of Jerusalem. Initially, the center was hollow and could be flooded for water entertainment. Overhead, sailors worked a canvas awning to provide shade and a breeze, which would have been very welcome, it was quite warm and muggy.
- Why did they make this? The idea was to hand out free tickets to the masses in order to curry political favor or demonstrate family prestige by providing violently gripping entertainment. Placing the finest stage on earth in the heart of Rome, serving peanuts, popcorn, and crackerjack, emperors enjoyed the absolute power of dispensing life and death. Citizens thrilled with that power when asked to contribute to the decision with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
- Why would anyone show up to watch death all day? It appears to have been as addicting as video games. Would crowds have formed to see great art instead? Music? Shakespeare could have made a mint here without anyone dying. It made me think further thoughts on humanity in general. But most of what happened here ended in death. So that makes me sad…
- What’s the cross for? Although scholars say actual Christian martyrs were killed at the Circus Maximus, popes put a cross (several) up here anyway and I’d like to think it commemorates everyone who died. Even the elephants.
- What? Can you fit an elephant in there? Yes, the Romans had a zoo but preferred to watch their crocodiles eat people instead of bask in a cage. The underground had passages, elevators, ramps and trap doors that delivered gladiators, animals, and stage settings on cue. Tunnels led to off-site gladiator training quarters, stables and personal pathways for the emperor who, like us, had no use for the throngs of tourists and vendors blocking the gate.
- What’s out the window? I went to get some fresh air. Across the way, the Arch of Constantine and the Forum hills beckoned. Our ticket included all of it, so off we went.
Here is what it looked like as we lined up for entry near the Arch of Titus:
Not two minutes later, a cloud rolled over and started to drizzle. We shook off the drops and walked in. Drizzle turned to rain. We ducked under a tree and waited. It began to pour. Tourists were running for shelter…but there wasn’t any. Ruins don’t usually have roofs. Hubby and I held each other tight, with my purse between us, attempting to save our phones. The road began to flood. Our shoes filled. Our clothes were sticky.
We laughed a little in disbelief. Lightning flashed. Thunder reverberated from a deep purple sky.
Why did we leave the Colosseum? Glancing back, we watched attendants slam the entry gate closed. There was no turning back.
It was raining so hard that you had to blink fast to see. My hair was streaming.
But where? We had no map, no idea where the exit or even a restroom might be. We huddled miserably with a few others under a stand of trees that was useless as the wind took the rain sideways.
Suddenly, calling out frantically to us over the din of the storm, pressed up against the railing around ancient Rome – wearing halos – were the street vendors. They knew their people were in trouble and they’d found us, prepared to forgive our brushoffs from earlier and supply us with umbrellas and plastic ponchos.
With a very soggy bill, Hubby bought our second umbrella in one day, a red one this time. He was surprised the price had not risen exponentially, considering the situation, and I was surprised they were trying to help at all. Heads bowed, we shared that wretched umbrella and waited for the tragedy to end.
We could not have gotten any wetter if we had jumped into the Tiber. My pants were a misery. My pink blouse was completely sheer and clinging. It was something out of a bad dream. And although I’d like to think that is why people kept staring at me for the rest of the afternoon, you know it was my hair. It contorted into several shapes as it dried out.
Because the rain eventually moved on to torment someone else and we slogged through the mud and the puddles to see what we had come to see.
There are no selfies from the Forum.“Friends, Romans, and Countrymen…lend me your umbrellas”