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A Tour of Ancient Rome and the Colosseum

The magnificent Colosseum

The magnificent Colosseum

I first saw the Colosseum almost 20 years ago, but at that time, no one was allowed inside. So when I returned to Rome this year, one of my top priorities was to enter this magnificent structure and see it all: from the underground chambers to the top tier.

Our Ancient Rome and Colosseum Tour began across the street from the Colosseum where we gazed at the stunning ruin and listened (on handy headsets) as our guide, Alessia, explained that this land was originally part of the gardens of Nero’s Palace.  The Colosseum derives its name from a colossal statue of Nero that once stood here.  After Nero’s death, the Romans tried to wipe out his memory by altering the statue turning it into a generic Sun God. The Romans also drained the lake in Nero’s garden, creating the perfect location for this arena.

Fifteen thousand slaves spent the better part of a decade erecting this monument dedicated to entertainment. One of the reasons Romans loved the Colosseum so much was that admission was free!  Entertainments were actually an integral part of every emperor’s propaganda campaign; a way to keep the people happy and keep himself in power. (The games kept people’s minds off plotting to overthrow the empire.) In 80 AD, Emperor Vespasian celebrated the opening of the Colosseum by offering 100 days of games involving 5,000 beasts (all free of charge, of course).

A view of the Vestal Virgin apartments

A view of the Vestal Virgin apartments

Following that introduction, we headed for Rome’s ‘downtown’ and nucleus of city life, the Roman Forum. The Forum had it all: the Senate for the politicos, the courts for all legal actions, the best markets for the shopaholics, and the temples where priests administered to the spiritual needs of Rome. The only actual residents of the Forum were the Vestal Virgins who lived in special, isolated apartments. Girls joined the order as 6-year-olds and remained until age thirty (when they were too old to reproduce). These girls came only from the wealthiest patrician families, and it was considered quite an honor to have a Vestal in the family. Being a Vestal Virgin was serious business – if a Vestal Virgin was caught fooling around, the man was executed, and the ‘virgin’ was buried alive.

Private playground of the wealthy on Palatine Hill

Private playground of the wealthy on Palatine Hill

Next, we strolled up to the rural-feeling Palatine Hill where the wealthiest Romans lived in villas surrounded by flowering trees and fountains. The rich folks even had their own private ‘playground’ to watch athletes compete in various games including chariot races.

View from the arena floor

View from the arena floor

At last, we headed for the highlight of the tour: the inside of the Colosseum.  The entranceway was a madhouse of frantic tourists, but once inside, Alessia led us into a quiet section of the arena floor for a heart-stopping view of the indoor seating that once held 70,000 spectators.  I looked around and realized that our small group had this amazing space all to ourselves.

In the cavernous underground

In the cavernous underground

We descended below for our special access to the separate world of the underground chambers. This was the place where exotic animals, and of course, gladiators waited for their grand entrance into the arena. The entertainments were carefully orchestrated with an elaborate system of elevators and trap doors that allowed fierce animals or heroic gladiators to suddenly pop out on the arena floor. Everything was designed to wow the audience and keep them coming back for more.

Top down view of the Colosseum

Top down view of the Colosseum

We ended our tour by climbing several sets of stairs to the top tier. The effort was well worth it as we stood alone on the terrace with plenty of time to absorb a top down perspective of the inside of the arena and gaze outside for sweeping views of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Now I could truly say I had seen this ancient wonder inside and out!

-Contributed by Anne Supsic

A Tour of Ancient Rome and the Colosseum from Viator Rome



Colosseum, five Curiosities!

Did you know that the Colosseum is not round but oval?
It’s 189 meters long and 156 wide with 57 meters of height, its perimeter is 524 meters.

Did you know that the Colosseum is used to support the international campaign against death penalty?
Since the year 2000, every time a convicted to death gets its sentence commuted or is released, no matter the location, or when the death penalty is abolished somewhere in the world, the internal lights of the Colosseum change from white to gold.

Did you know that its real name is Flavian Amphitheater?
It comes from the latin Flavium, the family name of the emperors that began and ended the construction: Vespasian and Titus.

Did you know that it is believed that at least one million of animals died inside and 500,000 humans?
Only for the inaugural games 9,000 animals were slander and 2,000 gladiators lost their life for the battles for 100 days. The combats were between the animals and sometimes animal vs man.

Did you know that only a few celebrities have performed with the Colosseum as background?
Is no possible to host a concert inside the monument, but among the singers that have had this honour we can recall: Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Andrea Bocelli and Elton John.

Tip: If there is a long cue to buy the ticket and you wish to save time, get the RomaPass or the Archeologia card. The ticket for the Colosseum includes the entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatin, is valid for 2 days (consecutive) so you can visit one of these monuments first.

Paulina Ceballos