We woke up very early on Monday, September 30th, which dawned with a clear blue sky, and had time for a quick breakfast at our hotel. All of the hotels that we stayed at in Italy had a wonderful breakfast buffet. Some of the more common items were Italian bread, mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, and of course coffee. Eating in Italy was never a problem…
We decided to walk to the Colosseum for our 9:40 AM tour, after being assured by our hotel manager that we could make it there easily in 15 minutes. Probably we should have taken a taxi. Being unfamiliar with the neighborhood, 15 minutes stretched into 20 or 25. The temperature was fairly cool that morning, but by the time we got to the Colosseum we were sweating, having almost run for the final couple of blocks. But we arrived in time to meet our group just inside the gate. We were greeted by a seasoned Colosseum veteran:
The Colosseum, like all of the works of antiquity that we saw in Rome, is a wonder to me. Like the Pantheon, it is close to 2,000 years old, having been completed in 80 AD. We just don’t have any structures to compare it to, in the United States. If you’re interested in history at all, you can’t help but be awed when you’re in Rome; to a history buff such as myself, it was a dream. And yes, I know that the movie “Gladiator” isn’t completely historically accurate, but hey, it’s on my top 10 list, and I was excited to see the site where the fictitious Maximus battled it out with tigers.
And I wasn’t disappointed. My first sight of the interior of the Colosseum had, like the Pantheon, stunned me into a temporary silence. I was literally speechless for a few minutes, as I stood rooted to the spot, turning in a complete circle to take it all in.
The voices of my fellow tourists dissolved into silence as I considered the events that had transpired in the very place where I stood. At that point we were standing on the floor that you can see in the picture below, which would have covered the entire interior of the original Colosseum:
The wooden floor would have originally been covered with sand, the Latin word for sand being harena or arena. Beneath the floor, as our tour guide explained, there had originally been a vast underground area known as the hypogeum, which consisted of a warren of tunnels and passages. The hypogeum was essentially the area that supported the “behind the scenes” aspect of the “games” that took place here: there were cages for the animals, holding cells for the gladiators awaiting their fates, and even a vast elevator-like system for bringing both to the arena. Evidence also suggests hydraulic mechanisms existed, which allowed for the arena floor to be flooded in the event that a naval battle was reenacted.
The hypogeum caused Glenn to channel his inner Maximus:
We saw an example of a Roman arch with a keystone supporting it, meaning that there were no nails or other objects keeping this extremely heavy rock from falling on our heads. Thank you God, for the laws of physics.
Leaving the lower level, we ascended to the upper tiers of the Colosseum, which had amazing views of both the Colosseum itself, and the Forum surrounding it. By this time some serious storm clouds were starting to gather.
Just as our tour ended – it was perfect timing – the skies opened and it rained hard for almost an entire hour or so. We found refuge in a small cafe across from the Colosseum, Cafe Vicere. We snagged a window seat and had lunch in the shadow of one of the wonders of the ancient (and modern) world.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Colosseum, visit Wikipedia.