Continuing with the Roman Holiday theme, how can you go to the Eternal City and not see the Colosseum? Well, that's exactly what happened when I visited Rome for the first time in the summer of 2013. Rome was more or less the mid-point of our trip, and after having dashed about Italy for 2 weeks, my body decided to protest. I fell ill in Rome and ended up not getting a chance to see the Colosseum at all! We did get off at the Colosseo metro stop and gaped at it from the outside but didn't venture in. I was keen to remedy the lapse when we went to Rome late last year. We ended up spending a large part of our day in the amphitheatre and tramping around the Roman Forum.
But the highlight of our visit was undoubtedly the Colosseum at Night tour offered by Walks of Italy. In my opinion, this is the best way to visit the Colosseum!
|View of the Roman Forum from Piazza del Campidoglio|
Walks of Italy offers these fantastic, specialised tours in various cities across Italy, and we had 'taken walks' with them in Venice (read 5 reasons you'll love Venice) on our earlier trip. I cannot recommend them enough! In Venice they had taken us on a semi-private tour (just 4 of us in the group) that gave VIP access to parts of the Doge's Palace that are normally off-limits to the public. They then whisked us off in a private water-taxi down the Grand Canal and to the San Giorgio Maggiore island. Both the tours were accompanied by extremely knowledgeable (and friendly) guides and we got a chance to really experience Venice. So we were looking forward to the Colosseum tour and Walks of Italy did not disappoint!
It was an autumn evening in Rome and the tramontana wind was blowing very, very cold. The husband and I had just spent the day wandering around the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, and then further trudging around, trying to find a restaurant that I had come across on TripAdvisor. It was closed, so we had eaten a very insipid meal at another restaurant nearby, and I was in a bad mood, obviously! (Pro-tip: avoid restaurants where an usher is hawking the menu outside). After dinner, we walked over to Piazza Venezia and joined our small group and our guide Cecilia.
|The setting sun casts a golden crown on the surviving pillars of the Temple of Castor and Pollux|
She began with a brief introduction to the Altar of the Fatherland, also known as Vittorio Emanuele Monument (and sometimes disparagingly called 'the typewriter' or 'the wedding cake' by the Romans). We then proceeded to the Capitoline Hill and the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, and one of the best vantage points in Rome - from here you can see the Roman Forum spread out in all its glory, and all the way up to the Colosseum.
We then proceeded towards the Colosseum, walking past the Roman Forum, as Cecilia regaled us with tales of ancient Rome. Some parts of the route are cordoned off for the construction of the new metro line, but everywhere they dig they find new (old) artefacts and more evidence of the long history of the Roman empire. It's quite surreal seeing these archaeological excavations, and imagining what they must have been like so many centuries ago!
|Piazza del Campidoglio|
As we approached the Colosseum, which was bathed in a golden light, there was a palpable sense of anticipation in our group. Cecilia pointed out the numerals etched above each of the gates of the massive structure. Even back then the Romans had devised a seat numbering system - the gate numbers directed the spectators where to enter and one can only suppose the seats inside were numbered as well. I imagine the people just rushing into the gates, given the Italian penchant of not being able to form a queue!
It's one thing to see the Colosseum by day, jostling your fellow tourists and avoiding getting poked by the ubiquitous (and very annoying) selfie stick that every third person seems to carry. But the Colosseum at night is a completely different picture. This is a VIP tour so there's limited entry and only a small number of people are allowed in at a time. So you pretty much have the place to yourself, and can really appreciate its sheer beauty and magnitude. You can't help but marvel at the Romans who so many years ago built this amphitheatre, the genius architects and builders behind it, and of course the many people whose blood is forever seeped into the ground it stands upon. It's also a bit spooky, guaranteed to send shivers down your spine!
When we walked into the arena, we literally had goosebumps - it's not hard to imagine the thoughts of the gladiators as they walked towards their destiny, not hard to imagine the snarling of hungry animals and, if you have an imagination, you can certainly hear the roars of the 50,000 spectators, hoping for a good contest. You may have watched Gladiator several times, but it's here that it will truly come alive for you.
|Entrance to the Arena|
|That's me, appropriately dressed to blend into the background!|
|Underground - below the Arena|
We descended underground, below the arena, where the gladiators and the animals used to await their turn. An ingenious pulley and trapdoor system was used to transport the gladiators aboveground and straight into the arena. Hundreds of slaves lived and toiled below, rarely seeing the light of the day, working hard to provide the 'entertainment' that the Romans sought.
The Colosseum at Night tour was one of my favourite experiences in Rome and I highly recommend it if you're headed there this year. The tour runs every Thursday & Saturday at 8 p.m., though not in the winter months. It restarts in April 2015 and you can find more information on the Walks of Italy page. Remember to dress warm if you go during autumn.
Disclosure: Our experience was made possible by Walks of Italy. Views are entirely my own.
This time around we also took the Uffizi Tour in Florence with Walks of Italy. Like the Louvre in Paris, exploring the Uffizi Gallery can seem daunting, considering its size and the number of 'must-see' treasures. Our expert guide helped us understand how the paintings of the Middle Ages differed from the Renaissance ones, the various Renaissance masters and their individual styles, and really brought alive the works of Botticelli, Raphael and Giotto. All this interspersed with lots of interesting trivia... Did you know that Botticelli's masterpiece Birth of Venus was the first large scale canvas created in Renaissance Florence? You can find details of the tour here. Also read my updated post on 5 things you MUST do in Florence.
Details of the Venice tours are here.
So take a walk with Walks of Italy and get a different, a more intimate, feel of Italy. Will you be heading to Rome in 2015? Have questions or need suggestions? Browse through the blog, or leave a comment below and I'll help you out :)
Labels: Colosseum, Italy, Rome, travel