Who doesn’t love the Colosseum? Rowan has been looking forward to seeing it almost as much as we have. We booked a tour of the “subterranean” floor, below the main arena, where all of the gladiators, animals, trees, hills (yes, hills!) and scenery were moved up to the arena using 28 separate elevators that were each operated by eight men. We saw a wood reconstruction of an elevator that archaeologists recreated using marks in the stone walls that indicate where the elevators were placed, how tall they were, and how they must have worked. We learned a lot about the history of the Colosseum, the kind of stone and marble used to construct it and how it came to look like it does today- how it was dismantled to create other buildings in Rome including St. Peter’s basilica.
We learned that every citizen of Rome could get into the Colosseum using small tablets that indicated what section they needed to sit in and how they should leave the building. Apparently the whole venue could be evacuated in ten minutes because of how organized and systematic the Romans were in designing the corridors, rows and levels. And we learned that at the time that it was running as an entertainment complex in Ancient Rome, it was known as Flavian’s amphitheatre and was only called the Colosseum because of the colossal, 35 metre high statue of Nero that stood outside it.
Rowan loved being in the basement because it was cool and shaded, compared to the 35 degree temperatures in the sun. The architecture downstairs is more impressive than outside because of what you know it is holding up and because so much of it is intact. Simpler, plainer materials were used downstairs because only slaves spent any time down there, but even so, the arches of stone and brick are flawless and the preserved still-quite-intricate tile floors are beautiful. Thinking of the countless hours it took to construct made our heads spin, so we just listened to all the interesting facts our guide, Rosa, recounted and enjoyed the amazing views.
Rowan’s favourite part was seeing the alcoves along the inner wall of the basement where the animals were kept. Rosa was phenomenal, super knowledgeable and enthusiastic and even joked with Rowan about the dangerous animals we would find in the subterranean levels – three cats that roam the Colosseum, day and night.
At the Forum, we headed straight for the Palladian Hill, to see the remnants of the palaces and gardens. We found an excellent archaeological museum there that has sculptures, architectural features, busts, tiles, and a whole bunch of wonderful artifacts from the Forum and surrounding hills, excavated during the 20th century. Rowan was super excited to go into every room and even spent a little extra time on his own, looking at a wall of architectural reliefs, and reading about what they were from and the stories they depicted.
After the museum, we headed back down to the Forum to find the artifacts in a fantastic book, called Mission Rome (amazon.ca / amazon.com). It’s a scavenger hunt where he has to read about and then check off a bunch of items for the major tourist sites we visit and collect points for each one. We even saw a young girl at the Forum with the same book, which Rowan thought was super cool.
In the evening, we found a wonderful restaurant, Sedie & Cantine, which has a fantastic vibe, amazing vegetarian and vegan options, and a rather lovely house white, which Kevin and I shared quite happily. Rowan made awesome ink drawings on the yellow paper place mats, and talked to us about his favourite movies all night long. We got to bed late, but had one of our best nights in Rome so far. It’s amazing how a good, long walk, followed by great food and wine, and an awesome 7-year-old chatterbox can make an evening pretty magical.