Sunday, 23 October 2011

Rome day 2: Colosseum

Started early today to get ahead of the crowds. But the crowds started earlier. It appears the Collosseum has been closed for a few days following heavy rain. The queues were immense. It transpires that if you pay 12 Euros you queue for three hours. If you pay an extra 15 Euros for a tour guide you get to jump the queue, you get a friendly and informative guide who tells you stuff, then you get into the Roman Forum afterwards and get a tour with another guide. And you jump another queue. No contest.

So, the Colosseum. Wasn’t sure what to expect. If it’s like visiting castles, I thought, then you get the best view from the outside anyway. It turns out the Colosseum is not like visiting castles. Inside it is awesome. This is a stadium that once seated 50,000. In its day it was faced with marble and statues and bronze shields and it was covered over with a roof of canvas. And the whole thing took just eight years to build. They’ve taken longer than that, apparently, cleaning four of the arches. They’ve taken longer than that just talking about a new stadium for Liverpool FC.

As a quick aside, be warned. The toilets are a bit iffy. Plastic phone boxes with no tardis-like features. Locks that don’t work. Very dark. Very very dark if you are wearing sunglasses. I bet the toilets were better in Trajan’s day.

That’s my only gripe, though. The Colosseum is fabulous. How must it have looked filled with 50,000 blood-crazed fans. And
here’s another thing. They built it without mortar. The slabs were pinned together to allow slight movement, because the Romans knew this was an earthquake zone. And it worked. It was only after the stone was pinched for other civil engineering projects, then replaced with bricks and mortar that bits stared falling down during the odd tremor. Two-thousand years old and they knew how to make it earthquake proof. That’s how to build stuff!

So then we headed for the Forum in the company of Greg, our new guide. This is where we learned of the racetrack inside the Emperor’s home. Of a five story palace that would have been 100 metres tall. And next door, Circus Maximus, another stadium. A really big one. This one used to hold 300,000. If it had remained standing it would still be the biggest stadium in the world. Think about it. Rome must have been a wonder to behold in its day. It still is, but you need to use your imagination a bit. It’s hard to picture because time has given us glimpses of many pasts here. You have to look at each one in turn or it all becomes too chaotic to get straight in your mind. It’s also hard to think of what two-thousand years really represents. It’s too big a number. Two thousand years and they were better at some stuff than we are. Makes you feel kind of insignificant, does Rome.

Also makes you feel a bit knackered. Eleven hours of sightseeing today including a gallery visit - more on that one another time because right now I’m ready for bed.

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