I’d booked us morning tickets to the Colosseum for our first full day in Rome. Walk off the jet lag! See one of the city’s most famous monuments!
Our AIrBnB — a quiet first floor apartment in an 18th-century building in the heart of the city — was just 10 minutes stroll from the Colosseum. And thanks to the Internet, I knew to book ahead for skip-the-line tickets. Our guide was an enthusiastic and deeply knowledgeable young Roman art historian named Claudia, who led us on a three-hour tour of the main structure, the Forum and the Palatine Hill, peppering us with a steady stream of stories and factoids and myth-busting.
The Colosseum only accepts 3,000 visitors at a time — which still felt crowded, so it was hard to imagine (for perhaps not so hard) the packed hordes of upwards of 75,000 fans who would fill the stands during the 100 days of “games”.
A few myths that Claudia busted:
- Christians weren’t sacrificed in the Colosseum
- Gladiators didn’t fight animals. That was done by a special class of fighter
- The Emperor didn’t signal for the life/death of a defeated warrior with up/down thumb signal. If anything a thumb — signifying the sword — was drawn horizontally, like a blade across the throat. And executing wounded warriors also cost the organizers extra, so they were often reprieved.
- Imitation naval battles weren’t conducted, although during the initial opening of the Colosseum, the main stage was flooded to 2 metres for a watery wading battle. That area was later covered by the wooden and sand floor of the battle space and the underground used to the “beasts” before their release into the arena.
Claudia then guided us into the Forum and ended our tour atop the Palatine Hill for views across the city.
We returned to our apartment and tried to avoid the mistake of a midday nap to mess with our sleep cycle. Instead we took an evening stroll through more Roman Highlights:
- Trevi Fountain. More selfie-sticks per capita than anywhere I’ve been!
- The Pantheon, for a quick tour of the moody and mammoth-domed edifice, now a cathedral.
- A stop at Giolitti, to confirm they served the best gelato in Rome. Check!
- A final wander through the spacious pedestrian square of Piazza Navoli, lively with restaurants and street hawkers and performers and tourists lounging by the ornate fountains and little old Italian scenes observing the scene from their apartment balconies.
- The Trajan Column, which we accidentally stumbled past on our walk home.
Then a tasty home-cooked pasta dinner in our apartment and dreams of a good night’s sleep (only partially realized).