(Previous night, we were at the Trevi Fountain)
May 25th, 2009
At 8:00AM, Rome was just starting to wake up. Many shutters were still down. The streets had the occasional walker in no seeming hurry to get any where. The traffic was sparse. We hit the road.
Time to be the tourist.
Head buried in the map, folded into a neat 2 inch square, we crisscrossed strada-this and strada-that, passing several important looking ancient structures, dilapidated walls and ruins, wondering if they really were ancient and important. Everything around looked historic. As if the buildings were build to comply to a singular, central plan. It is only much later, I realized that Rome has a huge mishmash of architecture. A 2000 year old Roman arc standing next to a 500 year old Renaissance facade elbowing a post modern Fascist reign utility structure. To my eyes, so early in the trip, they all reeked exotic.
We came to Colosseum rather suddenly.
There was no fanfare in the pre-presentation, no drama one would attach to as historical a site, a world heritage building, one of the seven modern wonders of the world.
Like finding a media-darling diva eating with finger at a hole in the wall joint.
Built on the razed Nero’s Golden House, reflecting the mood of a tired nation, Emperor Vespasian commissioned the Flavian Amphitheater in 72 ACE. He used the slaves from the Jewish Revolt and distributed the work across eight contractors who would face certain death if they did not keep to the schedule. It’s doors were thrown open in 80 AD, just an year after Mt. Vesuvius had turned Pompeii into cinder, to fifty thousand people to watch bloodcurdling games that lasted hundred days.
We still has 40 minutes for the gates to open. We ducked into a nearby breakfast bar for our very first Italian breakfast. We walked in trying to merge in, our black hair (not mine), and brown skin as much help as a pig to a lipstick. Ordering a meal smoothly is definitely the litmus test of being a local. We gawked at the delicious looking pastries and sandwiches behind the glass counter. Tongue tied like a novice stenographer at her board meeting, I managed to jab at a few items. My “Un cafe” was responded with a delicate cup of cappuccino, the best I have ever tasted (Sorry Starbucks, I have switched forever). The “aqua” came in two flavors, naturale (pronounced Na-two-ra-lay) or gas. Plain water or soda. It came from a bottle, though one does not pay for it. Having enjoyed the ordeal without outright disgracing oneself, we crossed the street to the place that has seen more blood than Normandy.
We bought a Roma Pass and a guided 2 hour tour on the spot and beat the queue without paying through the nose, and entered the Colosseum.
The remnants of what was once the “stage de la stage” for the “show de la show” needs the mind of the eye (or have seen Gladiator recently) to imagine how it would have been to stand here 2000 years ago.
The ovoid shape, the emperor’s box, the grandstand, the minion row for women and slaves, the main arena with its labyrinth of underground passage and trapdoors to surprise the gladiator with an animal or a warrior where he least expected one. From the inside, the structure still looks solid and intact. Alexander Severus, who made the most recent restoration, 1800 years ago, by imposing tax on male and female prostitutes, is thanked from the bottom of the heart.
And to believe, that it could be evacuated in eighteen minutes (compare with fourteen in Wembley of the same capacity), tells you that there was more thinking that went in than just the spectacular that dazzles the eye.
We took time to walk the periphery once at the arena level. Then once again, midways in the stand. Only the grumble of the stomach, could take me away from a place like this that has more stories to tell than an Anasazi grandmother.
(Read on: Next we went to the Roman Forum)