This time last week it was the day after we'd caught the train from Trevi, in Umbria, to Rome. The 6:42 to be precise. It's no small thing, getting up so early when you're on holiday and generally haven't awoken from your vocational slumber until after eight but we did it and by that precise time we were settling into a poorly air-conditioned carriage. I'd packed books for everyone and breakfast that no one liked so we were sorted for the two hour, nine minute journey.
Upon our arrival we wisely decided to flout all advice and ignored the tourist buses, there to carry you around the ancient city in comfort whilst on the streets the extreme heat cruelly beat down on the over-heated pedestrians, in favour of being pedestrians.
The advantage of our strategy was that we got to see things you don't get to see from the bus; the back street stuff which in a city like Rome is not your run-of-the-mill back street stuff. We also got very sore feet.
For our first destination, after arriving at Roma Termini, we high-tailed it over to The Coliseum (or is it Colosseum?), Rome's most obvious and top old spot. I assume that most people that have been to Rome have been to The Coliseum. I've been in the city before but that time didn't get off my hire-scooter. The Coliseum is old. OLD. And big. There's lots of old stuff around nowadays, and there's older stuff than The Coliseum that you can go see, but maybe not that many things that are both as old and as big.
Before, during and after our visit I read up, which really helped. And I was struck, as we strolled through the ancient archways and that, by how this thing had survived nearly two thousand years. It's heyday was quite short-lived really. Conceived about half way through the first century AD and developed over a number of decade, by sometime around 523 AD, the great amphitheatre was no longer the stage for death and glory it was originally conceived for. Largely because Rome had become Christian and battling savage beasts was just not very…well…Christian.
After that the building was repurposed and pilfered – at times looking more like a building site or quarry. Materials were removed to be used for other constructions and artefacts were snatched.
But somehow The Coliseum prevailed so we can explore it's millennia-old corners and crevices today.
We were quite fortunate in that we found ourselves at one point standing next to another tourist who had either done some serious homework or was an academic of such matters and we followed him, stalked him really, listening in to his insightful descriptions of the bloody and/or theatrical spectacles performed when The Coliseum was in its prime. Yes, there were all those gladiatorial shenanigans going on but the space was also used to present more narrative-based performances, with elaborate sets, such as mock hunts with exotic beasts shipped in as unfortunate and unwitting prey. Or so our unknowing teacher informed us, as we shadowed him.
I've thought about The Coliseum a lot since last week. We walked down corridors that were there nearly two thousand years ago – that's practically biblical. I've had similar feelings in the less developed corners of Greek islands, where time feels like it's stood still, but The Coliseum is different because it's an intricately and intelligently designed space in the heart of a sprawling metropolis.
I bought this book in the gift shop. It's really nice. Spaciously designed with just enough content for the novice to consume and enjoy. Just €10.