Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Visit Rome and see the Coliseum


It's hard to put into words those moments where, upon encountering something truly magnificent from the past, you feel literally dumbstruck by what you are seeing. You feel small, insignificant, and meekly awed, but at the same, feel energized, powerful, and vibrant. It is a meeting of the past and present, and you are there to witness it.

Feeling small and insignificant inside the Roman Coliseum.

This is how I feel when I step into the Coliseum in Rome, Italy. The building, although pockmarked with time, vandalism, and the ravages of nature, still holds such power and intimidation - I would love to be able to travel back in time and wander through the structure as it must have been during the times of Ancient Rome. I could probably do without seeing the gory, bloody gladiator battles, or watch animals being hunted and tortured to the delight of the Roman populace, but then again, I wasn't raised around A.D. 80. The ship battles would have been really interesting to see, but unfortunately, according to the guide at the Coliseum, these probably didn't actually happen (and if they did, it was only once when the Coliseum was first opened, and the first level of seating had not been fully built).

Sunlight streaming into the Coliseum in Rome.  Stunning!

To get to the Coliseum (also known as the Colosseum if you want to Google it), you have to purchase tickets, which at the time I visited, were 15,50 Euros. If you want to wander around outside the Coliseum, it is free, but I recommend STRONGLY that you go inside. Why wouldn't you??

The outside of the Coliseum is impressive in itself: the walls tower over you, the giant archways welcome you, and the 'Swiss cheese' pattern on the wall befuddles you. I was informed that the multiple holes in the wall of the structure indicate areas where metal beams once rested, attaching the outer, more decorative facade of the Coliseum to the practical (and now the visible part) of the inner wall. Over the course of history, the Coliseum's walls have been plundered and the metal stolen to be melted down to make weapons, pots, and pans. It is an interesting look now, but I do wish the walls had been left alone, so that today we could see the Coliseum standing in all its original glory.

Outside the Coliseum.  Check out the 'Swiss Cheese' look!

Inside, the Coliseum seems to span forever. I took about a billion pictures, trying to capture its size, its play of shadow and light, its history. The base of the arena is open for visitors to see the maze of pathways that loop throughout the 'under stage' area of the floor. The floorboards were made of wood, and a small replica of the original floor can be seen at the far end of the Coliseum. Chunks of pillars dot the floors, and scraps of original marble can sometimes be found along stairways, a vague reminder of the level of extravagance that was used to decorate the arena.

The interior of the Coliseum.  Photos don't even do it justice.

When I took my students to see the Coliseum, I couldn't help but grin as I watched their reactions. My loud and giggly Junior High group of travelers closed their mouths and opened their eyes wide in admiration as they quietly explored the gigantic monument. It wasn't until we found a couple of the famous "Coliseum Cats" that they relaxed, and we took some goofy pictures. It was a reminder to me that these moments, these dumbstruck-with-awe moments, can and should happen to everyone.

A Coliseum cat walks gracefully along the edge of a ruin


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