Upon leaving the Colosseum I was struck with a most shameful thought. What a shame they don't have gladitorial contests today. How wonderful it must have been to watch a two warriors dance around each other, one armed with a sword and shield the other with trident and net. How fabulous it must have been to sit in the stone steps and watch lions and tigers rise out of trapdoors into the arena accompanied by roaring crowds.
The Colosseum brings on such thoughts. It is one of those sights in Europe that surpasses expectation. I expected to go in, gaze at the arena, then come out again. I ended up spending two hours in the place. It is most visitors first stop and rightly so because it dominates the area around it. To see the towering stone building with its hundreds of niches looming over the surrounding streets is quite something. This building has survived 2,000 years in the centre of Rome. It has survived Goths, Vandals, Charles V troops and thousands of tourists who trudge around its walls. It must be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman buildings in the world. And with a little imagination you too can be transported back to the days of Commodus, Trajan and Hadrian.
Its true name is the Flavian Amphitheater. Built over the reign of three Emperors, it stands over the palace lake of Nero which was drained to form a large amphitheater. The term Colosseum came afterwards probably named after the colossal golden statue of Nero that stood nearby. This was the arena to end all arenas - the grandaddy of them all. Nothing was as grand, magnificent or violent as the Colosseum at its height. It held 70,000 spectators, and was designed so people could leave and arrive easily with the minimum of fuss. Once there they would witness thousands of deaths of men and animals. Lions were set against tigers, elephants against rhinos, bears against bulls, dogs against wolves. Many species in North Africa were driven to extinction. It sounds terrible, but admit it, you wish you could have seen it in its heyday.
You will not have any trouble finding the Colosseum. The metro station is right outside and it is at a junction of the Via Dei Fori Imperiali and Via San Gregorio. In fact a Roman friend of mine says he doesn't notice it anymore, to him it is just a traffic junction. Between it and the Forum is the Arc of Constantine and spread around them on flagstones are souvenir sellars, musicians and hundreds of tourists. Men dressed as Roman centurions amble around allowing you take take your pictures with them for a few thousand lira. But save your money for the Colosseum and get there early because the queues last all day. It costs 12,000 lira entrance or 15,000 for the guided tour. This I would advise because without a good guidebook you would miss things. But as you are queueing, take a look up - the facade is spectacular and consists of hundreds of niches which housed statues (see photo). The Colosseum is just as impressive at night and seems to glow when lit from within.
Once you get inside you can join the crowds at a viewing platform just to the left. Brownstone surrounds you and the walls simply tower above with seating supports standing in rows, hundreds and hundreds of rows. When you look down on what was once the sandy floor of the Colossum and the sun shines of hundreds of interlinking passages. To me it was a feast. It required little imagination to recreate it at its zenith. The buttressed supports holding the rows of seats were still there, the brackets holding the awnings were still visible, and the backpassage where spectators moved around was as it was. Best of all they had recreated the floor of the arena with canvas and sand overlooked by stone seats. The floor itself was fascinating, you could pick out rooms which housed scenery, props, beasts in cages and waiting gladiators.
Stairs lead up to the first terrace which if you follow its circumference gives even better views of the arena (see photo). There is a small museum is on the northern side, this is worth seeking out to put more flesh on the bones. Statues and models told the story of the Amphitheater and the games. I was surprised how many types of gladiator there was - each with the different headgear. The machinery for creating the games was recreated with models of the winches. And original white marble from the Amphitheater was on display - the place must have been gorgeous when first built. After that you can follow the terraces (the place resembles a football stadium) to where window arches give impressive views of the Forum and Arch of Constantine. Quite frankly, nothing beats the Colosseum.