Everyone has had that dream. You know, the one where you are riding in a chariot through the cobblestone streets of Rome, headed to watch an exhibition at the Colosseum. You were personally invited by the Emperor to sit with him to watch the gladiators below. A feast is laid out in front of you while 50,000 fans cheer around the massive amphitheater. You have not had that dream? Well, come with us and we will give you a small glimpse into the world of the Colosseum and Roman Forum.
The Colosseum might possibly be the most recognized structure in the world. It has been standing for over 2,000 years. It is the largest amphitheater ever built, as well as the largest still standing today. The real name is the Flavian Amphitheater after the Flavian Dynasty, the Emperors that oversaw the construction.
It took four years to bring the stone from Tivoli and then ten years to build. Engineers still use the famous arch design today. Only a third of the original building still exists. Between earthquakes and looters carting off pre-cut stone, a majority of the building is missing. When standing within those walls, it is hard to envision it any larger.
Now that we have briefly discussed the origins, let’s dive into getting access inside. As you can imagine, this is a very popular destination. Remember that line to get into the Vatican? Same thing here. There are also several ways to skip it.
First is the Roma Pass. Many large cities offer passes to gain admission to tourist attractions, skip lines and unlimited use of public transportation. We found the Roma Pass to be one of the best bang for your buck options. When planning your trip to Rome we highly recommend snagging one and get your days set. Go to romapass.it to see if your bucket list items are on there and choose either the 48 or 72-hour pass.
Remember, the clock begins as soon as your pass is activated. Even if you do not want to buy the Roma Pass or it doesn’t fall in line with your schedule, you can always buy tickets ahead of time on coopculture.it or purchase the combo ticket at the less crowded Roman Forum. Lots of options to save time and be the savvy tourist.
Now we will tell you about our experience venturing into Roman times. As you may remember from previous blogs, we stayed at Residenza Argentina, a boutique hotel in the heart of Rome. The best part of choosing to stay in the middle of everything is the ability to walk almost everywhere. We were only one mile away from our destination for the day and what better way to get there than to walk through the city of Rome? Walking allows you to take in every morsel, hear the locals speak the most beautiful language and absorb your surroundings. If your day begins that way, you can only imagine where it will take you from there.
While we did purchase the Roma Pass, we did not use it this day. Remember the clock begins as soon as you activate it, so we saved ours for another piece of our vacation. We opted to buy our combo Ticket at the Roman Forum entrance. From there we headed over to the Colosseum. While the former had two people in line in front of us to buy tickets, the latter had a line a mile long (no exaggeration). Again, we were astounded at how few people took the time to look up tips on traveling in Rome. We flew past the envious faces of patrons in line, skipped right to the ticket holder booth and got right in.
Have any of you been to a professional sporting event? You know when you are walking through the outer tunnels and can feel the energy just on the other side of you? Your own anticipation builds, excitement courses through your veins and an unknown energy pulls you in. Hitting the archway that will lead you inside pulls your sight up and out to the large expanse that is the stadium. That is what walking into the Colosseum is like….times a million.
First, take a minute to realize this has been there since 80 A.D. Most stadiums in the United States do not make it to their 100th birthday before they are razed for a more modern structure. Think of how many people walked through this entryway in the last two thousand years. It is difficult to wrap your head around that. As you can guess, Jen was connecting to her inner Roman Empress and needed to be pulled down to Earth.
Begin your journey walking around the oval and peak down to the arena below. The original wooden floor is gone, but this allows you to see the hypogeum. The hypogeum is a two-level underground network of tunnels and cages that held the Gladiators and wild animals prior to their contests. Some spots even held elephants.
There is a small platform on the edge of the underground system that allows for special tours. A general entry ticket, like we bought, does not allow the tour below. This is something that is up to your tastes and what you wish to see. For us, this trip was simply to get inside and gaze upon the masterpiece that is the Colosseum. Our next trip we will delve a little deeper and take in more of the history of the many lives lost for entertainment.
We took our time to walk around, snap a hundred pictures, take a couple selfies and soak in the moment. We headed back into the interior tunnels and made our way to the exit. While we have not mentioned this before, an important tip we hope you will use. If you see bathroom facilities, use them! In Italy there are not public restrooms at every corner, and you do not want to have to go all the way back to your hotel. Surprisingly, the Colosseum has them at the exit (surprising because we could not imagine installing plumbing in such an ancient place, but then again everything is ancient in Rome.)
We were refreshed and chose to have our lunch on the lawn in front of the Colosseum under one of the many Cyprus trees. To save some money, we bought fresh bread and cheese at the morning market in Campo di Fiori. It is still hard to believe that we had that lunch in that place. Anything is possible, make the plan.
The Roman Forum
Our next stop was the Roman Forum, which is about a five-minute walk from the Colosseum. We had our Combo ticket in hand and walked right through the entrance.
We will give you a little background on the Foro Romano. At one time this was the political, religious and commercial center of the city. It was the center of the civilized world at the peak of the Roman Empire. Use that memory to help fill in the gaps to what remains standing today. Over the centuries, builders scavenged the colored marble and stone. The organic paint rotted long ago, bronze lettering and eyes made of ivory have disappeared. The skeleton remains today and with the right vision, you can still see the greatness this once held. The site is in constant restoration, so be ready for detours and scaffolding.
We are history fanatics over here. We were in our glory on this day. Legend says this is the birthplace of Rome and it involves a she-wolf and twins. You had us at she-wolf. We love Roman history. How can you not?? With the uneven cobblestone beneath your feet and the aura wrapping its arms around you, it is not difficult to allow your mind to wander back to its beginnings in the 8th Century BC.
The most famous of its inhabitants was Julius Caesar in 50 BC. The Temple of Julius Caesar was a must stop for us. This was the location of his cremation after his assassination by political conspirators. Behind the wall you will see flowers strewn about by visitors to pay homage to the man that gave rise to the Roman Empire.
There are many tour options for this little rectangle wrapped up in history. You can book a guided tour through Viator, an audio guide is available upon entry or you can do your own research to find a self-guided tour. We highly recommend taking one of the options rather than trying to distinguish what each partially assembled stone is. You will not get the ooh and aaah factor without it.
The Forum tells the tale of the rise and fall of Rome, a span of 1,000 years. Even when the last Emperor faded away, the seat of the Pope and the Catholic Church remained in their grasp. Emperors became Popes, Senators became Bishops, orators became priests and basilicas became churches.
These two sites are very close together and you are able to visit them both in the same day. Another tip is to stay hydrated and get in the shade when you can. The Italian sun is intense. We went the first week in June and while the temperature stayed in the low 80’s, it knocked us out.
We brought reusable water bottles that we filled at filling stations all over the city. It is easier to find a potable water station than it is a restroom. We found a quiet corner within the Forum and sat in the shade. Who knows, we may have rested in the same spot as Hadrian. It may be tempting to push through because you feel you will miss something, but it is better to take five minutes to cool down than to lose an entire day from heat exhaustion.
We wrapped up our day by walking back to Piazza Navona for dinner and wine. We relaxed and discussed our incredible day. The Colosseum and Roman Forum ended up being our favorite landmarks in Rome. Craig has the Colosseum on his repeat visit list, while Jen has the Roman Forum. The ghosts from the past are always tugging on us to return.
Have you been to the Colosseum and Roman Forum? Are they on your bucket list?
Thanks for reading and #NeverStopPlanning.
Jen and Craig