Think of Ancient Rome and one monument immediately comes to mind conjuring images of gladiators and exotic creatures, emperors and a roaring crowd.
The Colosseum is a place everyone should see in Rome, but to really grasp all that happened there and in the Roman Forum, you need the expertise and enthusiasm of an excellent guide.
A special guided tour is now available for those fortunate enough to get tickets, offering a glimpse into life as a gladiator: the underground areas of the Colosseum.
On a recent trip to Rome, I was excited to be able to experience this myself, so I could tell our clients about it in person and see if it is worthwhile. Is it ever!
We met our guide, Cristina, just outside the Colosseum and before the tour ever started we were amazed.
One of the most incredible parts of Rome to me has always been its accessibility. It has a way of giving gifts just when you need them.
We were about to purchase a new bottle of water when Cristina told us it wasn’t necessary. There is a fountain providing free and delicious water just behind us, natural or sparkling!
Hydrated and ready, we began what became the most educational and fascinating Ancient Rome tour I have experienced in 16 years of travel there.
She pointed out the numbers on the archways, numbered like this for organized entry, just like our stadiums are today.
During the underground access portion of the tour, only a Colosseum guide may speak. Ours was Francesca and she, too, was fantastic.
Descending into the underground area is a special way to gain understanding of how intelligent the Romans were, and just how terrifying it would have been to be a gladiator.
Exotic animals were kept in cages, still visible. With a system of winches and trap doors, the animals would be raised up and the door would fling open, releasing a new threat to the gladiator on the floor.
Always a surprise, never knowing where the next threat was coming from, the fear would have been immense.
Because of the proximity of the emperor to the action, guards had to be stationed to protect him if things got out of hand.
Meeting up with Cristina again, she showed us intimate details of the building, where metal rods had been removed and melted down, and marble had been stripped to cover churches like St. Peter’s.
Among the most incredible features, were awnings stretched out to provide shade. They were operated by skilled sailors. Interestingly, this was called the velarium, and the Italian word for sail is vela.
Leaving the Colosseum, she paused to tell us that on this very street Mussolini and Hitler paraded into town.
A quick stop to explain the Arch of Constantine, and we were on our way to the Forum.
I have never encountered such a knowledgeable or passionate guide about these areas.
With every word she spoke, every expression on her face, her knowledge was infused with passion and the stories astounded us time and again.
We entered the Forum from the way she thought best, and of course it was. There was no line at all.
An archaeological dig was going on, and we were able to see their freshly uncovered finds.
No matter how much Roman history you know and have studied, without a guide, the Forum is a confusing maze of ruins.
With a guide like Cristina, Ancient Rome comes to life before your eyes.
Every building has a purpose, each column has a story.
You learn not only what happened here, but about who these people were, and how they have influenced culture and art over thousands of years.
Again, with the accessibility of this city, most of these ruins are not roped off and untouchable. You can walk right up to them and feel the cool stones, touched by emperors and citizens long ago.
This year, a particularly charming area has been opened, the house of the Vestal Virgins. It is such a pretty sight, draped in flowers with a pond of fish among the columns.
Cristina showed us government buildings and temples, even the place where Julius Caesar was cremated.
When we said our goodbyes, she had spent more than a half hour of extra time with us to point out every spell binding remnant of history.
A guide like that, with such knowledge alone would be enough to amaze guests, but her passion for this history and for visitors’ understanding of it makes this tour the opportunity of a lifetime.
Contact us to book your tour!
PFI Travel, USA