Colosseum: Up Close & Personal with the Ancient Giant
The Colosseum is the obvious stop on any trip to Rome. And so it was on ours.
I do not feel guilty for the lack of originality – when you go to a place for the first time, it’s natural to first go and see the big things, later on you might try to be a bit more adventurous.
Anyway, I really wanted to see it. To confirm with my own eyes it was real. Touch it even, if possible.
It’s one of those things you see in movies as the must-be symbol of a city. If an American movie takes place in Rome, there must be at least one scene with car chase going close by the Colosseum.
Same, as every hotel in Paris seems to have the Eiffel Tower as a view.
When I went to New York for the first time, I had my own list of things I had to see to believe they were real. Things that became engraved in my mind as “New-York-ish”. So I was really happy to take photos of the brown bricks, the external fire escape stairs, big red fire trucks, police cars and so on – basically all you know from movies.
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Even though I hoped that late October would be already late in the season in terms of crowds, I’ve read enough helpful blog posts to prepare.
I got the tickets for me and my Mom online and read the instruction on exchanging them for actual paper tickets. The description made it sound as if it all was just a breeze.
Oh, how naïve I was!
We walked slowly from our accommodation toward the Colosseum, enjoying other interesting spots along our way. We stopped at the Altare della Patria and moved slowly along the Via dei Fiori Imperiali.
There happened to be some kind of a run combined with scavenger hunt or such - the runners had maps and they were running in various directions.
When we finally got to the Colosseum, there was one disappointment after another.
First of all, the long street leading to it, with a beautiful setting, had an ugly orange fence running all the way to the Colosseum. I could live with that – cities must do some road work done sometimes.
Then there were the crowds. Then came the pushy guides trying to get you to buy their services.
They were not taking “no” for an answer and only when I put some anger behind the “No, thank you”, they would leave us alone.
When we finally reached the cashiers, the line to exchange tickets was almost as long as the line to buy them. My Mom was really frustrated – she has serious problems with mobility and standing in place is really hurtful to her.
It was hard to find any place to sit anywhere – no benches, only pieces of stones/ruins and narrow, uncomfortable railings. She finally found a piece of ancient stone to sit on, so I could stand in the line.
We got tickets for some 2h later. We were hungry so we went off to find something to eat. On the way back we decided we had enough time (or so we thought) to see the Forum Romanum before the Colosseum.
We found the entrance and went on our way to the Palatine Hill, as it was closer. I was happy to see the Arc of Titus right away.
I was actually confused with where it was – first I thought it was the Arc of Constantine you can see right next to the Colosseum, but of course, I was mistaken. It was smaller than I thought it would be. Still, it was very important to me to see it.
As I already wrote, it has a personal meaning to me, as a Jewish educator, to see the symbol of Roman triumph over ancient Jerusalem. End even though the Jerusalem Temple was never rebuilt, the Jewish people were not destroyed and their spirit was not quenched.
It’s hard to describe what I felt when I stood right next to it – a modern Jewish woman next to the depiction of the supposed end of the Jewish people. This was one of the “must see with my own eyes to believe it’s real” moments.
I have seen photos of this relief in so many history books before, as a feature photo before Tisha B’Av celebrations (commemorating the destruction of the Temple and many other tragedies). Now I was there, just a couple meters from it.
I felt strange that no one else seemed to behave as it was something different, something else.
So I moved on, too.
We walked around the Palatine Hill for a bit too long and then we had a hard time finding our way back. We realized we could be late for our entry time, so we had to speed up toward the closest gate – but it was not an easy thing to do.
What was worst – we had very little time to see the Forum Romanum, which is a real shame. Just when we entered, I realized what a mistake we did by starting with the Hill – there was hardly anything to see compared to the Forum Romanum.
I felt bad I didn’t prepare well by not reading more on it. One hour is just not enough to see both of the places.
Finally, we got in front of the Colosseum, only to stand in another seriously long line for people with the same entry time slot. Which meant I had more time to take photos of the imposing external walls of the Colosseum against the sky. My absolutely favorite thing about the whole thing.
Once inside it is not obvious that you should begin with the top and see the bottom when you exit. We went directly to see the low level and later were confused on how to get upstairs.
Again, I have a hard time describing what it was like to be there. To finally be in this place you have heard about your whole life and have seen so many depictions of.
I might have had some deeper thoughts and important realizations if I wasn’t constantly attacked by crowds.
If you wanted to take photos with no people in them, you had to fight your way to the front. I am serious – people were pushing and shoving to get closer to a wall or metal barrier. I admit I did too once or twice.
I wanted to see better and there was no other way but to engage with the crowd. That was very far from a comfortable situation for me.
As my Mom has mobility issues, we used the elevator. I was really glad – from the constant walking on hard surfaces my feet were happy to have a few stairs less to walk on.
The view from the top was… interesting. But I can’t shake this feeling that I simply was not blown away.
Maybe my expectations were too high?
I found the Colosseum to have a magnificent shape from the outside. It’s pure beauty when you see it against the sky.
Inside? It was… OK, I guess. *Sigh*. Fascinating in terms of architecture and the way it was built. I admired the thin bricks and imagined the hours of hard labor this required.
But beauty? Not really. If I compare it to my reaction to the Pantheon, I can see clearly the Colosseum as brutal, huge, powerful but lacking finesse and dignity. Pantheon has it all – strong presence, powerful stand – but also tremendous beauty, delicate design, and charm.
On the side note, I really liked the pomegranate sculpture in front of the Colosseum. I am somewhat obsessed with pomegranates, especially when they break and show seeds inside.