For our mini-break in Rome we rented a small apartment through Airbnb.
Look what we found at the end of our street.
We couldn’t resist the temptation to go inside so we signed up for a guided tour led by a young woman who turned out to be an art historian. There were about twenty of us in the group and we were each given what looked like an ipod to hang around our necks. The tour guide then had a small transmitter and was able to talk to us without shouting and without us having to follow a flag. If we strayed too far from the group, the commentary in our ear-pieces started to disappear so we would make sure that we caught up with the group again pretty quickly.
One question that I was dying to ask was why the walls of the Colosseum were full of holes. I could see no reason for them to be there.
The guide explained that originally the Colosseum was covered in marble, but that the Catholic Church had stripped it all out, declaring the Colosseum to be a pagan monument, and then used the marble to decorate the many churches that are scattered liberally around the city.
I’m not sure if the explanation was true, but it was a good story!
Apparently, some of the holes were made to anchor the original metal banding that held the great stone blocks together, but that’s not anywhere near such a good tale.
Being on an organised tour, we were able to go to areas of the building that were not open to the general throng. Amongst these was the huge area beneath the actual arena itself, where, two thousand years ago, the slaves, gladiators and wild animals were kept before being hoisted up into the arena above their heads to face whatever uncertain fate awaited them.
The stench in these cramped corridors and alleyways must have been appalling. Perhaps being hauled up to the surface to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd would have been a relief!
Part of the arena floor has been rebuilt and there are proposals to complete the rest of the floor so that the Colosseum could be used for concerts and other entertainments. (Apparently, the original arena floor could be sealed so that it could be flooded to enable mock naval battles to be staged. What fun would that have been?)
Two myths were exploded by our very well-informed guide. Firstly, that Hollywood lied to us in the film ‘Gladiator’, where we saw Russell Crowe battling tigers. Can you believe that Hollywood would lie?
Apparently, Gladiators did not fight with animals. That was below their station. They only fought with other gladiators according to a strict set of rules. The people who fought with and were torn to bits by wild animals were hunters, not gladiators. I don’t suppose it made much difference to the animals.
Secondly, the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ signal to determine whether the vanquished gladiator would be put to death or not is not true. Oh Horror! Are there no certainties left in life?
Apparently if the emperor, or the crowd wanted the poor defeated gladiator to die, they would hold out their fists with the thumb showing in a horizontal position, perhaps representing a blade that should be drawn across the victim’s neck. If they wanted mercy to be shown to the victim, the thumb would be tucked inside the fist. (Interestingly, in Germany, a closed fist with the thumb tucked inside is the sign for good luck, the equivalent of ‘fingers crossed’. I’m sure a vanquished gladiator who saw such a signal would consider himself very lucky indeed.)
Gladiators were trained in a special gladiator school some distance from the Colosseum. They would come to the arena though underground tunnels like the one pictured above.
There is something really special about being in a building that is two thousand years old. When it is just at the bottom of your street, it’s even more special!