Roman Colosseum and Forum

Rooftop dining at Monti Palace. I was intrigued by the two statues on top of a building.
They were wonderful statues on some kind of stately building.

Our last morning in Rome we headed to the roof once more for our breakfast with a view. We brought our avocado from Manja that had ripened, and asked for a knife from the kitchen to open it. I ordered my new drink: espresso dumped into a cappuccino. We were plagued by wasps this morning, which surprised us because we had not seen one at all on previous visits to the roof. At first we thought it was only one, so I trapped it beneath an empty cup and we breathed a sigh of relief for a minute till its cousins arrived. We ate as fast as we could, to escape the bees. When someone came to clear the table, I held her back till I uncovered the wasp first. Otherwise that would have been an unpleasant shock!

Our hotel was so close to the Colosseum that we didn’t even have to take the subway, and we simply walked over. We were still worried about the stories of standing in lines forever in Rome, so we had reservations for the first group of the morning and we got there early, tickets on my phone. On this trip I was again grateful for the extraordinary tool my phone has become to me. My plane tickets were on the phone. My COVID-19 vaccination card photo, the QR code verifying my completion of the EU dPLF (instead of a customs form), a photo of my passport, QR codes for all the tickets I bought, the reservation confirmations, the hotel and Air bnb reservations, camera to scan codes to get restaurant menus during a pandemic, my calendar and itinerary of the whole trip, my WhatsApp to communicate with Manja and a potential Rome tour guide, a way to edit my blog while traveling, the downloaded map of the Julian Alps we used on our hike. Can you believe how handy phones are today, compared to 10 years ago?

Oh yes, and Pedro’s phone GPS was vital (his because my phone was totally uncooperative with cell data the whole trip). We were following the phone’s directions, wondering if we were going the right way, and looked up.

Um, yep. It looks like we are going exactly the right direction to get to the Colosseum.
We approached on a bit of a hill, so we got this good look at it. Then we descended the steps and went to the right to find the entrance.
This is where we got in line to enter. We had a short wait because it was not open yet.
It looks crowded, but after a quick check of our vaccination card and ticket, we were in. Here, we waited to go through security, like at the airport. It moved fast and we were inside in minutes.
Our first look from inside the Colosseum. This is a good angle to see how the floor (left) of the arena covered up a large network of rooms and tunnels (center) beneath it.

I had not found time to educate myself about the Colosseum before arriving, so I didn’t really know what I was looking at, or what to look for. We relied heavily on information signs on site. I caught myself being a horrible tourist when I mentioned to Pedro that I had seen multiple Greek and Roman theatres (in Turkey and Jordan) in much better condition. Much of this amphitheatre is missing because it was heavily harvested for stone, nearly all the seats are gone, walls are topped in protective concrete. But I needed to see what was there, rather than what was not there. One of the most incredible things about the Colosseum in Rome is that it is HUGE. It is the largest standing amphitheatre in the world today. It could hold up to 80,000 but typically had audiences of 65,000. I also saw the smaller amphitheatre in Arles, but this is the only one I have been inside. Another remarkable thing about this construction (and the one in Arles) is that it is not built into the side of a mountain to help with stability, but built to stand on its own.

Using the panorama function on my phone was the only way I could capture the entire thing in a single photo.

Around the outer part of the stadium, as you find in modern stadiums, there were wide spaces to walk, on multiple levels. Instead of stands to buy nachos and beer, however, the Colosseum is a outdoor museum, displaying many of the statues and columns and carved plaques that were found during excavations. We learned that there was a period of time when Nature had taken over the ruins and the place was a sort of garden, where one could walk and admire the greenery rooted in brick foundations. I appreciated an artist’s impression of what the old floor and caverns beneath looked like when they were used. Apparently beasts and captive humans meant for spectacle were kept beneath the floor and brought up in lifts. I learned that the floor area was set up like a scene of a play (a jungle forest, for example) for the beasts and men to fight in. The audience couldn’t see any of the mechanisms, and saw things burst unexpectedly through trap doors in the floor.

Here you can see multiple layers beneath the floor, in which animals, humans, and props (in the bottom right a tree is being erected) are kept and released.
At least one of us is imagining what it could be like to be held in a cage in one of these rooms, in the dark, beneath the floor.
The underground area covers 1.2 acres (0.5 ha) and had 14 of these passageways, some straight, some curved. At each end was a large freight elevator with winches.

Over time, the risk of collapse and fire caused the underground area to become disused and eventually filled with earth. An earthquake in 443 did serious damage. The last spectacle was held here in 523. These underground portions were forgotten because the floor covered them until they were rediscovered in 1874.

This wall helped me imagine how immense this place must have been. In the center of the photo you can see stairs that must have led to the nosebleed seats.
Only one small area contained remnants of seats, to help us imagine what they had been. The white marble is the seats, of course, and the brick is to hold them in place. This photo also shows a great amount of concrete that is spread throughout, to help reduce damage from weather.

Visitors are allowed to roam free in the Colosseum. Once inside you can go where you like and take as long as you like. We did not buy the extra pass to explore the underground levels, so we could only go up. We did climb to upper levels and got a better view of both the inside and the outside.

The Arch of Constantine (with Palatine Hill behind it) viewed from the Colosseum commemorates his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE.
During portions of our exploration, no one was around.
A couple offered to take our photo after we took theirs.

After we circled the entire place and went through every level we had access to, we found our way back out and headed toward the area called The Forum, next to Palatine Hill. We joined a line and this one and only time on our whole two-week trip, did we stand in line for a very long time in the uncomfortably hot sun. We waited along the Via Sacra (Sacred Street), slowly approaching the Arch of Titus. The Arch of Titus celebrates the defeat of a revolt in Judea in 70 CE by Titus and his father Vespasian. They destroyed the Temple of Herod, and looted it to bring treasure back to Rome, and used this wealth to begin building the Colosseum. Scenes from this event, and the huge parade to celebrate, are shown in the arch. However, we had been admiring the more impressive Arch of Constantine for a couple hours, so – inspired by its Italian name “Arco di Tito” – when we got to Titus’ monument, we called it a diminutive Arcito di Tito. Titus would probably find that insulting.

A close look at the Arch of Constantine.
Detail from the Arch of Constantine.
Arcito di Tito (still impressive despite our irreverence)
Pigeon in the wall beside the Via Sacra.

We entered the area beneath The Archito of Titus, and turned first to our left, to explore Palatine Hill. The rich, famous, and powerful lived on Palatine Hill back in the old days. Though only restored ruins remain, it was clear to us that this was a place where palaces and gardens and fountains used to be. Today there are several fountains that are maintained, and they often provide drinking water for tourists. The view was outstanding and it used to look out over the Tiber River. It also overlooks the Circus Maximus (a chariot racing stadium), which that day was hosting an equestrian event. We actually watched horses jump hurdles in Circus Maximus. Palatine Hill may have been the neighborhood of leaders from Rome’s earliest days. Excavations of stone huts on the hill have led archaeologists to suggest that they are what remains of Romulus’ home – the city’s namesake. Today the area is still beautiful, but it was so beautiful at its prime that our word “palace” comes from the fabulous homes on the Palatine, including Augustus Caesar’s home.

One of the first places you see when approaching Palatine Hill is this remarkably intact church and gardens. You can spot this church in the background of my first photo of the Arch of Constantine. There is a splendid overlook point just to the left.
We got a kick out of the warped shape of the marble walk here, and called it the Emperor’s Skate Park. Can’t you just picture those old Romans on skateboards with their togas hitched up around their knees?
Palatine Hill looks out over the Forum below. Here you can see the Colosseum top right, with the Arcito di Tito in front of it. Top left are the arches of the Basilica of Maxentius. Via Sacra leads from the Arch past the front of the Basilica. It’s where all the people are walking.

The Roman Forum is the name given to the square near the Colosseum. Just like in today’s cities, the stadium is handy to have nearby, but it’s not where everyone spends their time. The Forum was a city center for commerce, religion, politics, administration and social life. There were temples, courthouses, meeting spaces, restaurants, offices, brothels, markets, bars – whatever you needed.

Much of the Forum is missing due to its stone being harvested for other projects, such as St. Peter’s Basilica. But interestingly, much of it survives despite thousands of years, looting, earthquakes, and weather. One reason could be that companies were accountable for their construction and materials, so they did an excellent job. Today stamps on bricks can be seen, showing the name of the factory in which they were produced.

Looking over the Roman Forum from the gardens of Caligula’s Palace. The Arch of Septimius Severus is top center and near the end of the Forum grounds. In the background I spot the same intriguing statues on top of a building that I noticed during breakfast.

It was a good choice to explore Palatine Hill first, because from up there we got a good look at the Forum before we entered it. Once we returned to the valley, we walked from end to end, from Arcito di Tito on the East side to Arco di Settimio Severo on the West side. It was a hot and humid day and for generally fit Pedro and I, we still sought out tiny scraps of shade and a rare stone available for sitting. After two hours at the Colosseum we spent another two hours walking the grounds of the Palatine Hill and the Forum.

The view from above…
…and the view from below.

All the tourists were too hot and too fatigued, and we smiled at other red faces and forgave each other when we got in each other’s way. There was plenty of water, thanks to the city of Rome and to a big sign along the Via Sacra that mapped all the free water spigot sites. But it was warm (due to the weather) tap water, and at one point Pedro craved cold water from a vending machine that we found somewhat in the center of the place. We stood in line there for a good 15 minutes behind a German woman with two hot and tired toddlers, bless her heart. They were begging for chocolate and water, and it appeared that she had never used a vending machine in her life, as each attempt to retrieve an item was fraught with confusion and challenges like trying to insert a credit card into the bank note slot. Each attempt became more difficult as the children’s wails became more insistent. We waited with another couple behind the small and determined family, then finally chuckled to ourselves – glad we had no children to look after – and left them to go find another warm water spigot.

I just LOOOOOVED these chariot grooves carved into a street on the way to the vending machine.

The path we had been following led us away from the Colosseum. All the way at the western end there is a type of natural stop, since the Forum is in a sort of valley bound on the south and west by hills. We climbed the rise past the Arch of Septimius Severus and up to the remains of the Temple of Saturn. Then we found a path up and out. We saw the gate was unmanned but it was the kind that was exit-only. Pedro and I glanced at each other for confirmation, and yes, we were both ready to exit and to go find a place to sit and to eat.

From the western hill, looking north past the ruins of the Temple of Saturn.
From the western hill, looking east all the way across the Forum to the Colosseum, where we had started in the morning. Palatine Hill is on the right.

Then we found ourselves alone on the streets of Rome with no idea of which direction to go. But we had lots of time before our next appointment, so we were unconcerned and unhurried, and we made our way up the hill to see what else we could see. Hopefully one of those sights would include a restaurant with copious seating.

18 thoughts on “Roman Colosseum and Forum

  1. Absolutely beautiful photos, Crystal. Now I see what I’ve been missing. That tourist took a stunning photo of you two. You both look so happy and lovely. There are too many other favourites to mention, but that gallery of the Palatine hill is stunning in its entirety and makes me wish to go there so much.

    1. I am so glad you got the right impression from the Palatine gallery. I must have about 30 photos just from there, and tried to choose only a few (I indulged myself with two photos of the lizard!) that would show what it was like up there. For example there is a much better shot of the skate park, but it doesn’t show the ruins as well. Anyway, yes, I think you would love Palatine Hill. It’s less crowded; it’s peaceful; it’s lovely. The area is very large and over by Caligula’s Palace, the gardens are actually cared for and there is a large paved plaza. My guess is that it may be occasionally used for some gatherings or events. I hope you find an opportunity to go there sometime. I want to do all of it again someday, because it’s just so huge we didn’t see it all.

      Thanks for the compliment on the photo. I like it too. ❤

  2. Many years ago we were in Athens with two small children during a heat wave, so I know how that German mother must have felt.

    1. OH goodness, yes. As parents ourselves, we could both relate. We were behind others, and also they seemed vulnerable there alone, so we wondered if it would make them uncomfortable to offer to help. We also didn’t know Italian and couldn’t read the machine, but from a distance we were watching her bewilderment and were pretty sure she had never used one before. Maybe we should have offered to help. Anyway, good heavens Athens in the heat with children would have been much the same. I also admire everyone who takes children around the globe when they can.

  3. That’s quite the post Crystal. I think that it must have taken me at least three to cover what you just did. Great job, I really enjoyed revisiting the Colosseum and Forum. Isn’t it incredible to be in the center of so much history! Sounds like you and Pedro had a great visit with Manja. I’m way behind in blog reading. –Curt

    1. Aw heck, Curt, I’m so behind on reading blogs I’ll never catch up. But I do what I can and I never judge others when they don’t read mine! I know you won’t fret about it, and nor should you. I’m glad to help you remember sights from your past. I did give in and decide to break the day into two posts. But honestly I could have done three posts for each day for the whole trip, prolly. That would have taken me till January to get finished! For most days I managed to get it all into one, but we crammed so much into our days in Rome that it wasn’t possible.

      We did have a great visit with Manja. It was so much fun seeing her community in real life, and recognizing so much from photos on her blog. Now I can say I met one more blogger friend. It’s sort of my quest: to keep meeting bloggers when I get the chance.

      1. “It’s sort of my quest: to keep meeting bloggers when I get the chance.” And a very worthwhile quest it is Crystal! 🙂 We’ve been so busy I feel like the Mad Hatter. ” The hurrier I get, the farther behind I am.” So I haven’t worried overly about blogs either. I’m going to try and keep up better now and post once a week. –Curt

    1. Thank you Derrick. I noticed that I do something with photos in crowds that is not helpful. I prefer no people in my photos usually, so I tip the camera up to cut them out. But I’m finding what that does is chop my scene in half too. I need to get more clever about it – but I do keep trying. Yes, I loved the pigeon photo, and wish it were a little more in focus.

      I guess I can’t blame later generations for taking advantage of the lovely cut blocks of stone, just lying in heaps of ruins. When I look at it from a practical standpoint, I agree with the decision. But from a perspective from 2021, it is heartbreaking. I would so love to have seen it un-scavenged and then given an archaeologist’s treatment, and maybe a parks department’s efforts to reconstruct a little, if all the materials remained. One bright side is that excavations continue, and more things are being uncovered there, which will continue to fill out our understanding of the place.

    1. I’m glad you say so, Andrew. We had not done much typical tourist stuff on our whole trip until we got to Rome, then we decided that some things simply had to be done, like the Colosseum. I’d glad we were there, and glad we were able to fit a trip to Rome into our schedules.

  4. I think I’m beginning to love the idea of winter travel more and more. Tepid water is not my thing either and getting a glass of ice water in EU is darn near impossible. I’m so grateful you made this trip for me. Hiking to the tops of hills and having so many people around me isn’t high on my list of to-do’s. I prefer to do trips like yours from an armchair. 😉 Great photos. I don’t think I’d know how to do the vending machine in Italian either but would ask until someone showed up to help. I’m concerned about getting cash out of my bank for little things while we are traveling. Did you find it problematic?

    1. Excellent, then! We will handle the hikes and the stairs tourism, and that frees you up to do the rest. My heavens, there were so many stairs in Rome. Never go there unless someone is going to make the journey easy for you. I do wish the German mother had asked for help, as we were ready to go up and help her. But we were not the next in line and would have had to pass others to get to her, and also we weren’t sure if she wanted strangers around her little kids. I’m sure they survived. Mothers are a tough bunch. ;o)

      For getting cash, I never had a problem at all using ATMs with my Visa. I don’t bother getting cash till I get to the country I’m visiting. Unless I know for sure I’ll need cash as soon as I arrive at the airport, like in some places taxi drivers only use cash, then I’ll get a little bit exchanged at a bank before I go. I have used ATMs in any place I find them, even in small cluttered streets in front of closed shops, and have never had a problem. You’ll be charged a fee like always, and my card also charges a “foreign exchange fee” which is a tiny bit added on top of the fee. So, get as much out at once as you are comfortable with, to save on fees.

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