Saturday, 2 March 2013

Rome and the Colosseum

Seating areas of the ColosseumThis was our first ever visit to Rome, a city often dubbed the eternal city though luckily it didn't spend an eternity on our 'we must go there one day' list. It was great to finally see some of it for ourselves. My main interest in visiting the city was the historical - mainly the pre-Christian world but I was also intrigued by the modern - the sights and sounds of what this famous city has to offer today.

The morning we arrived on the ship into the port of Civitavecchia we took a short walk along it's small seafront from a coastal fortress by the harbour called Michelangelos Fort which looked pretty impressive, then past a very large sculpture of a sailor kissing a nurse (a replica of the one in San Diego, USA which is based on the famous photograph taken in New York after WWII).

Civitavecchia Sailor Kissing Nurse Statue

I'd have liked to have spent a bit of time in Civitavecchia but we only had two days and that wasn't even going to cover all we wanted to see in Rome itself.

A few hundred meters later we arrived at the train station. The train station has a shop and a coffee bar. The weather was fine and so we sat outside enjoying the morning sun (we don’t get much back home!) waiting for the Rome bound train.

Civitavecchia train station

It was a nice ride along the coast and though some country side (it's about a 40 mile journey). There are two handy stops in Rome, one is Roma San Pietro railway station located near to the Vatican City, the other is Roma Termini – Romes most central station in relation to a lot of the tourist sites. We opted to get off at the end of the line at Roma Termini. I can only describe the station as long. The walk from where the Civitavecchia train stops to the main entrance of the station is approx 600 meters. My advice would be to go down from the platform to the underpass bit and use the moving walkways if you're heading that way. It's not so bad on arrival but after a long day of sightseeing hurrying to get to your train with sore feet it felt like a lot further.

The layout of the city of Rome was nothing that I'd really been able to imagine from reading books or watching TV shows or looking at maps. The topography was more varied (it was a bit hillier) and the modern streets, which for some reason I imagined it to be more like Paris, turned out to be more like London. I knew it was the city of the 7 hills but I obviously wasn't listening closely enough before as I had always imagined them to surround the city. The city sightseeing bus tour soon put me right as I found out the city was built on them. Evidence for my dear wife that it’s not just her I don’t listen properly :-p!

The 1st day we were in Rome there was an anti-austerity protest and workers union strike which was funny when our tour bus got stuck in the traffic chaos that followed. I totally sympathise with what the protesters were striking for so I didn't mind being stuck on the tour bus, in fact I was just sad we weren't a little closer as an open top bus is a good vantage point for taking photos!

November 2012 Rome Anti-Austerity Protest

Several drivers in Rome were, to put it nicely, 'a little bit insane'. During our time in Rome we saw many instances of erratic driving but three instances stood out.

The first was a moped driver who wasn't paying close attention to the traffic cop who was directing traffic and missed hitting the police man (albeit at low speed) by about the length of his shoe. Even more worryingly this didn't seem to be an unusual occurrence to the policeman who with a gesture of displeasure synonymous to 'ah now, catch yourself on' didn't even have a word with the driver.

The second was a driver who sped across a junction only to swerve at the last minute to miss the back end of a fast moving moped by a distance so close it's a mystery how one didn't become a part of the other. It was a real heart in mouth moment, stunt drivers would have been proud of pulling off such a close miss. Any contact and it was broken bones or corpse time.

The third incident was probably the most stupid but also the funniest, this one happened so slowly that all the tourists on the bus had time to laugh and take photos. And here it is, someone trying to push ahead in a traffic jam by joining the trams on the tram tracks - the Tram driver was NOT amused.

Driving on the Tram Tracks

We got off the bus soon after to make better use of our limited time in the city than drivers with death wishes.

Where the bus had to turn around was very close to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum so they were are first sights.

Before getting up close and personal to both, we took some time to admire the Arch of Constantine.
Norngirl is a Byzantine nerd so like me seeing Vesuvius the day before, this was her moment of seeing something for herself that she'd only seen in books and film.

Arch of Constantine in Rome

The arch admired we set off in what turned out to be the wrong way for our search of toilets. After giving up and turning round to go back towards the Colosseum knowing they’d likely have some somewhere, we got in line to buy tickets. Thankfully inside the bowels of the Colosseum on the ground floor near the entrance are some toilets.

Inside the Colosseum

Relieved, we then set about exploring the Colosseum and the cavernous concourses we'd passed through.

The Colosseum is probably the worlds most well known amphitheater that apparently dates back to 72AD (when its construction is said to have started).

Wide view of the Colosseum Amphitheatre in Rome

Colosseum Panorama

The Colosseum is an impressive monument to it’s time, very imperial looking and imposing even in it's current state.

High Walls of the Colosseum

In it's heyday it was apparently able to hold 50,000 spectators. What it was like in it's prime must have been pretty spectacular especially given how unique it was in it's scale.

Recreated section of the Colosseum

Reading about some of the entertainment on show I think I'm happy to stick with football and ice hockey -occasions where the only things to be murdered are our hopes. I wouldn't have liked to be walking among these submerged passages back then!

Former underground tunnels in the Colosseum

Much like our visit to Pompeii, the strangest thing was how familiar walking around it for the first time felt. How similar to modern stadia it appeared - especially when walking around the inner concourses then stepping out through it’s arches into the seating areas.

View out through a Colosseum Arch

So much in the concept of a stadium has been kept and so little it has evolved since the Romans had this leviathan built. Thankfully most of humanity’s ideas of what constitutes entertainment have become a little less cruel and imperialistic - on and off.

It also seems to be well looked after which is good news.

Cleaning the Colosseum

Cat in the Colosseum

I’d personally have liked to have spent a little longer looking around but as with the entire trip it was a little more rushed than our usual sightseeing trips largely due to our hotel floating off at assigned times. So we got a move on and left the kitty to catch all those barbarian mice.

Our next historical sight of Rome was just over the brow of the hill - The Roman Forum.

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