Every tourist setting foot in Rome, wants to visit the Colosseum and rightfully so. Picture this – an amphitheater flooded with 50,000 frenzied, screaming, bloodthirsty spectators. Gladiators and animals being hoisted up, pitted against each other for a fight that would write the fate of one with the blood of another. Imagine the blood-soaked sand and clouds of dust rising up with stench of iron filling the air. All this while the crowds roared and cheered with glee. Gather the wails of the hapless women seeing their beloved being brutalized, their last ill-fated sighs before the soul departed the body – man and animal alike. This kind of morbid entertainment is unfathomable to us now, but entertainment it was, 2000 years ago.
Colosseum fell into my lap as a tourist and in turn, made me fall in love with every word of its history and every stone of its architecture. 5 years have passed since and I’m still awestruck.
There are people who prefer audio guides and walk the monuments on their own. Earphones plugged in, maps open, fingers tracing a web of lines of varied colors. But not without a searching look on their confused faces.
In my experience, nothing compares to a tour guide…someone who’ll make you fall in love even with a stone. Someone like Verona. What a beautiful name, thought I. And what an irony! For Verona immortalizes Shakespearean love – the love of Romeo and Juliet.
And Rome! Well, we just had a glimpse into its bloodied past. Just a glimpse, that is.
Verona is a purebred Roman. Clad in casuals head to toe, a sling bag hangs from her shoulder and a bunch of papers held to her bosom, she presents us with a most endearing smile. True to her Roman genes, she’s framed tall and slender, her marbled complexion reflects the sun back into the eyes of her beholder. Her golden tresses styled in a pixie bob, messy as it is, she runs her fingers through each time the wind flirts with them and tickles her sharp square jawline. Her transparent blue eyes seem to have made from the flowing Tiber. Perfection!
Severely passionate about her birthplace, its history, people, architecture, food, weather, Rome gushes through her every vein and you can feel it throb in her heart. Our Roman is deeply in love with Augustus, the first and the most beloved Emperor of Rome. Which is why she wants us to lunch in a restaurant his namesake. Finally, there IS love in Verona after all…
Emperor Vespacian originally commissioned the Colosseum in 72CE as a centre for mass entertainment and thereby gain favor of his people. But he didn’t live to see it finished. His son, Titus was the one who took it to completion. It was built on the grounds of Emperor Nero’s Domus Aureus complex.
To celebrate its inauguration, Titus held games that went for for 100 days and nights during which around 5000 animals were slaughtered and countless gladiators killed.
Despite being the most famous and fearsome arena, Colosseum isn’t the largest one. It’s the Circus Maximus or Circo Massimo that outstrips its counterpart with five times more the capacity of hosting 2,50,000 spectators at one time.
The arena was originally named “Anfiteatro Flavio” after the Flavian dynasty of Emperor Vespasian. It was later christened Colosseum, not because of its size, but because of the massive statue of Nero – one of the most infamous and hated emperors of Rome – AKA Colosso di Nerone, that stood closeby.
A fragment of his equestrian statue is only what still lives.
We walk on, stopping at places that would be most insignificant to an ordinary eye. But not to an accomplished historian like Verona who’s also studying architecture. To her, every stone that’s contributed to building Colosseum tells a story. Because it does, like the one in picture below:
These holes were dug in and a rope passed through to tie the animals to be used for entertainment. These were subterranean. But as the years passed, natural calamities like earthquakes, fires and floods washed away layers of earth, exposing visuals like these which lay hidden for centuries.
Colosseum is divided into three sections: the arena, the cavea and the podium.
To explore each of them is an experience ready to etch itself on the memory.
Take few deep breaths before starting, cuz each step leading up is huge and the stones they’re made of are uneven, people moving around are in their own sweet world and you need to pace up with your team.
To someone with a heart disorder like mine, this is an extremely strenuous task.
The Arena – was made of wooden floor. It was covered with sand, so the combatants don’t slip and fall. It also served to soak up the blood that spilled during fights. There were trap doors that opened to the underground chambers and passageways, known as the Hypogeum. World was entirely different here, underneath the earth’s surface. This hidden place housed a warren of chambers and massive vaulted passageways where gladiators, slaves and wild animals were held, weapons were stored and sets were prepared.
When it was time for fights, the combatants would be hoisted up to the arena through lifts and trapdoors shut behind them.
At times, the arena was even flooded with water for mock naval battles, only to drain it later. Use of hydraulic mechanisms is still evident. It also played host to theatrical performances and even gory public executions were carried on specific days of the week. A mythological scene would be created, replete with forests as a backdrop. The condemned would be made to act and then either mauled by the beasts or burnt alive to death. Morbid entertainment indeed!
In the picture below, the arena and hypogeum are clearly visible:
The Cavea was for spectators who were further divided as per their social standing. Lowest tier was reserved for people bearing ranks in the Emperor’s court. The rich sat in the middle and the paupers in the uppermost section.
The Podium, a broad terrace in front of the Cavea, was reserved for emperors, senators and VIPs.
There were 80 entrance arches that allowed the spectators to pour in and fill the stadium in a matter of minutes. On the upper levels, there was a provision for awnings that were supported by hundreds of masts. These awnings shielded the spectators from sun and rain.
The outer walls of the monument were covered with Travertine, a variety of limestone that gave the stones a naturally fibrous and porous look. Marble statues filled the blank recesses adding beauty to the otherwise wretched place.
Colosseum was a centre for entertainment for 500 years. Last battles were fought in the 5th century AD, after which the Roman Empire fell and it was abandoned. As years passed, it kept being plundered of its precious travertine, and marble stripped from it was used to decorate notable buildings like Palazzo Venezia.
In recent years, the pollution and vibrations from nearby Metro have taken a toll on this lofty engineering marvel. Efforts haven been undertaken to preserve the monument and restore its former glory.
Nonetheless, Colosseum continues to be Rome’s greatest icon attracting more than 5 million tourists every year.
After centuries of witnessing countless upheavals, this Wonder Of The World still stands tall as a poignant reminder of a once great empire…
Warm welcome to BitesandPlaces!
My humble little blog has its own story to tell… my story… I’m gregarious being, vagabond at heart and have a monstrous appetite for food. I used to be a Human Resource professional until few years ago. To be among, with and for people was the reason I’d chosen this field.
Being in HR, I could only accomplish the ‘people’ part. I still yearned to be in those places I saw on TV and travel magazines and craved to eat all kinds of food that lulls you into coma. I didn’t want to be just a spectator anymore. I wanted to be in those pictures.
Luck smiled at me and I fell sick with an awful heart, lungs and liver disorder. Family said stay home. Rest.
Rest? Were they crazy? I grabbed this opportunity and quit my job; to pursue my passion – people, places and food.
Being on my own gave me lot of spare time for all the three.
I’m not a professional cook, but I’m mighty passionate about cooking. Although Indian, BitesandPlaces does not restrict itself to just the dishes of my country, which are toothsome beyond doubt. I’ve also tried to put together a bunch of mouth-watering and eye-pleasing recipes scattered from all parts the world. A lot of them are a tribute to my mum’s kitchen, the ones I grew up with. Few of them are a result of my experimentation and few others, borrowed from my generous friends 🙂
I religiously follow Andrew Zimmern’s favorite quote – what looks good to your eyes, EAT IT!! After all food is something that follows no boundaries, isn’t it.
Travel, I believe, is about exploring new places, meeting new people, building new relations, soaking in their culture, gorging on their cuisines, discovering their stories and of course, capturing all of these in my teeny-tiny camera.
After having been there and done that, I was inspired to share my travelogues with you, encourage you to travel and in some way find a bit of your happiness through me.
Thus BitesandPlaces was born!
Life’s a journey and people, places and food are all a part of it. So, come along with me and eat your way through this journey called Life…
I like staying connected. And it’ll be a frosting on my cake if you drop a line or two at email@example.com.