On my recent trip to Rome, I wanted to get back to some of the popular sites that I had previously seen such as the Roman Colosseum and Forum, but since I had been there before I leaped at the opportunity to take a special VIP tour of the underground of the Colosseum with LivItaly Tours, their Colosseum Underground & Ancient Rome Tour
The Roman Colosseum is one of the most popular sites to see in the city. The original design of the Colosseum had 80 entrances but modern security concerns mean that they only use one now. Even on a holiday, like when I visited, there are crowds and lines waiting in the hot sun, but there is a different shorter faster line for holders of a VIP pass. That alone might make a VIP tour worth the cost for some travelers.
The Colosseum was started by the emperor Vespasian and completed by his son Titus in 80 AD. The formula for managing the public in the days of the empire was “bread and circuses”, keep the people fed and entertained. Not having reality TV available, they had to satisfy themselves with gladiatorial combat, fighting wild animals and the odd execution.
The ~65,000 seat Colosseum held surprises for the audiences including trap doors that would open up to disgorge a wild animal or some other surprise. The VIP tour lets you visit the area under the Colosseum that acted as the backstage for the spectacle. Archeologists have built a replica of what they think the mechanisms would have been for lifting up a cage with a wild animal to a trap door in the floor. All of this was powered by slaves working in the dark tunnels below the arena floor.
The VIP tour also takes you to the top floor of the arena where the slaves and women would have to watch the festivities. The rich Roman men would have stayed close to the action where they might get some blood on themselves. But these cheap seats now offer some of the best views of the Colosseum and the surrounding forum.
After visiting the Colosseum we climbed the nearby Palatine Hill where Rome started. This important hill later became the site of the palace of the Caesars and the source for the English word “palace”. One of the odd things in Rome is that they have so many ruins and so many people old things that you can find yourself still walking on the ancient floors where emperors once trod. Elsewhere some of these artifacts would certainly be behind plexiglass.
The walking tours from LivItaly never have more than 6 people so the guides can customize their spiel based on the audience. My tour included a couple from Moscow and one from Toronto. Although I am a big history buff, I was not the biggest history buff of the group. That honor went to the woman from Canada who had read all of Plutarch (the ancient Roman biographer). So our tour had a lot of dates and names of specific emperors, but our guide Rachel said when the tour has more kids her presentation has much more about getting the kids to give a thumbs up or thumbs down for the gladiator than the intricacies of ancient Roman life.
The Palatine Hill also holds the Palatine Museum which is in a palace built by Mussolini, who fancied himself as a modern-day Caesar.
In the 16th century, the Roman forum was just a cow pasture with some old pillars and ruins sticking out of it. In those days Cardinal Alessandro Farnese built an estate and gardens on the Palatine Hill. Some of the best views of the forum are now from this vantage point.
You can also see some of the more recent buildings on nearby Capitoline Hill like the monument to Victor Emmanuel or a very Roman building which is the Palazzo Senatorio designed by Michelangelo that is built on top of the old Roman Tabularium (where records were tabulated and stored). This building is now Rome’s City Hall.
The tour descended again into the old Roman forum, past the arch of Titus which celebrates his sack of Jerusalem. Look at the depiction on the inside which shows Roman soldiers carrying the treasures of the temple. You can easily recognize the large gold menorah. Apparently Israel still sends Italy a letter once a year to ask if they have found this menorah as this is the last place it was seen.
We heard stories about some of the buildings like the Curia which housed the Roman senate, the Rostrum where Mark Antony made his famous speech after the death of Julius Caesar, the temple of the vestal virgins, and the temple to Julius Caesar. For many years the Forum was a free admission park, but now you will have to pay an entrance fee of €12 for the combination of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Forum.
All of this history my sound pretty geeky, but I know my kids enjoyed it when they were in 5th and 6th grade even though they are generally not history buffs. As evidence, I present my son’s 6th-grade report to his class on the Roman forum.
All along our route, we saw large groups of tourists following their tour guides in groups of 40 or so. The LivItaly Colosseum Underground & Ancient Rome Tour costs €99 for adults and €69 for kids(save 10% on this a LivItaly tour using the code “chris”). If it is in your budget, I highly recommend this interesting tour and the wonderful LivItaly tour guides.