On my continued quest of visiting the new Seven Wonders of the World I am always thrilled to return to beautiful Rome and explore the Colosseum. Wherever you look these days there seems to be resurgence in the interest of gladiators and nowhere is this more evident than in the center of one of Europe's most spectacular cities.
Flying to Rome is easy, as there are many direct flights which should not take more than eight hours from Toronto. Once there, the bright lights, lively bistros and sidewalk cafés make you wonder how you will ever be able to leave.
This city, Italy's capital, has nearly 3,000,000 people, making it similar in size to Toronto’s core. Its history, however, spans more than 2500 years, dating back to before BC, where it was once the center of civilization.
The city has been ruled by popes, kings and dictators, but it has always survived as one of the most glamorous cities in the world and today is considered the 11th most popular metropolis for tourists.
One of the reasons many visitors flock to Rome, aside from its Mediterranean climate, is the archaeological history. Aside from the Colosseum, Rome has a wealth of ancient ruins, such as the Forum, the Catacombs and the Pantheon, which has recently been named a UNESCO heritage site by the United Nations, and all are worthy of a visit.
The Colosseum, however, definitely tops the list. Built between 70 and 80 A.D. it was capable of seating 50,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as re-enactments of famous sea battles, executions and dramas based on classical mythology.
The original name for the arena was the Flavian Amphitheatre, named after its founder, however the colossal statue of Nero nearby gave it its popular name. A massive earthquake in 1349 caused the outer walls to fall and rather than restoring it, the precious marble was used to construct nearby palaces, hospitals and churches. The bronze clamps, used to hold the marble in place were also pried or hacked out of the walls leaving its current pockmark like appearance.
The present state of the Colosseum makes it impossible to host large events; however people like Paul McCartney, Elton John and Billy Joel have performed there for smaller venues. Many large happenings are held outside, using the Colosseum as a backdrop. The largest event ever held in the Colosseum was in 107 when a famous battle was reconstructed using 11,000 animals (most brought in from Africa) and 10,000 gladiators. The entire event took 123 days.
When visiting the Colosseum be sure to take in the network of subterranean passageways once used to transport wild animals and gladiators into the arena. A €25 million restoration project is about to commence, which means there will be construction everywhere and is scheduled to last 2 1/2 years. Visitors under 18 and over 65 are admitted free of charge, while the rest of us pay €15.
Rome has nearly 2,000 hotels, so finding accommodation should not be difficult. Restaurants are everywhere, as Romans love to eat. Don't be fooled by their casual attitude, when it comes to food they are pickier than most. The city center caters to tourism and it is easy to fall into “tourist traps". I try and find places filled with locals and am usually assured of an excellent cuisine. There are hundreds of restaurants offering fare which ranges from traditional Roman dishes to exotic menus from all over the globe. There are possibilities for every pocket and for every mood. You can stroll amongst countless pizzerias, hip spots and popular eateries called “trattories”, where it is not uncommon to find a stereotypical “mama” making fresh handmade pasta. Another enjoyable pastime is to visit the wine bars and nibble while enjoying a glass of wonderful Italian wine.
Many of the museums now offer passes, which are good for multiple visits to different locations, allowing you to see the top attractions at affordable prices. Keep in mind that Rome is an older city and access to subways, as well as many buildings may only be by stairs.
A few things to remember: June or July are the busiest months. A two-hour trip to the Vatican can become a full-day event with most of your time shuffling behind hundreds of other sightseers. The summer months are extremely hot and humid so they should be avoided if possible. Pickpockets are numerous and are found in the metros and at tourist attractions. Most these people are gypsies who have entered Italy illegally. Beware, for nothing is sweeter than a small child offering you a rose for free when suddenly an adult shows up demanding money. Avoid bus N64, as it is internationally known for pickpockets and purse snatchers. Always be aware of your surroundings, do not be fooled by the most sincere ‘hard luck’ stories and never carry money or jewellery openly.
Only change your currency at the bank and beware of unmarked taxis. The transit system in Italy is wonderful and much less expensive than any other form of transportation. Beware when you take photographs. Ask before you snap and should someone be dressed as a gladiator in the vicinity of the Colosseum, be assured that it will cost you to take their photo.
All in all Rome is an amazing city and well worth the visit. Is a place I've been several times and will always welcome the opportunity to go back to. I was pleased to see the Colosseum make the new list of Seven Wonders of the World as it is an amazing architectural feat and very hard to believe is over 2000 years old. Arrivederci, baby.
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com