Tag: roman ruins

Day 3 in Rome – The Colosseum and Roman Forum

If you’re going to have to turn 40, there are worst ways to start your day than waking up in Rome with a visit to the Colosseum on the cards. Once again my pre-planning had come into it’s own, because I found through research that the Colosseum has bookable private tours of areas not open to the public. I wanted to get tickets for the undergound tour, which are are only released a few weeks in advance; I knew they were in high demand and unfortunately missed out. Fortuitously though, a new tour has just been launched – the Belvedere tour – which takes visitors up to the third and fourth tiers of the structure giving incredible views and a real feel of the size of the arena, so we still got to do something “extra” than most people have access to.

As we approached the Colosseum it was so strange to see the contrast of modern construction against such an old and important point of interest (a new underground rail line is being built to service this area of the city).

I underestimated the walking distance from our hotel (much to the chagrin of the husband and his aching bones) so we arrived just about in time to go through security and meet up with our tour guide. Everyone was given a headset to listen to the very interesting commentary as we walked around. The tour starts in the same entrance used by all visitors and then proceeds to the higher levels which are behind locked doors and only accessed by venue officials.

We learned that, despite depictions in films, gladiators fought other gladiators (highly trained fighter who went to “Gladiator School” in an attempt to gain fame and fortune) and not animals (that was reserved for criminals). We learned that it was not only lions that were shipped in for these fights, but also larger African animals like elephants and giraffes! We learned that, to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum in 80AD (known the as the Flavian Amphitheatre), a 100 day ceremony took place which saw events and fighting every day for the length of the opening ceremony. Tickets to attend events at the Colosseum were free, on a first come first served basis, and carved into a stone tablet, apart from upper class seats, right at the side of the arena, which were reserved for the ruling emperor, politicians and wealthy upper class members of society. We looked down from the highest possible point of the structure, looking at the tiered seating and the underground portion of the arena where you can still see evidence of the labyrinth of corridors which would have been hidden by the stage; where fighters and animals were kept until such time that they were due to perform, when they would be propelled up onto the stage by an elaborate (for the time) lift contraption and through a trapdoor.

Read some interesting facts about animal fights in the Colosseum.

After the tour we were free to wander around at will, looking at some of the permanent exhibitions and just feeling the sheer size of the space, marveling at the construction (it’s so symmetrical! And so well preserved!) And obviously taking all of the photos!

Me at the colosseum

After leaving the Colosseum, we headed across the cobbled courtyard to the entrance to the Forum and Palatine Hill, which is included in the costs of the standard Colosseum entry ticket. The ticket is valid for 2 days, so you could do one attraction on one day and the other the next, which is very useful if you’re pushed for time. It also represents really good value with everything you get to see for one price.

The Forum was the centre of ancient Rome, originally a marketplace and now surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government ruins. Shrines and temples, columns, both intact and in pieces, carved stone – it’s amazing to see the layout of the area still as it once was, even after all these years.

These doors are 2000 years old, and the lock still works! (that blew my mind)

2000 year old doors Roman Forum

The Arch of Titus was commissioned by Emperor Titian, in memory of his brother.

I wonder what this says?

Carvings on roman ruins

Upon leaving I took even more photos of the Colosseum because, honestly, it was just breathtaking and just incredible to see.

What a way to spend a birthday!

Did you see my previous posts, about my first day and second day?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x


Herculaneum – ancient roman city

A week ago today we visited Herculaneum; which is the smaller, less well known cousin to the famous Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Originally the husband wanted to go to Pompeii, as he said “no-one ever says Herculaneum is on their bucket list” but after advice from my Dad and further investigation, it became clear that Herculaneum was the one for us – further vindicated by some people at our hotel who visited both and said Herculaneum was better (I do love knowing we’ve done the right thing!)

Unlike Pompeii which was covered by ash, Herculaneum was covered by volcanic gas and mud, which meant it was better preserved. It was also under 20 metres of volcano eruption coverage, unlike the 4 metres covering Pompeii, which again added to the quality of preservation. While Herculaneum is a smaller site, it does make it easier to get around and see everything, and there are actual buildings and decorations still in tact.

We hopped on the train in Sorrento and got off about an hour later at Ercolano. I expected the site to be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s just at the bottom of a hill in the middle of the town. In fact, much of Herculaneum remains underground – an estimated 75% – because the town of Ercolano with it’s businesses and residents is thriving above it.

On entering the site you get an overview of the full excavation site, and it’s mindblowing. It’s like looking back into history, a very unusual and eerie feeling.Herculaneum overview

Herculaneum overview 2

Herculaneum overview 3

At just 12 euros each to enter, it’s an unmissable visit if you’re in the area and have any interest at all in history and ancient roman culture and way of life. You can employ the services of a guide, or pay for an audio guide, but we preferred to just wander around and immerse ourselves at our own pace.

What I’m about to say next sounds very silly, but it’s how I felt. It’s almost too good. It’s really hard to imagine that the roads and columns and mosaic floors are that old. It could almost be a film set, if that makes sense? It’s really hard to comprehend that you’re looking at thousands of years of history. After all, the eruption happened in 79 A.D but many of the buildings would already have been in existence prior to that – back into B.C territory. That’s almost incomprehensible! When you look at the detail in the brickwork, and the decorative nature of the arches it’s difficult to get your head around (or, at least, it was for me!) The roads and kerb stones are of a quality you just wouldn’t expect for such a long time ago – nothing has changed from how the Romans did it to how it’s done today.

Herculaneum roman roads

Herculaneum road

Columns – interesting that that they’re brick built and then rendered and engraved with the decorative line detail.

Herculaneum columns

Herculaneum columns 3

Herculaneum columns 2

Many of the buildings still have wall décor in reds and blues.

Herculaneum wall decor 2

Herculaneum wall decor 3

Herculaneum wall decor

The mosaic floors are made from hundreds of thousands of tiny tiles – imagine laying them by hand! This one has a mermaid pattern – it was the floor of the public baths (slightly sunken in places, but you can kind of forgive that, considering it’s age!)

Herculaneum mosaic floor

Look at the detail in this room.

Herculaneum room

I assumed these round holes were toilets, but having googled it I found the answer on Sarah Ryan’s blog – they were holes for cooking pots – this may well have been an early form of restaurant or takeaway!

Herculaneum cooking area

Herculaneum food area

Unfortunately these baths aren’t open to the public due to safety reasons – only scholars and researchers can get access (never been more tempted to lie about my job!) but I took this photograph through the glass. You can imagine they would be absolutely spectacular.

Herculaneum roman baths

There are artefacts and engravings and statues also scattered around the site.

Herculaneum bench

Herculaneum bust

Herculaneum carving

Herculaneum tiles

Herculaneum statue

Herculaneum crypt

These skeletons are residents that huddled together in boat houses, presumably awaiting evacuation from the town. The hot gases from the volcanic eruption would have killed them instantly.

Herculaneum skeletons 2

Herculaneum skeletons

Herculaneum bones

Herculaneum was fantastically interesting and worthwhile – truly a memorable experience and a great part of our trip to Italy.