We booked the Walks of Italy guided tour to see the Colosseum and Roman Forum. I find ancient sites are much more enjoyable to explore with a guide. Good guides are priceless in the amount of history they can share. Without them I think I’d just stand among a mountain of ancient rocks and rubble, feebly trying to assign meaning to each object and then get bored.
Thankfully, there are plenty of tours you can take to see the major tourist hot spots in Rome. I chose “Walks of Italy” based on its good reviews seen on Tripadvisor.com. Our tour guide was a local dude! His name was Davide and I would highly recommend him to anyone thinking of taking the Colosseum/Roman forum tour. He was a civil engineer and worked in London and Spain before he returned to his hometown of Rome. He was the perfect guide if you had questions on the build of the Colosseum, since he had a background in civil engineering. He was also full of tidbits like what movies had been filmed in the Colosseum. His favorite was one with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris from the 1970s. He also mentioned that Gladiator with Russell Crowe was not filmed in the Colosseum at all, but somewhere in Tunisia.
The only downside to the tour was the torrential downpour that lasted the entire tour. Our guide, Davide – bless him – tried to make the weather suck less with jokes and such but the buckets of rain and strong wind were relentless. I still think Paul had a great time, but by the end of the tour I was READY to get to shelter. It was a 2.5 hour tour and close to the 2 hour mark Paul’s and many of our other tour guide members’ umbrellas were in their final resting place – a Roman Forum trash can. After the tour we walked back to our hotel in the tsunami and stayed in the rest of the afternoon. That night what did we watch? Gladiator. It still holds up after all this time! Epic in every sense of the word.
Here are some tidbits I learned about Rome/Colosseum during our tour:
- They would fill the Colosseum up with water, creating small waterways. In the water they’d have mini boats and they would re-enact a Roman sea battle.
- Paul McCartney has played a concert in the Colosseum – tickets were insanely expensive and seating was very limited. The next night he played outside the Colosseum for 5,000 people who showed up.
- They had Roman sailors stand at the very top of the Colosseum during events. When the sun was too hot, they would pull out “awnings” that covered the crowd from the sun. Not so different from our baseball stadiums today.
- The Vestal Virgins were committed to their service between the ages of 6–10 years old. Most came from very well-known, prestigious families. It was an honor to have your daughter become a Vestal Virgin. They had to make a vow of celibacy that would last for 30 years. They got to retire! And after retirement they could get pension and get married! These details were a surprise to me. Their duties included: tending the sacred fire in the shrine of Vesta in the Roman Forum, performing rites associated with the goddess Vesta, preparing ritual food and officiating at public events during Vesta’s feast days. If they failed at their duties their punishment could include being buried alive.
- I had a completely incorrect idea of what a gladiator was. So it turns out some Gladiators were showmen. They were like WWF wrestlers and were kept alive and made lots of money for themselves and maybe eventually got freedom. But a lot of “Gladiators” were slaves or prisoners from recent Roman conquered regions in the empire. So they had no chance when they entered the ring and really they had no fate but to die. The Emperor saw this as an easy way to get rid of all the people he just conquered.
On that uplifting note here are some pics from our tour!