The Colosseum Underground Tour by City Wonders was by far one of the best decisions we made on our stay in Rome. A guided tour of a historic site isn’t always our favourite way to see someplace. We prefer to take our time, referring to an audioguide, guidebook, brochure or map as we do it. We’ve normally read up in advance, so we’ve got a bit of background information that helps us contextualise what we’re seeing, allowing us to soak it up a little bit better. But there are some instances when taking a guided tour is actually a better idea and this was one of them.
Colosseum Underground Tour
1. We got to descend into the Arena, the Underground level and the third level all of which are off-limits to the general public.
2. Audio devices allowed us to fall back and linger, without missing out on what the guide was saying.
3. The tour also covered the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum (which are normally sold as a ticket together with the Colosseum) so we didn’t lose out.
Having read a bit of contradictory information online, I emailed City Wonders in advance to find out of we were indeed banned from bringing backpacks into the site. (While ours is a camera bag, it is rather large). We saw some people with larger bags allowed in, but we’re glad we didn’t take the chance (and it wasn’t a rainy day, so we were lucky). We met our guide above the metro opposite the Colosseum and it wasn’t hard to spot them, with their City Wonders Teeshirts, Clipboards, Flags and Audio devices.
The Tour Begins
Our cheerful guide Elisa, started off with a bit of history, telling us about the infamous emperor Nero who had previously constructed an artificial lake on the site of the Colosseum and how one of his successors Vespasian, built this great arena in order to win back the faith of the people. What we commonly know as the Colosseum today, is actually the Flavian Amphitheatre. It came to be referred to as the Colosseum because of its proximity to a colossal statue of Nero next door. A great PR tool to entertain 75,000 spectators with bloody gladiator fights thereby distracting the citizens of imperial Rome.
With lots of other bits of information bringing history alive, Elisa lead us into a locked dead end on the ground floor of the Colosseum where another guide took over, opening the gates to the arena for us. We walked in through the very gates the Gladiators would have (from their living and training quarters that once sat across the road behind us). The recreated arena floor gave us a real sense of the sheer scale of these events. Swirling around, we looked up, at what would have been seats filled with boisterous citizens, chanting, as they awaited the emperor seating in his VIP box seats to the left (or right, as argued by historians) to signal his fate. Our guide showed us maps, recreating the area and the scene, as well as the trapdoors from where beasts would often emerge, at intervals, choreographed from behind the scenes by the several slaves who operated the heavy machinery.
And that brought us to the real behind the scenes. Or what remains of it. A flight of stairs below the arena, visible through the other half of where the arena would have extended was the green room for these bloody battles – entertainment extravaganzas. Our guide showed us where the animals were held, and how the elevators that took them up to the surface were operated. We walked around, taking in the ancient boulders that still stood in place, wondering about the things they’d seen, the violence they’d witnessed.
The Third Level
Climbing up, passing several other visitors gazing out from the second floor of the Colosseum, we disappeared behind yet another locked gate, onto the fourth level (most of which has been long destroyed). Quite the contrary of the seating hierarchy we have in theatres today, back then it was the second-lowest strata of society that got these cheap 3rd floor balcony seats. From up there, we had a great view of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which is where we were headed next.
This was a really long tour, that began at 8:30 am and wound up only around 1:00 pm. Naturally, we couldn’t fit all of it into one post. So stay tuned for the second half of the tour that covered the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill coming up soon! Book your Colosseum Underground Tour with City Wonders now! This post was made possible by the kind people at City Wonders, opinions as always are our own.