2nd Oct 2014
After an incredibly busy day and a short rest I head off for what will be a highlight of my entire trip.
My birthday is in October and as I often choose October to travel my gifts usually include euros or expeditions. Last year I spent my birthday exploring the ruined Graeco-Roman city of Butrint in Albania. This year my husband bought me a moonlit tour of the Colosseum. We booked through City Wonders.
The tour meets at the opposite end of the Forum to the Colosseum and we’ll take a leisurely stroll past some historic sights on the way. The ancient centre of Rome is beautifully illuminated at night as I remember from a night time tour my husband and I took together in 2007. Back then I had a tiny point and shoot camera that I kept firmly on the ‘auto’ setting, so I’ve been practising with shutter speeds et cetera with the camera my brother has lent me and I’m hoping that my photos don’t turn out to be too abysmal. I meet up with the group and our guide Gabriele. We’re handed ‘whisper’ head sets so that Gabriele doesn’t have to yell above the din of traffic and we head off.
Here are my best attempts!
My photography isn’t perfect but it is definitely better than my 2007 attempts!
Eventually we arrive at the Colosseum. Gabriele and the other guides evidently work on a smooth yet strict system and route so that each group has each stop point to themselves. Anyone who has been inside the Colosseum during normal opening hours will understand what an absolute treat it is to see the interior without hordes of other tourists jostling you for space.
This trip also marks my first opportunity to visit the Hypogeum (underground level) and the reconstructed arena floor section so I am doubly excited.
Gabriele, who has up to this point been accurate in his stories, decides to up the melodrama in his speeches. I understand why as the rest of the group who aren’t lifelong Classics nerds are lapping it up. Most of the statistics he’s spouting are dubious or blatantly wrong. Gabriele states that 95% of gladiators died in the arena, most on their first bout. This is, frankly, bollocks and there are dozens of studies disproving this. It makes for a dramatic tour and the rest of the group dutifully gasped in horror, but I wish Gabriele had taken the opportunity to dispel some misconceptions.
Excavations of gladiator graveyards such as the one in Ephesus show many skeletons displaying healed wounds that would have required professional medical attention. The majority of gladiators were trained professionals. They were expensive to train and keep. They were also famous superstars. It makes simple business sense to keep your assets alive for as many bouts as possible to maximise income. We have proof from gravestones of retired gladiators who sometimes became trainers.
Georges Ville discovered that in a period of the 1st century AD it was actually only 19 deaths out of 200 competing gladiators.
Gabriele did dispel the thumbs-down-means-death myth but that is now so widely discredited that it hardly still counts as a myth. I’m aware that his usual demographic don’t have the same level of nerd as I do (he’d previously chuckled when I had asked him to point out the Tarpeian Rock – he’d never been asked for that before) but I couldn’t help being disappointed. His delivery was, to me, unneccessarily tragic and squeamish (although I have to confess I suspect that if I had been born a couple of millennia ago I would have been an enthusiastic spectator at the Games, confirmed by the excitement I felt earlier this year watching the Britannia gladiatorial re-enactment group perform at the Kelmarsh Festival of History.) So I admit that Gabriele was demoted to white noise as I concentrated on enjoying being (almost) alone in the moonlit amphitheatre instead.
Whether or not I agreed with the angle given by the tour guide, I can’t deny that the tour was an absolute treat. It wasn’t cheap and I doubt I could have afforded it if a) my husband hadn’t bought it as a gift and b) I had been travelling with companions. Still, it was an experience I shall never forget.
I had idly scheduled a day time visit for later in my trip if I had the time (having visited in daylight in 2007) but in the end I had neither the time nor the need.
After a sprint to catch the last Metro to Ottaviano I collapse gratefully in to bed, safe in the knowledge that I’ve sensibly scheduled a lie in for Day Four…