9 April 2017 – exploring the Colosseum, Forum and plenty more……. [Italy]
It was our last full day in Rome and we had plenty to still see. We’d booked a kid-friendly tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum and then had plans to tick off a few more sights – Circus Maximus, Castel Sant’Angelo and of course more delicious food……
Despite everyone being tired we didn’t manage to sleep past 7am before our big day of touring the Colosseum. It was a quick breaky of scrambled eggs on toast before walking down to the Spanish Steps to the metro station and a couple of quick metros over to Colosseo station. The streets were exceptionally quiet at 8.30am on a Sunday morning but once we got to the metro station we found every person awake in Rome!
As we predicted pretty much everyone was getting off at Colosseo station, including massive international school groups. It was slow going and everyone was in a hurry but we’d already resigned ourselves to another day of a tourist crush, it’s pretty hard to avoid when you are in Rome and visiting the tourist hot-spots.
The Colosseum and Roman Forum had always been on our ‘must see’ list but we’d been debating the best way to see them. There are probably around 100 different tours you can book or you can go with the do-it-yourself method, which is usually our preferred option. We’d actually tried to get tickets on the official Colosseum tour, which is supposed to be good (and cheap)….. but despite trying to book them the day they opened for our visiting month, we’d still missed out. In the end, we’d decided to book a family tour through Tikidoo. Generally we’ve found that any sort of tour with kids can be painful as they lose interest and the pace can be a bit slow. This is why we usually just wander through things on our own, but our research indicated that it’s hard to get much of an appreciation of the Colosseum and Forum without a tour guide as there is little signage and the areas are enormous. Despite our general hatred of tours we figured we were here and we wanted to enjoy our day…. so after much debate the Tikidoo family tour of the Colosseum it was. It wasn’t cheap so we were hoping that the tour would be engaging for the kids.
Out of the metro station, it’s hard to miss the Colosseum so we found our meeting spot pretty easily by following the directions we’d been given (unlike other members of our tour) and met our guide Alessandra at our meeting time.
Alessandra gave Astrid and Soren a quick run-down of some of the people and animals who were important in the history of the Colosseum, and they got to choose their character for the day. They were given a stickers which they got to colour while we waited for the other 2 families in our tour group. They also got a snack pack and we got some family friendly information about Rome (which probably would have been more useful on the first day of our stay).
The lines for the Colosseum were already growing so we were keen to get inside. The kids had been looking forward to our Colosseum visit for days, especially every time we’d seen it while cruising around Rome!
Finally the other 2 families arrived and there was a total of 5 kids. The other 2 families were American and the kids were a little older than Astrid and Soren and seemingly a little less willing to participate in colouring and role play.
While every tour of the Colosseum claims to ‘skip the line’, about 90% of people are on a tour so there are always lines. There seemed to be some confusion over our tour reservation booking and we got shuffled into a couple of different lines (although the shorter ones at least). While waiting to get our tickets, the kids got a bit of history about the Colosseum and the Romans. The kids also got a lesson on roman numerals which Astrid thoroughly enjoyed, as did some of the people (not in our group) in the line behind us. One of the more interesting things we also learnt was how the Colosseum used to be known as the Flavian amphitheatre and how the name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby (the statue of Nero was named after the Colossus of Rhodes).
Finally, 45 minutes after our tour started, we had our tickets and were in the line for security screening. We were doing better than some of the people who looked like they were in for a 2 or 3 hour wait.
Once we were standing inside the Colosseum, we noticed the stone walls are quite black. Apparently the outside of the Colosseum has been cleaned in the last few years, but the inside is still being worked on. We learnt that the whole Colosseum used to be covered in marble. The marble has been stripped over the centuries and it’s now all over other parts of Rome.
Once inside we went up to level 2 and saw across to where the gladiator training school had been located and learnt about the life of a gladiator and how they were trained.
Soon it was time to head out into the main arena. The Colosseum was built in around 8 years and was completed in 80 AD, fairly impressive given the size. Amazing what can get done when you have endless slaves at your disposal! The seating area is huge. The Colosseum would hold up to 80,000 spectators, and there were generally over 60,000 at any given time.
Alessendra ran through the different areas people sat in, including the luxurious emperors seating area, the areas for the plebs and where the vestal virgins were located.
We learnt how gladiators didn’t actually fight animals (they only fought other gladiators). It was actually hunters who fought animals. For entertainment the Romans would also get different combinations of animals to fight each other, like ostriches and giraffes……… just to see what happened. The number of animals they used was phenomenal, it was not a good time to be an animal in Rome…… On the day of the Colosseum launch they killed 9,000 animals alone!
There were special lifts that were constructed to take animals to the arena, they were even constructed to accommodate the giraffes! When they weren’t executing animals, the gladiators were fighting each other. It was also common for them to use the Colosseum for executions. The executions were often timed for lunch so that the Romans could come in to eat their lunch and watch and execution or two.
Much of the original ground area has been destroyed but there is a stage reconstruction over some of the underground area. There was also a reconstruction of some of the lifts.
We had a wander around through the ‘winners gate’ and saw the ‘losers exit’. You most definitely did not want to be going out the losers exit.
Luckily we got to go through the winners gate today! The kids had a colouring activity, and all did a fantastic job with their Colosseums. They also got some gladiator crowns which were a massive hit with both Astrid and Soren.
We spent a reasonable amount of time wandering through the Colosseum. It was amazing to be walking around something so enormous and old. The pictures really don’t do it justice. It is definitely set-up as a tourist attraction these days, there is even a gift shop inside, but if you are in Rome, you really do need to go at least once. If it weren’t for the fact that we had to move onto the Forum and it was pretty packed inside the Colosseum, we could have spent longer there.
Poor old Soren was a bit disappointed we had to leave before we saw the lions! He was convinced we were going to see some lions fighting, despite our assurances to the contrary……
As we left the Colosseum for our walk over to the Forum we went past a group of runners, out training for an event. On Sundays the roads all around the Colosseum and Forum are closed to traffic so it was an easy area to walk around (crowds aside) and popular for joggers.
There are 2 main entrances to the Forum and Alessandra took us to the one that was supposedly quieter (it was further away) and involved a fairly ineffective security screen. It did mean we were inside fairly quickly as there was barely any line at that entrance.
The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza that was the political, administrative and religious centre of Ancient Rome. The area of the Forum is approximately 250m x 170m but is a confusing (but impressive) array of ancient buildings and archaeological excavations.
We learnt that the Forum was only discovered approximately 200 years ago but most of it was built before the Colosseum. The forum is now well below street level but was at street level in ancient times. Standing inside the Forum you are now quite away below street level.
There are countless hours (or probably days) of areas to discover within the Forum and probably years worth of learning. Our tour was only covering a few key areas and then we were free to wander around at our own leisure.
We started by learning about the church of the Emperor and his wife and some history about Palatine Hill. The kids were enjoying the stories but the sun was now rather bright and high in the sky and we were all getting a bit hot and sweaty. Soren had decided he’d had enough walking and standing around for the day and requested an ergo ride……..
Alessandra filled us in on the story of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, whose story was important in the founding of both the city and Roman kingdom. We also checked out the original Senate building, which was quite impressive. One of the more interesting stories was about how the Romans used to claim that they never killed the vestal virgins but instead just buried them alive when they fell out of favour!
At 12pm our tour ended and we bid farewell to Alessandra and the other tour members. The kids had enjoyed all the stories and definitely got more out of it than a regular tour but were pretty much at the end of their attention span at this stage, so it was probably good timing.
We were now free to wander around the Forum and Palatine Hill. Alessandra had pointed out a few areas we might want to visit first. Soren was now napping in the ergo on Anto’s back but we set off for a bit of a wander as we hadn’t yet covered too much ground in the vast sprawl of ruins.
The enormous columns and ancient ruins were impressive. Some were better preserved than others and it was interesting seeing how the buildings changed as they had been added to and amended through the centuries.
There is very little signage throughout the Forum so those with a good background in Roman history probably had an advantage. We enjoyed wandering around and commented that it would have been amazing to see this while actually studying ancient history at school!
Soren blissfully napped in the ergo while the rest of us were getting hotter by the second. You could easily spend days wandering around the ruins but we were getting rather hungry and needed some time out of the sun so we decided to head out find some lunch. Our ticket allowed us to re-enter the Forum later in the day but we figured we’d probably exhausted the kids attention span and we’d have to return on another trip to Rome in the future.
There were plenty of food establishments quite close to the Colosseum and Forum but everything was already rather busy, with people out enjoying a sunny Sunday lunch. A few more streets further away we found a quiet place that wasn’t too insanely expensive.
All a bit hungry after a big morning of walking we were keen for some food. We ordered some antipasti – meats and cheeses, plus a fried antipasti (arancini balls, olive and cheese balls and vegie fritters) and a quattro fromagio pizza. The pizza was not as good as many of the others on the trip but the fried antipasti was pretty impressive.
By the time we finished the restaurant was packed with other hungry diners. Despite being weary and in need of a sit down and some gelato, we decided to make the most of our last afternoon in Rome and do a little more sightseeing
As we walked back down to the metro station we had one last look at the Colosseum. They are building a new metro line right next to the Colosseum and Forum, which seems crazy given there are other lines near by. We were amused by the fact that the construction has been horribly delayed as they keep finding roman ruins, paintings and buildings. Who would have thought?
We decided to cut down on some walking and caught the metro one stop over to Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. Circus Maximus is situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. Circus Maximus was 621m long and 118m wide.
It was now rather warm out so we had a quick look. It was interesting to look at, and is again very strange that it’s just in the middle of a city! The area is now preserved as a park and is open to the public.
Back into the metro station, where we caught a quick metro to Termini and then a bus, which was a slightly quicker and quieter than our bus experience the previous day. The bus took us through some of the same areas we’d walked through previously and then down towards the river Tiber. It’s here we got off, and headed in the direction of Castel Sant’Angelo.
By now it was almost 3pm and it was pretty warm as we wandered over the bridge. Castel Sant’Angelo is also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian and was initially commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The building has since been used as both a fortress and a castle and is now a museum.
We had been keen to pay Castel Sant’Angelo a quick visit but once we got there the line was huge, snaking a fair way back from the entrance. We lined up briefly but we were rapidly losing enthusiasm and the kids were rather tired.
We decided that instead of another hour or two in a line, we’d instead enjoy the sunshine and took a walk along the Tiber River up to walk up towards the Vatican for a quick squiz.
As we only had a little over 2.5 days of sight-seeing time in Rome on this trip, we’d decided not to include Vatican City on our must-see list. We both had things we were more interested in seeing in the short time frame and the kids were not going to be that enthusiastic about anything in Vatican City. However, given we were now in the neighbourhood we did have a little walk up towards the Vatican. Even from a distance we could see the lines!
We noticed everyone was walking around with Olive branches and there were a lot of people in Military uniforms that appeared to be heading off to mass. Then we realised it was Palm Sunday. There were so many olive branches being carried around that the buses and metro smelt of olives!
Soren was well and truly ready for a nap. Both kids were literally falling over they were so tired. After about the 5th time we picked up one of them from the road after tripping over, in as many minutes, we decided to catch a bus back to the apartment and call it a day.
Despite the efficient metro system we again waited awhile for the bus that was supposed to arrive, so we ended up getting a different one for a few stops to a metro station avoiding a 2km walk in the hot sun. After a quick metro back to the Spanish Steps it was a short walk back to our apartment. There was of course a stop past our gelato shop to replenish some of the energy we’d expended for the day. Astrid also wanted to say goodbye to the apartments named in her honour!
Todays gelato flavours were strawberry, coconut and limoncello. It was inhaled so quickly I didn’t even get a photo. I don’t think we’d had a bad gelato from that store! Sadly after 3 days we didn’t even come close to trying all the flavours.
By now it was close to 5pm and the kids were over everything, when gelato causes meltdowns you know the day is done! We decided to have dinner in the apartment and an early night. Anto whipped us up another home cooked meal with left over pasta and salad from the previous night, and some calamari and fish for the meat eaters. Then the children were sentenced to bed before an early trip out to the airport for our flight to Sardinia.
Our 3 days in Rome had been enjoyable, but busy. Given our short time-frame we’d covered off a lot of sight-seeing in a short-time with kids in tow, but there is plenty still to see on a return visit in future years. Plus plenty of gelato still to be tried! Luckily we still had 9 more days in Italy, and plenty of riding to do to work it all off….
Daily statistics for Sunday 9 April 2017 in Rome, Italy – the temperature range for the day was 9 to 23 degrees and very bright and sunny! The total walking for the day was 11.2km.
Up next, we were off to the beautiful Alghero in Sardinia before the start of our next cycling adventure…..