The morning sun shone on the recently washed walls of the Colosseum as I waited for my tour to start. Having a habit of getting lost I arrived early, but was greeted with a smile and checked in by the Walks of Italy representative who informed me my tour would start in about 15 minutes.
While I waited I watched the locals, dressed as gladiators, call at the tourists trying to lure them in for photos. They looked like a poor imitation of the gladiators of old, or at least how I pictured them. It’s hard to know how things were thousands of years ago, but I would soon get a better picture of ancient Rome with the help of my guide and my tour with Walks of Italy.
Our tour, VIP Caesar’s Palace Tour with Colosseum and Roman Forum, started right on time at 9:15. Our guide, Luigi, introduced himself to our small group of 13 as another representative from the company handed each of us a radio set and headphones. It wasn’t something I thought of, but I was incredibly grateful for it throughout the tour in the busy, noisy crowd.
We started our tour in the Colosseum, moving quickly through the entry line as Luigi already had our tickets for us. As we entered the monument Luigi explained how the seating worked in the past; that is was based on social hierarchy and the most important people, such as the senators and of course the Emperor, sat at the bottom, closer to the action. Those of lesser stations sat higher up and had their own separate entry ways and staircases so not to come across those of higher status.
As we walked through the ancient ruins Luigi told us how it really was in the past; with marble and travertine floors and stairs. Massive columns, the remains of which you can find on the ground level today, lining the top level, and a cloth roof that was, amazingly, semi-retractable. It turns out that the Colosseum wasn’t even originally called the Colosseum, but was given the name because, once upon a time, there was a giant bronze sculpture of the Colossus outside. Sadly today the statue is no longer there; no doubt destroyed for the copper long ago.
Luigi painted a picture for us about how it used to be; how the gladiators had separate armour and weapons for their introductions instead versus the fighting. How there were decorative displays and sets created for the events, for example tigers would call for Asian-inspired backgrounds, and how important attending these events were in Roman society and ideology.
Luigi pointed out details I probably never would have noticed myself; remains of artwork on the ceilings, the difference in the original materials used on the floor, and even an original iron bar embedded deep into one of the columns. One of the comments I found most interesting was that the best ruins are those that are in the worst shape now; meaning that they have been destroyed and torn apart because, in times past, they were beautiful, ornate, masterpieces.
After taking us to the best photo spots, and being incredibly patient in letting us all get in our mandatory photos, Luigi took us to our next stop: the Roman Forum. Again, as we entered the ruins of the Forum Luigi told us what it was like in the past; a bustling, busy centre full of people, business, and politics. We walked through the streets of Ancient Rome, learning about the temples, and seeing the place where Julius Caesar was burned, and where Marc Antony made his famous speech.
Our final stop was the VIP section, not available to the average tourists: Caesar’s Palace. I will admit, I felt a little important going through the secure area when everyone not on our tour had to stay behind the gates. As we walked past the remains of the original Rome we entered the grounds of the house of Agustus Caesar, Julius Caesar’s nephew, and his wife and empress Livia.
It was a little hard to believe that we were actually walking through the halls where the emperor and empress walked. We went into the private home, and public home, exploring the rooms which, amazingly, still had paint detail. The best part? We had it totally to ourselves, just 15 of us (including the guides) which meant there was no pushing and shoving to see things or take photos. It was great.
Our final stop was Octavuis Agustus’s wife, Livia’s house. When he passed she could no longer live in their house as it was the emperor’s house, so she had her own in the same compound. Again it was incredible how much of the original paint and design remained on the walls- colours still intact, even if they were a little faded. Luigi pointed out certain details, including water pipes which had been found underground as well. Pretty incredible.
Our tour ended as we left Livia’s hours; 3.5 hours of amazing sites and great stories and explanations that, if I explored on my own, I never would have learned. Being an ancient history nerd, I loved every minute of it.
If you’d like to go be sure to book the VIP Caesar’s Palace with Colosseum and Roman Forum online, tickets are 79 euro per person.
Please note: A discussion with the representative at Caesar’s Palace indicated that this area may not be open much longer due to high costs and not enough staff. So if you are interested in this aspect of the tour- book fast!
Huge thank you to Walks of Italy who hosted me for this tour. However, as always, all opinions are my own.