2022 Summer Blog Historical Sites Mick Guile Nature Temple Rome

Path of a gladiator: exploring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum

There are so many gorgeous historical sites and museums in Rome that finding a way to visit them all—or even a substantial amount of them—in the span of six weeks felt almost impossible. The Vatican, the Trevi Fountain and countless art exhibitions were scattered around my bucket list, but the one place I was determined to visit was the Colosseum.

I guess as a criminal justice major and a fan of the true crime genre, I’m naturally drawn to things that are a little gruesome, so I took an interest in the Colosseum right away. Even aside from the games that occurred at the Colosseum, I was fascinated by the round shape of the building. It looked almost like a football stadium that you would see back in the United States, despite the entertainment being of an entirely different variety. 

I went to buy my tickets for the Colosseum soon after arriving in Rome, and found that the Colosseum visit was paired with a visit to the Roman Forum, which was just a few minutes away on foot from the Colosseum. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was, if I’m being honest, but looking back, I think that’s the fun in learning: not knowing things!

A picture overlooking the inside of the Colosseum. The lower level as well as several groups of tourists can be scene.
Even looking at this picture now, it’s almost impossible to believe that I actually had the privilege of seeing these amazing ruins.

As it turns out, I didn’t know that much about the Colosseum, either. Aside from knowing that gladiators battled there for sport, my knowledge of the Colosseum was next to zero. I listened to the audio guide with a friend as we walked around, and we looked at each other every now and then during particularly shocking moments of the audio. We were both in disbelief when we heard about the animal hunts that took place, where animals imported from Africa, such as rhinos, bears, and leopards, were released into the arena from below so that gladiators could hunt them in front of the crowd to obtain glory. On the other hand, when gladiators fought one another instead of animals, the loser would be given the chance to ask for mercy, and the crowd could either allow him to escape or cheer for his death.

Even more interestingly macabre to me was the usage of the Colosseum for public executions. The concept of public executions exists even in the United States, especially throughout history, but imagining it happening in a theater-like setting such as the Colosseum was beyond my comprehension. I was reflecting on the culture behind such battles and executions for a while after I left, wondering what it was about humanity that allowed such things to be acceptable, and what had changed.

The Roman Forum provided more historical context around Ancient Rome, albeit a less violent context. I learned once I got there that the Roman Forum was something like a plaza, a place where everyday public activities took place near a cluster of government buildings. I could see something similar happening in the present day, too, watching all of the other people touring moving throughout the space in groups or alone. It felt like a little city all on its own.

A picture of the gardens at the Roman Forum.
A beautiful landscape! I wanted to lay back and daydream.

However, there were other parts of the Forum, such as the gardens, that were so much quieter. Here, it didn’t feel like a city at all. I felt (and still feel) the strongest urge to grab a notebook, sit down on a slab of stone or in the grass, and just listen to music and watch the sky. The air was so still that I almost felt bad for talking. I would have loved to see the Forum at night; I had a vivid daydream of living there in one of the nearby ruins of houses, going to sleep and waking up surrounded by that open air.

Once we left the garden area, the foot traffic picked up a little more, and it felt once more like we were walking through a “living” city. We passed by fountains, large decorative structures, and the ruins of government buildings as we went. After a steep climb up a cobblestone path, we came to a perch where we could overlook the rest of Rome, pointing out the Vatican and the Colosseum as we went. 

A person standing in front of a seagull, hands raised mid-speech.
Having a conversation with a seagull at the Roman Forum. He didn’t seem too interested…

Visiting the Colosseum and the Roman Forum made me more aware of architecture and historical cultures, whereas I was mostly in the dark and uninterested in them before. It was like I’d hopped in a time machine. I kept imagining what it would be like to live in Ancient Rome, to stroll around the Roman Forum before heading to the Colosseum to see one of the many events they held there. 

I still wouldn’t call myself a history buff or anything, but I do wish I’d had time to learn even more interesting things about Ancient Roman culture, or even to learn more about the changes that led Rome to be what it is today while still retaining its charm. I hope to find out even more about the life of Ancient Romans if I ever get to go back!

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