Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Trip to Rome - part 3

Day Eight: Wednesday 31/12--We slept, had breakfast, got up, and left. Of course only Daddy and Mommy got up (to drive) and when we all woke up, we were back at Rome. We decided not to miss the Colosseum again, and be one of the first ones there. We knew it opened at eight-thirty so shot for being there by then (and we didn't forget the identity card), and soon were inside the 2000 year old arena. (We being me, Becky, Christopher, and Nathalie, because the others had left us as last time.) They had left us all day, to see the Sistine Chapel, the catacombs, Saint Peter's Basilica, and the Colosseum. Little did we know how rapidly we would "see" the Sistine Chapel!...

Many greetings! This is Becky taking over. We walked to the Colosseum and were allowed to skip the line because we took an "Audio Guide". It's a little Palm-like device that gives explanations about different areas in the Colosseum (we had used the same technological gimmick at Pompeii). We were given a little map of the place, and, by typing into the Audio guide certain numbers indicated on the map, we could listen to diverse commentaries.

First of all, about the name. The Colosseum, built by Vespasian and finished by his son Titus, between 70 and AD 80, was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater. It gained its name of Colosseum during the Dark Ages because of a very large statue of the Emperor Nero which had stood nearby. This statue was called the Colossus, meaning the giant. There is nothing left of it today except the marble base (which isn't there), although the place where it stood is still marked by a clump of trees. The real name of the Colosseum, Flavian Amphitheater, derives from both Vespasian and Titus' family name: Flavius.

The Colosseum was originally capable of seating about 80,000 spectators, an enormous number, considering that the average modern theater in Broadway can seat a mere 1,000 (see Wikipedia).

Once inside the Colosseum, we could see the different parts of it. Most of the seats are no longer visible (because they aren't there!). There were different levels of seats depending on the social status of the spectators. The senators were on the lowest level; each senator had his own personal seat, with his name engraved on the marble wall in front of him that separated him from the arena. The next level up was for other patricians (nobles). Then there was a place for the plebeians, and, last of all, way up at the top, a level for slaves and the like. Needless to say, the Emperor had his own lodge, as did the Vestal virgins (priestesses to Vesta).

The Colosseum had a whole underground complex which was called the "hypogeum". This contained cells where the prisoners (Christians, for example) and wild animals for the games were kept. There were also lifts, operated hydraulically, by means of which wild animals, actors or the like could be brought on stage suddenly, in the middle of the arena (through a trap door). It seemed like magic, and must have been most entertaining.

Today the wooden floor that covered the hypogeum and served as the stage (the arena) has decayed long since. Nothing is left it and the hypogeum is thus exposed to view. To give an idea of what it was like with the arena, however, part of it has now been rebuilt over the hypogeum.

It is an interesting fact that the word "arena"means "sand" in Latin. The stage—or central floor of the Colosseum, where the spectacles took place—was called this way simply because it was covered with sand.

The Colosseum had a wonderful water system, a sort of built-in aqueduct complex. By means of it water was brought to the cells of the wild animals and prisoners and (to our amusement) to the senators, seated in the lower areas. We supposed that the senators might get thirsty during the long hours of the games, or perhaps hot, and so they could refresh themselves if they pleased, without having to go to the bothersome effort of bringing along a gourd of water to the show.

Anyway, the water system also enabled the flooding of the arena (before the hypogeum was built) in record time. Once the arena was full of water, they liked to launch mock naval battles—often reenactments of famous historical ones.

The Romans, wonderful organizers as always, had each of the 50,000 (a modest estimate) seats in the Colosseum identified carefully. Entry "tickets"(often pieces of broken earthenware) indicated the general area, the row and the number of the seat allotted to the recipient. Thus places could be indicated with great precision, and managers could know when the place was full and they must stop admitting spectators. Entrances were numerous and spread out all over in useful places. This made it possible to evacuate all the spectators from the Colosseum in record time, in case of emergency for example. It also avoided long waiting lines and "traffic jams" of spectators trying to get to their places or out of the Colosseum at the start and ending of the performances.

After that, we (Nathalie, Christopher, Claire and I) decided to set out on foot to see what we could see of the catacombs, St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. As it happened, we weren't to have much luck that day: it seemed that all public places of interest had agreed to a conspiracy along these lines: "When you see four people coming (three girls and one boy), all of them looking interested and in a hurry to get inside, be sure to do what you must to avoid their entry(require some ID they don't have, close suddenly for some unaccountable reason, etc.)." ;-)

Meanwhile, Daddy and Mommy went to a park with Christine and Olly, got them an ice cream, etc. On our way we all realized we were hungry, so we found a little grocery store and got a few things to eat. We then enjoyed an improvised lunch on a big bridge, in view of both St Peter's dome and the Pope's St Angelo fortress.

The first thing we found was St Peter's. It was really magnificent. The actual basilica is only part of it. In front of it there is a gigantic square, paved and surrounded by the two wings of the basilica: two long wings of columns with a statue at the top of each. In the background of the basilica, there is the dome, conceived by Michelangelo. Everything is of a sparkling white.

We didn't end up going inside the Basilica, because we thought it would be more worthwhile to see the inside of the Sistine Chapel which, we were told, was going to close soon. So we ran round the Vatican walls to the entrance marked "Cappella Sistina", and the first sight which greeted our eyes was a man standing in the entrance making large gestures with his hands and calling out: "Chiuso, chiuso!" (Closed!) Well, that was that, so we hurried back to St Peter's, only to find that that had closed too, in the meantime.

Oh well! we thought, never mind! We didn't come here only for that; we've seen St Peter's from the outside, and the inside of the Sistine chapel can be seen better on photos anyway, since the ceiling is so high up! We made the best of it and had a jolly good time anyway. :-)

We then resolved to do what we could to trick the catacombs ("i catacombe") into letting us in. ;-) The one problem was that they were a considerable distance from where we were. Everything went well, however. We took several buses and the underground and finally arrived at the Catacomb of St Sebastian, around 4 o'clock.

It was very interesting to walk around in there. You couldn't go down without a guide, but that's quite understandable since there are several miles and three floors of passageways and I expect you could easily get lost. The catacombs were simply the Christian graves. As you walk along the passages, you can see holes dug into the wall on either side of you. This is where they used to bury their dead. There is nothing macabre or gloomy about it at all; the corridors are lighted with torches and all the human remains have been removed to safety somewhere else.

Here's an excerpt from Claire's diary written that day: "It was a guided tour that lasted 20 minutes. We went down there with lots of other people. The rock on the walls (tuffa) was crumbly, and it would have been rather easy to dig some more tunnels. We saw the tomb of a little girl who died at three years and two days called Lucia, or was it Paula? There were inscriptions in Latin and Greek. Apparently, the catacombs of Rome only ever began in the Second Century."

The catacomb we visited was named after a martyr called Sebastian. The story goes that he was a young Roman soldier who became a Christian and was then killed by arrows by order of the Emperor Diocletian.

We had had a very good day and were getting tired. We found another bus and made our way back to the place of meeting agreed on with Mommy and Daddy that morning. In the camper, over a bowl of delicious food Mommy made for us, we told them of all our adventures. One specially fun thing about that day was that we had had to find our way and sort ourselves out all in Italian!

That evening we drove out onto the highway rest-stop as usual.

Day Nine: Thursday 01/01 — New year's day we drove and drove and drove, all the way from Rome to Serge's hotel (near St Maxime) in France! When we arrived at Serge's, we all went out together to a restaurant to make it special and to celebrate the new year and the successful trip. It was fun to be with Serge again. Daddy and I couldn't resist taking a buffalo steak, in memory of Raph, when we saw one on the menu!

Day Ten: Friday 02/01 — The last lap of driving had been very tiring for all the drivers, so next day we took it easier and simply drove from Serge's to the Hôtel des Volcans near Clermont-Ferrand. Next evening, when we arrived at the Hôtel des Volcans, Daddy took us all down to the restaurant there, also to celebrate. It was a very good restaurant and we all used our best behaviour. We had a very cozy evening . Thank you, Daddy!

Day Eleven: Saturday 03/01 — Next day we drove from Clermont-Ferrand to home. We arrived a little before lunch and so we ate with everybody, a very good lunch prepared by Camille. How good it felt to be home again; the old smells, the old sights and the people above all!

No comments:

Post a Comment