Delving into the history of ancient Rome, through visiting the Roman Forum and the Colosseum

Tour Company: Italy Wonders
Meeting point: Google Map Via Frangipane, 30
Type: Walking tour – easy going apart from some steps to reach Palentine Hill. It can be extremely hot so take water (which you can fill for free at one of the many free water fountains in Rome)
Prices: €50 per person for a 3-hour tour. There are some additional tour options that are a little more pricey

There were many things that drew us to Rome; the culture, the food and the history. As usual, when we visit somewhere new, I like to plan and research to make the most of the time we have during our time. There are some iconic things to see and do in Rome, one of which is the Colosseum. So, I explored the Internet and found some combination tours of the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and after a bit more research I decided upon a tour with Italy Wonders. We opted for the small group 3 hour tour, which was a little expensive at €50 per person but it is worthwhile paying not only for the informative guides but simply to skip the massive queues for these sites, especially in the summer months. Getting into the Colosseum and Roman Forum is inexpensive but you easily spend an hour or two waiting to get in, which would not be much fun in the blistering summer heat!

We met our guide Silvia at the meeting point with the rest of our small group of fellow travellers. It was still relatively early in the day, around 9:30 am but the temperature was already getting uncomfortable. Silvia explained we would first tour the Roman Forum, for around 90 minutes before heading off to the Colosseum, where we had an entry time of around 11:30 am.

Once the centre of public and political life in Ancient Rome, the Forum is now the most impressive archaeological site in Rome, attracting more than 4.5 million visitors every year. Located close to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill in the historic centre of Rome, the Forum is a sprawling labyrinth of ancient ruins, including the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Titus and the House of the Vestals.

The site of the Roman Forum was originally marshland. It was drained using the Cloaca Maxima – one of the world’s first sewage systems – and converted into a public meeting space and marketplace, known as the Comitium.

Around the 5th century BC, the area gradually expanded and transformed into the Forum, through the construction of important temples such as the Temple of Saturn. It became the centre of public and political life in the city, the site of important ceremonies, trials and public speeches. Over the centuries it also became the location of some of the most important buildings and monuments in Rome, from the Senate House to the Arch of Titus.

During the medieval era, the area fell into disrepair, and large parts of the Forum were covered by debris and silt from the flooding Tiber river. It became known as the Campo Vaccino (“cattle field”), and the remains of ancient buildings were taken and used for the construction of feudal towers, castles and buildings such as St Peter’s Basilica. They were very much into recycling in those days!

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Forum was rediscovered. In 1803 the archaeologist Carlo Fea started to clear the area, and excavation work has been continuing ever since.

Our exploration started in the lower level of the Forum where there are ruins of civic buildings and ancient temples including the occupied by the Vestal Virgins, who women priestesses to the goddess of Hearth, Vesta, in Ancient Rome. The main duty they must perform was to guard the fire of Vesta. With this, they would be endowed with many honours and rights that a normal female would not have at that time. If the fire of Vesta went out for any reason they were in big trouble!

From the Roman Forum, we climbed to the top of Palatine Hill, which is the centremost of the Seven Hills of Rome and is one of the most ancient parts of the city. It rises to around 40m (about 120 feet) above the Roman Forum and offers amazing views across the ruins.

From the Roman Forum, it is a short skip, hop and jump to the Colosseum. By the time we arrived the crowds had swelled and it was crazy around the entrance to the site. It was at this point we realised the real value of having booked a “skip-the-lines” tour. We still had to wait for the allotted time to go in, which gave us some time to catch up with our guide Silvia. Rather than talk about ancient Roman society, our discussions focused more on current affairs as she openly spoke about the state of Italy and its mismanagement by the government!

The Roman Colosseum or Coliseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian. It was completed by his son, Titus, in 80, with later improvements by Domitian. This amphitheatre is made up of 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank. Built of travertine, tuff, and brick-faced concrete, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Elliptical in shape, the Colosseum is 188m long and 156 wide. Originally 240 masts were attached to stone corbels on the 4th level from which a covering was stretched across to form a roof to protect the spectators from the heat of the sun.

Original artist impression

Today, the Colosseum is a shadow of its former self. Some of the original travertine has been removed and recycled for use in other buildings across Rome and in places brick support walls have been built to re-enforce infrastructure. There is a lot of work that continues to this day in renovating the Colosseum and there is plenty of archaeological activity, especially in the main arena area. There is a sense of urgency about the archaeological work as the Italian government is bent on making the Colosseum a venue for events, such as concerts. This is highly controversial, especially among modern-day citizens of Rome, who are concerned about the impact of vibrations from people and speakers on this delicate building.

With some imagination, you can picture how grandiose the Colosseum was in its day, but I for some reason had in my mind’s eye that it was more complete and had more of its original features than it actually does. Nonetheless, it is still an impressive sight and was well worth the time to visit.