Sunday, October 19, 2008

Note da Italia : Il Colosseo

Il Colosseo, Roma: The Colosseum, Rome

I am not one to document travelogues since I think it takes a lot of observation and a place worthy of being mentioned. Despite having seen a good part of the world over the last decade, I have found it particularly challenging to write about my travels mainly because of the effort it takes in penning something that does justice to the place itself. That said, when I recently visited Italy for a week, it became almost impossible not to share my visions in the form of words just because of the grandeur I witnessed in Rome and Pisa. Hence the series – Note da Italia – which will be a 4 part series that documents the highlights of my journey. Here is the first part – The Colosseum. Please click on the photographs for a larger view.

Il Colosseo, Roma: The Colosseum, Rome

The first time I recall hearing of the Colosseum (Colosseo in Italian) was when the buzz for the movie ‘Gladiator’ started making the rounds. Scenes of a burly Maximus taking on a ferocious tiger as thousands in the audience cheer on under the watchful gaze of a Emperor Commodus made their appearance. As much as I enjoyed watching the much acclaimed movie, oddly enough, it never really sunk in as to how gigantic and amazing a engineering feat this monument really was until I stepped into it a few days ago.

The first thing that hit me was its size. Oh – the size of it! No man-made structure I have seen, maybe with the fair exception of the Taj Mahal, has been this huge in its construction and attention to detail. Clearly, the Colosseo was a key point in the grand Roman Empire that gave the world so many architectural wonders during its reign. Situated in the heart of Rome, the Colosseo is surrounded by various bustling streets and other buildings that look like a super-downsized miniature when compared to this structure. See the satellite image of the structure below.

Right outside the obviously visible Colosseo is The Arch of Constantine. Constantine was the emperor who brought an air of peace to a Rome that had been filled with civil war on and off for a hundred years. He gained power by defeating the emperor Maxentius in the famous battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. The arch was built for Constantine by the Senate and people of Rome in 315 CE to commemorate his victory over Maxentius. The arc creates a wonderful symbolic welcome message for visitors as they note the background being covered with the Colosseo as the foreground is lit with the Arc of Constantine. A great way to juxtapose one magnificent monument over the other.

Once past the arc, it hits you that you are present at one of the most historically relevant sites on the planet. The sheer magnitude of stories, voices, whispers and shadows that engulfs you at the sight of the Colosseo is breathtaking. It is hard to treat the structure as one more ‘tourist spot’ because of the way it is designed. There is a general tendency for the unsuspecting visitor to label almost everything on the tour as ‘great’ or ‘awesome’ but the Colosseo needs no such descriptors. The remains of what was once one of the most powerful empires on Earth becomes very apparent as one approaches the monumental edifice.

Despite the fact that a lot of the building has gone through intensive renovation, there are still hints of what used to be part of a magical time. As I continued exploring the main arena of the Colosseo inside, I could not help but picture the thousands of events, fights, gory battles and the endless crescendo of a roaring audience that had once occupied the very seats we now stood taking photographs on. It was nothing short of a revelation to note the deeply clear concepts of engineering, design and mathematics Romans had when they had attempted to create this amphitheater. The ruins of the walls that once housed gladiators and fierce animals, now stood bare to the so called ‘civil’ world who will probably never fully understand the psyche of an empire that was built both on brains and definitely beauty.

As I walked out of the arena into a mirage of fake gladiators waiting to be posed with and mobile souvenir shops that were out to swindle the foreigner, I smiled at myself as the words came back – Wealth conquered Rome after Rome had conquered the world”. True, Rome was definitely not built in a day.


4 reflections:

Anonymous said...

Very informative! ...thnq for sharing...
warm rgds

shakri said...


Thank you! I am glad you found the piece informative. Will be posting 2 more sets on the Vatican and Pisa. :)



Madhura said...

Enjoyed reading short descriptions and the pictures of The colosseum. Me too got back the images of the Gladiator movie. Passing on to the next post....

shakri said...


Thanks Madhura for the gracious comments. Glad you enjoyed reading the piece.