Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Break in the Weather

Last night I slept in my winter jamas, not that you need to know that, but it is a sign that the weather has been utterly abysmal. Child number 3, post-GCSEs, has had five cricket matches and two tennis matches scheduled over a nine-day period and, day 8 as I write, has managed one tennis and one cricket though he tells me his team won both so I imagine things could be worse.

Last weekend, however, we (my beloved and I plus 24 other guests) skipped off to Rome for the weekend to celebrate a certain 40th birthday. It was blisteringly hot and, after the summer we have had so far, a real shock - in a good way - to the system. The birthday boy had smartly organised meals altogether in the evening and left the days to do as we pleased. An excellent choice because this left us with the opportunity to do some very selective sightseeing (because this is our third trip to Rome) and some very pleasant eating and drinking.

For me, the great thing about Rome is that you can do the Vatican/churches thing (not for me this time), the capital city buzz thing including restaurants, shops and bars (need I elaborate?) or the Roman history thing. Now the last is a big favourite and if I list the top historical sites so far visited in the world, the Colosseum is right up there. For the sake of completeness and in no particular order, the others are Hampton Court, Tower of London, the Temple at Karnak and Abu Simbel in Egypt.

The one place I really wanted to revisit in Rome was the Colosseum because it just blows me away every time. How they even built it, without cranes and proper scaffolding amazes me, but human life was cheap and dying on the job an occupational hazard, particularly for slaves. On this occasion, we went with a guide who was not worried about making his charges stand in the sun or, more kindly, sit in the shade whilst he made the place come alive for us. Once I get into the zone, the millions of other footfalls are stripped away and I imagine how it must have been when the Colosseum was the greatest spectacle in the greatest city in the world.

At the time when the Roman Empire was at its height, not only did the Romans control most of the known world, but 2% of the world's population lived in Rome - something unimaginable with today's huge population but it nevertheless made Rome THE PLACE. Whether you were rich and powerful in another corner of the Roman Empire, or poor and hoping to better your lot, Rome was a magnet the world over. And in Rome, the biggest attraction was the Colosseum.

Ancient Rome as it was then
It's hard to imagine a world without multi-media communication and having so much knowledge about places we have never been to, but try to think what it would be like to live in Britannia anytime between AD43 and AD410 and to arrive in Rome and see animals like lions and elephants - it would surely be like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They would literally have appeared to be creatures from another planet. Of course, if you arrived at the Colosseum and you were a slave, you would probably be in the dark labyrinth of corridors and cells under the arena and your visit might well be your first and your last.

But to be in the huge crowds that were drawn to the amazing spectacle, to be amongst those watching the animals fight, and then the gladiators - the rock stars of their day; to be, along with the Emperor, choosing life or death for the losers by the flick of a thumb - that surely must have been an experience beyond anything in our sophisticated world.

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