Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rome: A Low Point. How low? Hypogeum low!

I have visited the Colosseum each time I have visited Rome. How can you not be drawn to this glorious and passionate feat of engineering? As my previous visit was in 2007, however, I had still not visited the Hypogeum as it was not yet open to the public. Hypogeum means "underground", literally, and in this case it means the underground of the Colosseum. Clearly the Hypogeum tour was no downer - but it was a very low vantage point.

I did some research and found the website to order tickets directly from Coop Culture.

I selected the first tour of my first full day in Rome. Since it was at 940 AM, it still gave me the opportunity to sleep until 730 AM (which is sleeping in, for me) and have a leisurely breakfast and still make it to the Colosseum in plenty of time.

Our tour guide showed up and handed each of us a small one way radio. There were perhaps 20 people there and she knew we would be scurrying around during parts of the tour (the above ground parts, there is no scurrying below ground) and so we had her radio voice to tell us what we were looking at. Naturally I was working my camera during all of this and I only have two hands, so if I wasn't near her I missed the descriptions.

The tour starts on the large wooden stage/platform while she described the setup of the Colosseum and some of the engineering/architectural finds. From this vantage point you can look down and peer directly into the tunnels below. You also are standing at the vantage point of the gladiators and the poor hapless animals who were meant to fight to the death. As you look at my various photos posted and see how tiny people look up in the stands you will be able to see the scale of the Colosseum.

More views from the platform:

After we wandered around the wooden platform for a while she took us outside the Colosseum in order to descend the stairwell to the Hypogeum. It is, of course, very dark and dank but naturally nothing like it must have been when it was in use when there was no natural light and needed to have burning lamps for light. For starters, now, there is a lot of fresh air coming in because it's almost entirely exposed but for the initial part which was still under the stage. It would have been, during the summer, hot, sweaty, close, oppressive, noisy and probably unbearable. But bear it they did.

Even though it is very open you still get a sense for the maze of tunnels it was. You don't get to wander very far, in fact, we barely walked out into the uncovered area as it was roped off. Perhaps at a different time they might let you go farther out into the (now open) tunnels.

The guide pointed out the sewer and the interesting findings from them as well as discussing the challenges in excavating them. Apparently archeologists get very excited by sewers because you can tell a great deal about a culture by its waste. And the Colosseum was definitely a micro-culture. They found a variety of animal bones which could even have been food for the crowds, not necessarily animals fighting each other (such as chickens). For that matter, I'd suspect given the roles the Colosseum played over the years a number of the animal remains could have been meals for squatters later in the life of the Colosseum, too.

She pointed out in a few places the evidence of the elevators which were lifts operated by ropes and pulleys. Later she talked about the tunnels under the Colosseum which led to the Ludus Magnus (gladiator school) nearby. I kept picturing in my mind a present day large sports stadium, and imagining some future society trying to explore such a superdome sports stadiums and trying to piece together what a Super Bowl must have been like - or our culture in general. Makes you wonder how close to the truth they would be, those future archeologists.

I also found it so compelling to think of this massive and complex engineering marvel being constructed at the time it was. Think of how primitive the tools were and how this building has withstood the rot of centuries. Back to a present day superdome - can you see one of those lasting even 100 years, especially if it was left to rot?

Think of who walked here:

And through here:

Some more photos from down below:

Finally, you get access to yet another area that isn't open to the general public - the nosebleed seats. You climb up to the very top, on the side that faces the forum. What a view from up there! You are so high you are looking down on the Forum - taller than the Arch of Titus, and just about taller than the Arch of Constantine. I snapped a number of shots up here, too. Can you see San Giovanni in Laterano?

More photos from the nosebleed seats:

In looking at some photos I had taken in 2004 I noticed that there used to be a walkway from the stage to the other side which went straight over the middle and now it appears to be gone. I wonder when they took that out, and why.  Below is present day - about ten years ago there was a walkway going straight across. 

Other photos from around the Colosseum:


Anonymous said...

What an excellent, interesting tour!

BaileyZimmerman said... interesting.... how long was the tour?

Elizabeth said...

Hi Linda and Yvonne!

The tour was around 90 minutes. Maybe half of that was actually underground. The platform is a unique area to visit - you are actually at the level the gladiators would be - and then the highest high point is also a new area recently opened.

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