Italy: Day Four, Part Two ~ The Colosseum

After visiting the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Neptune, we returned to Rome and had a siesta and a shower. Our fourth day in Italy had been amazing and we even took our first train! After we rested, we went to dinner on the way to our evening Colosseum Night Tour with Walks of Italy. We were super excited about this tour because it began after dark and we would have exclusive access to areas that are normally closed to the public. And not having the site thronged with tourists was also very appealing.

Our Dinner View

We had a taxi drop us off at the piazza where we would be meeting our tour guide for the Colosseum Night Tour about 45 minutes before we were supposed to meet. After wandering up and down the street, we stopped at Antica for dinner and wine. We had an outdoor table and a great view of the scenery, so I shot a quick video.

Our Dinner View

iPhone 6S+

Dinner at Antica

The weather was nice and with the sun behind the horizon, it was much cooler. We sat together on the same side of the table so we could people watch. The wait staff was very responsive and we ordered ravioli for me and pizza for Curtis. The food was excellent!

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/3.5 | 1/320 | ISO 640

Dinner Together

Right as our food was delivered, I asked the lady at the table next to us to get a photo of me and Curtis together. We were so happy and relaxed!

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iPhone 6S+ | 4.2mm | f/2.2 | 1/17 | ISO 64

Curtis got a few shots of our surroundings too! Looking down the street…

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/10 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

From our table, looking across the street. People just walk out in front of cars. I like this image, there is a lot going on. You have the mom carrying her child, the couple crossing, then the lone Asian woman standing on the opposite side looking bored with life.

Nikon D700 | 95mm | f/7.1 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

There was a car full of undercover cops that stopped in front of our restaurant, popped in to get a to-go order, then went back out. This is one of the cops.

Nikon D700 | 98mm | f/7.1 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

And a panorama of the scene.

Samsung Galaxy 6

Piazza Venezia

After dinner we started heading over toward the Altar of the Fatherland to meet our tour guide. The piazza is flanked by the National Museum on the right and the Postazione del Vigile (which is a mobile command center) on the left.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/5.6 | 1/320 | ISO 400

Curtis made me pose in front of the Altar of the Fatherland (we would learn much more about this impressive place from our tour guide!).

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/10 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

Here is Curtis’s shot of the Altar of the Fatherland from far away.

Nikon D700 | 66mm | f/18 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

Altare della Patria

The Altar of the Fatherland, also known as the Altare della Patria, was our meeting place to meet our tour guide for the Colosseum Night Tour with Walks of Italy. It is quite an impressive monument! The locals hate it and refer to it as the Wedding Cake (as well as the False Teeth and English Soup) because it is glaringly white and has so many layers. Construction was completed in 1925 as a monument to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/3.2 | 1/200 | ISO 1600

Nighttime

By the time our tour started, the sun had set. (I’m sharing the next few pictures a little out of order because I wanted to keep all of the Altar of the Fatherland images together.) Seeing the monument at night is really breathtaking. You can get some sense of the scale by looking at the people scattered throughout the various levels.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/2 | 1/200 | ISO 1600

Curtis got a much closer shot of the monument. I love love love this shot, with the dark night sky and the people gathered around the base of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can see the horse statue in this shot. We learned that at the inauguration, they held a special dinner for dignitaries in the belly of the horse!

Nikon D700 | 55mm | f/4 | 1/200 | ISO 4000

Great close-up, isn’t it?

Nikon D700 | 105mm | f/4 | 1/200 | ISO 4000

Meeting Point

We were told to meet our tour guide on the right side of the Altar of the Fatherland near the fountain. We found our tour guide, Martina, and had a few minutes to wait for the rest of the group to arrive. I sat my camera down on the side of the fountain to get a long exposure shot of the water.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/9 | 1/10 | ISO 1600

Waiting for our Tour

While we were waiting, I got a video of the surroundings.

Wating for our Tour

iPhone 6S+

Curtis got some images while we were waiting too. Here is the base of the fountain looking up.

Nikon D700 | 34mm | f/4.5 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

The top of one of the many statues on the Altar of the Fatherland.

Nikon D700 | 120mm | f/4.5 | 1/500 | ISO 4000

Piazza Venezia at Night

We began our formal tour with Martina for the Colosseum Night Tour with Walks of Italy. We would begin by learning about Altar of the Fatherland, make our way to the ancient Roman Forum ruins, then walk to the Colosseum. This is a night shot of the piazza, opposite where I took my earlier image. We are standing in front of the monument looking back toward the restaurant where we had dinner.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/2 | 1/200 | ISO 1600

Roman Forum

It was totally dark as we arrived at the ancient Roman Forum ruins. This particular temple is called the Temple of Saturn, thought to have been built in 497 BC and is one of the oldest buildings still standing in the forum.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis’s version.

Nikon D700 | 48mm | f/4 | 1/15 | ISO 4000

Curtis got a wider view of the forum also.

 Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

And he got a close-up of the Temple of Saturn.

Nikon D700 | 48mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

This is the Arch of Septimius Severus built in 203 AD. We learned from Martina that under the arch was a prime location for markets. A barber claimed the space for his business and as the location was so valuable, he took up residence within the arch above… eventually cutting a hole in the side of the top (see the rectangle cut into the marble in the top???) so that he could look out and watch for marauders.

Nikon D700 | 48mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

Our Tour Group

Before we began walking to the Colosseum, I got this shot of our tour group listening intently to Martina’s history of the Roman Forum. I think our group had 20-25 people. Martina was an awesome tour guide. She had a very thick Italian accent with nearly every word ending with an “a” rising inflection at the end. It was darling!

Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

A Segue tour went by as we were standing near the Forum. Curtis got this shot of them!

Nikon D700 | 78mm | f/4 | 1/60 | ISO 4000

Via del Fori Imperiali

Walking to the Colosseum along the main boulevard, the Via del Fori Imperiali, there were many more ruins on both sides of the street. A street performer strums his guitar across the way.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

On our side of the street, we could hear the most gorgeous opera being sung by this beautiful woman. It was so dark, I didn’t get a shot, but Curtis snagged one as we walked by her.

Nikon D700 | 120mm | f/6.3 | 1/100 | ISO 4000

Colosseum at Night

We crossed the street and could see the Colosseum at the end of the street. It is striking at night!

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis got this great shot of the military trucks blocking the road near the Colosseum.

Nikon D700 | 92mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

Cyclists Only

As we approached the Colosseum, the military had the road barricaded with armed sentries standing guard. No traffic was allowed through except for pedestrians and cyclists.

Italy travel street photographerNikon D750 | 20mm | f/2 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Majestic Landmark

The Colosseum is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks in the world. It was definitely on my bucket list to see. Standing in front of it at night, looking up, I was awestruck with its size and how well preserved it is.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/2.5 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis’s version.

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

I tried to get a selfie, but it was just too dark. Curtis got one of me standing in front of the Colosseum but it was pretty dark. (He made me promise to share images of myself.)

Nikon D700 | 48mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

First Look Inside

Because the Colosseum was closed to the public, they allowed tour groups in at staggered times. We truly had each space to ourselves. Walking through the arches and standing in the hallway, I was overwhelmed by the size. It definitely reminds me of modern stadiums in how it flows.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/2.5 | 1/100 | ISO 2500

Curtis got a similar shot looking down the hallway.

Nikon D700 | 44mm | f/8 | 1/80 | ISO 4000

Dizzying History

Looking up to the night sky, I was overcome with the enormity of the history of this location. Constructed of sand and concrete between 72-80 AD, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Did you know it was actually covered? They had a complex system of pulleys to cover the top of the Colosseum with sailcloth to keep it shaded and cool.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis also got an image looking up. He could zoom in more. Parts of the Colosseum were lit with artificial lights (and thus have a more yellow tone)… this part was not lit.

Nikon D700 | 58mm | f/4 | 1/10 | ISO 4000

No Tourists

The Colosseum was empty and quiet. I would definitely recommend doing the Colosseum Night Tour with Walks of Italy. Being able to see these spaces without a bunch of people milling around was wonderful.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Hypogeum

We made our way to the center of the Colosseum. The arena was a wooden floor covered with sand and underneath was called the hypogeum. They partially reconstructed the arena floor (seen on the left) and left the remaining ruins exposed. The hypogeum was a complex network of cells, tunnels, staging areas, and elevator-type trap doors. Gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, executions, and mythology dramas were all held here.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Stations of the Cross

This is my favorite image from our tour of the Colosseum, and one of my overall favorites from our entire trip. In the 1700s, the Stations of the Cross were built around the arena. Today, the Pope continues the tradition by leading a public prayer here on Good Friday.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis also got a couple of shots of the cross!

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/50 | ISO 4000

I prefer this one because it is landscape orientation and tells more of a story.

Nikon D700 | 31mm | f/4 | 1/10 | ISO 4000

Women at the Top

In the Colosseum, the rich and influential people sat nearest the arena. Seating went up to the third level, with the wealthiest nearest the bottom, up to the top level which was standing room only… and this is where the women were relegated to watch the activities. Though some women were free, they were second-class citizens and not allowed to sit. The amphitheater sat 50,000-80,000 spectators total and everyone could attend for free.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Gladiators Through Here

This was the entrance in which the gladiators entered. Most were slaves trained to fight other gladiators and animals. Just beyond the street is a square where they trained (and we would learn the following day that Pompeii had an esteemed gladiator school on site). Contrary to popular belief, battles were not always fought to the death. Though the emperor had the final say whether a combatant lived or died, he would often let the crowd decide.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

This is one of Curtis’s shots of the different levels in the Colosseum.

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/25 | ISO 4000

Subterranean Network

The hypogeum was a complex network of tunnels, cells, and eight lifting platforms known as pegmata. In addition to gladiator battles with animals, slaves, and other gladiators (some were even women!), the arena was used to stage dramas, re-enactments of battles (they could even flood the arena to stage mock sea battles!), and executions. In later years, it was used for various purposes such a fortress, religious quarters, and a quarry.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

And Curtis’s version.

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/25 | ISO 4000

Taking it All In

Standing on the arena floor (reconstructed over part of the hypogeum), looking up at the seating, and glancing down through the archway where the gladiators entered, was a powerful moment. I took a minute to just be… to imagine the roar of the crowd, the feel the rapid pulse of the gladiator, to imagine the thirst for show. To know that 400,00 of lives were lost right where I was standing. Shivers.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Trapdoor Reconstruction

We got to go down into the hypogeum and see the cells and tunnels. The cells were small and cramped. Martina, our tour guide, told us that they would starve the animals to make them hungry and angry, so the fight would be more dramatic. The lifting platforms, the pegmata, would instantly transport animals, scenery, or fighters to the arena. Archeologists have reconstructed one of the trapdoors. It was a complex system and very sophisticated.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis got this shot of Martina. She was an amazing tour guide and we were fascinated by her stories for the entire tour.

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

Under the Arena

Just under the reconstructed arena floor, I tried to imagine being a slave trained to fight in these gladiatorial battles at the Colosseum. Waiting in a dark cell, hot and sweaty, the stench of animals and people all around, the crowd chanting for blood above.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Curtis got this great image of a gate and its shadow under the arena.

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/25 | ISO 4000

Aqueduct

I mentioned earlier about how sophisticated the architecture and construction of the Colosseum was. The entire design allowed for rain run-off to flow down into tunnels, pipes, and aqueducts. They had drinking fountains and public bathrooms. The entire arena floor could be flooded to allow for re-enactments of sea battles.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.4 | 1/100 | ISO 6400

Arch of Constantine

Standing on the upper level of the Colosseum we could see the Arch of Constantine. It was built in 312 AD to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius and is the largest triumphal arch in Rome.

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.8 | 1/125 | ISO 4000

Curtis got a much better shot of the Arch of Constantine than I did!

Nikon D700 | 52mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

Then Curtis zoomed in and got this horse-drawn carriage waiting for a tourist to take a ride.

Nikon D700 | 120mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

Grand View

We finished our tour of the Colosseum on the opposite side of the gladiator entrance on the third level. Martina let us spend a long time up here taking in the view and taking pictures. It was super dark. What a grand view of an amazing piece of history!

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Nikon D750 | 20mm | f/1.8 | 1/125 | ISO 4000

Curtis got a good shot too.

Nikon D700 | 24mm | f/4 | 1/40 | ISO 4000

We finished our tour just before midnight and we were jazzed up. What an incredible tour! We weren’t ready to go back to the hotel yet, so we went back to Harry’s Bar across from our hotel. Curtis got this shot of me checking out my images from the Colosseum.

Samsung Galaxy 6

Then he noticed the guy sitting behind me… sitting by himself, listening to music on his headphones… makes you wonder what his story was?

Samsung Galaxy 6

Harry’s Again

Of course we had to end the night with gelato at Harry’s Bar! Coffee and chocolate gelato, if I’m not mistaken. We became quite fond of Harry’s and will remember it as our romantic end to each night in Rome.

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iPhone 6S+ | 4.2mm | f/2.2 | 1/4 | ISO 125

What an incredible day and a great way to end our time in Rome. The next morning we caught a train to Naples. Next week I’ll be sharing photos from our visit to Pompeii. It was MUCH different than I was expecting. Thanks for reading and looking!

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