I always thought I wasn't big on tours of the educational kind. I like exploring places by myself and I always figure that if I want to know more, I'll Google it later. Walks of Italy has proved me wrong. I took two tours with them while I was in Rome and learned so much thanks to two charismatic guides.
The “VIP Colosseum underground tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill”
Yup, that was the name of one of the tours I took in Rome, Italy. Quite a mouthful, isn't it? But it does exactly what it says. This Walks of Italy VIP Colosseum tour takes you around part of the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, but it also gives you access to some spots of the Colosseum that normal visitors can't get too.
In other words, you get VIP access, and who doesn't like that?
The Roman Forum
I think it depends a bit on the day and the crowds when you visit what first, but we started our Walks of Italy Colosseum tour at the Roman Forum. Our guide Cecilia told us all about the history of the Forum and the buildings and ruins that are still there today.
Sometimes it was hard to picture a temple where there are now only three columns left, but in those cases Cecilia took out her map full of photos of reconstructions. This really added another level to her explanations and allowed us to visualize the Roman Forum as it was so many centuries ago.
Palatine Hill is the centermost of the seven hills of Rome. It looks down on the Roman Forum on one side and on the Circus Maximus on the other.
Today, there are open spaces of grass where people were relaxing in the first spring sun when we were there and it's definitely a place you could spend an entire afternoon at if you visited it individually.
Especially interesting was the explanation Cecilia provided about the Flavian Palace, which sounded as if it had to have been a structure of marvel.
It was strange, I only saw these ruins, but when Cecelia told us how high the walls were, how big the rooms and that the floors were completely in mosaic, we all went “oh” and “wow”. You really need a good guide to make this place come alive.
What struck our group, though, was that you could literally walk everywhere, both at the Roman Forum and on Palatine Hill. There were no ropes to prevent you from sitting on the ruins, no signs that you had to stay on the path.
Does the city of Rome not care about the incredible historical value of this place? It seems not.
At a certain moment, we were walking in what used to be the Flavian Palace when Cecilia pointed us to the floor. We were actually walking over and around a mosaic floor that was almost indistinguishable as such as it was so dusty from all the feet that had already walked over it.
Cecilia sprinkled a bit of water over a piece of the ancient floor to give us an idea of the actual colors.
On the one hand, I can understand that you can't maintain and protect everything, but places like the Forum and Palatine Hill are important income sources for Rome and I'm just wondering how much of it will be lost because of the unrestricted presence of tourists.
I could have spent at least two more hours wandering through the Forum and on Palatine Hill, but it was time for our final stop of the tour: the Colosseum. There was a huge line waiting outside, but the being part of the Walks of Italy VIP Colosseum tour meant we got to skip the line.
Such a great feeling!
Oh, so much fun facts about the Colosseum Cecilia had to tell us! Unfortunately, I mismanaged my phone a bit and lost the notes I took, but I do remember some.
For example, don't you think it's incredible that the Colosseum could be filled in only 15 minutes, taking into account that 50,000 to 80,000 people could fit in there? There were entrances all around the structure and everyone knew exactly where to go.
Attending games at the Colosseum was free, but you always needed a ticket. The city “clerks” handing out these tickets knew exactly what social class you belonged to and they assigned you a seat accordingly. There was no mixing of social classes at the Colosseum.
When you visit the Colosseum, you can walk through some of the levels, as you can maybe see in the photo above. We got to do that, but we first did something much better, though. We entered the arena through the Colosseum Gate of Death.
The Gate of Death is the gate through which – indeed – the dead gladiators (or criminals who received the punishment of death at the Colosseum) left the arena. The Gate of Death is also known as the “Libitinararian” Gate, a name that's derived from the name of the goddess of funerals, Libitina. Lastly, that gate is where they've now reconstructed part of the arena, as the rest of what used to be the game field is now gone so that you can look into the “basement” of the Colosseum from above.
Speaking of which…
As a normal visitor to the Colosseum, you can only see the underground level from high up in the stadium. When you're part of the Walks of Italy Underground Colosseum Tour, however, you can actually go there!
You can't enter the entire underground part, but you get to see some of the different rooms and, most importantly, some of the places where they used to have all their special effects systems.
The Colosseum was actually the most advanced theater ever. It used techniques that are still being used today and even the ultramodern sports stadiums now haven't improved the basis of their structure (and by that I, of course, mean the shape, the seating system etc).
When you go into the underground of the Colosseum, you can see where there used to be lift systems to lift gladiators and wild animals into the arena, to take dead gladiators down or even to change the decor of the stage. It's truly incredible.
From down in the basement we went up, all the way up. As a participant of the Colosseum VIP Tour, you get access to the top level of the Colosseum, which offers an amazing view of the structure, but also on Palatine Hill.
While writing this post, I realized how much I've retained from what I learned during the Colosseum tour with underground & arena floor access. Part of it has to do with the fact that the Romans have simply built amazing things and that the Colosseum is still an architectural wonder, but a large part of it is definitely thanks to the guides I had.
I use the plural now, as our group joined another Walks of Italy group at the Colosseum and their guide was great as well. So I didn't just get lucky with Cecilia. Walks of Italy seems to have high standards for the people they have running their tours and I can only applaud that. A guide can really make or break a tour.
As you might have guessed already, I really loved the VIP Colosseum tour. We got enough information on everything and Cecilia always elaborately answered our questions if we had any. I highly recommend this tour.
Where to stay in Rome?
I spent three nights in the vintage Il Boom B&B in the less touristy Trastevere neighborhood. Check availability, prices and reviews.
How to get to Rome
I took a direct flight from Brussels to Rome and then got on the train to the city center.
Pin for later
I was a guest of Walks of Italy on this tour and am glad to say that they completely convinced me that educational tours can be great fun. Believe me, if I'd fallen asleep standing, I would have told you.