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Beyond the Colosseum

Beyond the Colosseum:  Rome off the beaten path 

Buon giorno! Welcome to A Road Retraveled Travel Videos and Blog.

You can’t visit Rome without visiting the impressive colossal Colosseum. But there are some off the beaten path places near the Coliseum that are worth checking out too….and that’s where we’re heading today!!

In the video I show you some amazing places that are within short walking distance from the Colosseum.




Bonus Feature on the A Road Retraveled Travel App: From where did the name Gladiator came from? Gladiatorial combat was not a Roman invention…do you know who the original gladiators were??  And which crazy Roman Emperor was a gladiator wannabe and actually slept in one of the cells here at the Ludus Magnus? Find out on the Bonus Feature on the official A Road Retraveled app. 

Flavian Amphitheater, aka the Colosseum

Beyond the Colosseum in Rome

Actually, the Colosseum didn’t get it’s name from being colossal, which of course  it was the largest amphitheater built in Ancient Rome. It’s official name is the Flavian Amphitheater, after the Emperors from the Flavian dynasty who built it in the first century. The nickname Colosseum came from a seriously colossal statue of Emperor Nero in the likeness of the pagan sun god Apollo that was only overshadowed by Nero’s own colossal ego.

The Flavian Amphitheater, or the Colosseum, was one of the greatest feats of Ancient Roman architecture and engineering, and also the largest death arena in the Roman Empire where the lesser glories of Ancient Rome took place.  In fact, the word “arena” comes form the latin word for sand that was used to soak the blood being spilled on it.

Aside from gruesome executions of criminals and possibly Christians, mock sea battles and exotic animal hunts,  Gladiatorial games also took place on this arena for the amusement of up to 50,000 blood thirsty and depraved spectators. Underneath the arena is the hypogeum, or underground, the holding area where the gladiators and animals waited for their turn on the arena above. The hypgeum included tunnels, some some of them connecting the Coliseum to the nearby gladiator training complex, Ludus Magnus where gladiators lived and trained. The gladiators would travel from the Ludus Magnus to the Colosseum unseen by the public to face another gladiatorial combat amidst the screams from the wounded and dying and the cheers of the crowd who delighted in the spectacle of the carnage that was taking place before them.


Beyond the Colosseum: The Ludus Magnus

Beyond the Colosseum, Ludus Magnus

We venture East beyond the Colosseum just across the street to The Ludus Magnus, ancient Roman gladiator training facility most often goes unnoticed by most tourists who visit the Colosseum. By late 1st Century AD Rome, there were four Imperial Ludi, or “Ludi Gladiatorium” built by Emperor Diocletian, with Ludus Magnus being the most important one next door to the Colosseum. Each Ludus was run by a Lanista, a private entrepreneur who recruited or purchased men suitable to become gladiators. Many Lanista were former successful gladiators who earned the coveted wooden sword by the Emperor, the symbol of freedom from gladiatorial servitude.

Since gladiators were expensive to create, their trainers, or Doctores – mostly also former gladiators – ensured gladiators achieved maximum physical fitness through constant hard training, well balanced diet, and medical care. Gladiators were then hired to interested individuals who paid well for good gladiatorial entertainment, as well as arena combats. So much time and money were invested in training someone to become a gladiator, that it’s unlikely that gladiators always fought to the death.

Depending on the rules of set for the combat, gladiators sometimes DID fight to the death, but the combat also ended when the wounded gladiator begged for mercy by laying down his weapons and giving the crowd the finger, ok I mean by raising his index finger. The final decision was made by by the editor of the game, usually the emperor or a senator by giving him the thumb…the greatest debate has been whether or not thumbs down meant killing or sparing the defeated gladiator.

One explanation I found most interesting is that early on in ancient Rome, thumbs up meant “going to the gods” which also meant killing the defeated gladiator. Going to the gods, or the Elysian fields the pagan version of paradise, was not exactly a bad thing. Thumbs down meant going to Hades….but basically translated into returning to the hell of being a slave, therefore spared from death. Over time, during the reign of Emperor Nero onward, and with the rise of Christianity, the meanings of the thumbs reversed…perhaps going against the establishment by changing the hand gestures. This eventually became what we know now, thumbs up is good, thumbs down is bad.

Cells of the gladiators on the northern side of the building have been excavated and believed to have been about 130 cells in total. According to Greek-Roman historian Herodian, the arena of the Ludus, which has been only partially excavated was surrounded with some 3,000 seats and a VIP box where the public  could watch the gladiators train.


In the video: There’s another quite interesting gladiatorial tidbit that I bet most of you never knew about, that is revealed in the video.

 Beyond the Colosseum: Basilica of San Clemente

Beyond the Colosseum, Basilica of San Clemente

Further down beyond the Colosseum and the Ludus on Via di San Giovanni in Laterano is the 12th century Basilica of San Clemente dedicated to Pope Saint Clement, the 3rd bishop after Peter.

The main upper church is richly decorated with vast majority of its architecture and frescoes dating back to its original 12th century construction. Its most striking feature is the original golden bronze apse mosaic with the large crucifix with vines growing around it. This symbolically associated the cross with the Tree of Life.

What’s interesting about this basilica is that below it is a 4th century church with faded frescoes depicting the New Testament and lives of several saints. The church was probably transformed from a private home where Christians worshiped in secret until Christianity was legalized in Rome in 4th century by Emperor Constantine. The Normans destroyed the church in 1084, and construction of the new basilica began on top of the ruins some time later. Below this level too, is a 3rd-century Temple of Mithras, the Persian sun god equivalent to Apollo. This small artificial cave has long side benches and a stone altar with a relief of Mithras slaying a bull.

When ancient Romans gathered here to conduct their pagan rituals, gladiators were training in the Ludus Magnus down the street next to the Coliseum.

Here in this basilica you have a fascinating journey through 2000 years of Rome’s religious history preserved in layers – from ancient Roman rituals honoring pagan gods to Christian worshiping of Christ and saints.

To go below into the excavated areas, you must pay a modest admission fee. It’s well worth it.


Beyond the Colosseum: Circus Maximus

Beyond the Colosseum, Circus Maximus

Beyond the Colosseum, Circus Maximus

Venturing beyond the colosseum to the opposite side towards Aventine Hill you can bypass the lines and ticket to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill and head over to Circus Maximus. The days of the hellish chariot derbies are long gone, and this once magnificent ancient racing arena has been reduced to a barely concave park where you can go for a stroll, play, relax, or have a picnic.

Further down from Circus Maximus is Bocca della Verita, an ancient Lie Detector located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

From the Middle Ages on, it was believed that if someone told a lie with one hand in the mouth of this ancient mask or lid, whatever it was, it would be bitten off.

This legend goes back to the Roman times when the wife of a nobleman was accused of adultery and forced to tell the truth by placing her hand inside the Mouth of Truth. Guilty as sin she had to think quick of a plan. In front of the group who gathered to witness her moment of truth, a man jumped from the crowd, grabbed her and kissed her. She faked shock over this transgression she accused this stranger of being a madman as the crowd chased him away. The man turned out to be her lover in disguise, and when she declared that no man has ever touched her other than her husband and this man, her hand was saved. But the Mouth of Truth lost its credibility after this, and since then it failed to function as a lie detector….or has it??


In the video: Gladiators had a significant impact on ancient Rome’s version of live entertainment, but were the fashionistas as well, responsible for inspiring a popular fashion trend in Europe too??   

The Coliseum is an incredible monument to visit by itself, especially when surrounded by other famous places like the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Trajan’s Market and Piazza Venezia….but if you have the time, step off the tourist beaten path because there’s more to Rome than its famous monuments and attractions. Thank for joining me today, until next time, ciao for now!




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