I was introduced to Context Travel guided walking tours by my business partner with whom I was traveling to Rome and Paris. She took one of these in-depth, scholarly led tours a few years back and raved about how well-done they are, helping us put the history of Rome in Context . The small (no more than 6 to a group) tours are led by local historians, professors, scholars, and others able to put a city’s history and development into CONTEXT through tours of historic sites and user-friendly commentary. Fueled by a love for history, architecture, and learning, we registered for not one, but two different tours in a single day:
We ended up taking two tours: a four hour Roma Antica Tour offering a comprehensive look at the Coliseum and Forum, and a two hour Underground Coliseum tour of its recently opened subterranean levels where the gladiators and animals dwelled. Ambitious seeming—- yes. But it turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of our two week trip, and by far the best guided tours I have ever experienced…ever.
We embarked on our first Context tour of The Forum in the morning hours, and after a quick lunchtime excursion to St. John in the Lateran, we reconvened at the Coliseum for our second tour with docent, Patrizia Sfligiotti. Another archaeologist who serves as Rome’s attache for the Italian National Trust. <<Yeah. She’s kinda a big deal>>… Thank the gods, the rain relented! This tour ended up being only Sherri and me, so we had Patrizia’s undivided attention.
The Underground Coliseum tour features the subterranean levels never-before-open-to-the-public, as well as a visit to the third tier where the middle class folk sat (a.k.a. peanut heaven). We learned the lower you sat (higher class) the better chance you had of escaping should the place catch fire… This tour generally includes an overview of the Coliseum’s engineering and history, but we fast-forwarded having already been given that lecture on the earlier Forum tour. Patrizia led us down the familiar corridors of the entry level straight onto the platform of which we had the birds-eye view earlier.
We stood on what was once the arena playing field. This is where is all went down. Beasts, Gladiators. Children. Women. It was a bit haunting being the only three out there. Hailing from Columbus and having been to plenty of Buckeye games at Ohio Stadium, it wasn’t difficult to envision a full house of rabid fans watching madness unfold in the arena. Urging it on…. just couldn’t imagine… I felt very small.
An archway led out to the gladiatorial school and barracks of which you can see ruins across the busy street. They only exited through this gate if they could walk out of their own accord. The dead were, unfortunately, raked away through another archway— the one through which you didn’t want to pass. This passage also took us to the staircase leading down to the hypogeum (or under ground areas).
The hypogeum is not handicap accessible and a bad rain might be cause for tour cancellation, but we slogged through puddles into the underground parts. We were the only ones there, in the sinking sun of the late afternoon. It was daunting feeling to say the least. The lowest levels, built by Emperor Diocletian, put an end to the flooding of the arena for water battles. We also got to peek into the eerie cells which held everything from men to bears prior to the fights. You could almost hear the ancient echos….
Cages and ramps were elevated on a man powered pulley system. Several models helped us to visualize the man-powered winch and lift system. There were something like 60 different types of trap doors through which the men, beasts, and stage props could be hoisted. Whomever choreographed “the games” had his work cut out for him. Our Context docent pointed out the intricacies of engineering in ways we would have never known on our own. This made for a most rewarding visit to this invisible ancient part Rome.
It’s important to develop a ‘sense of place’ while traveling and taking a Context tour is a great way to do that- especially if you have limited time in a city. It seems a natural fit for Wanderlust Tours (specializing in cultural and heritage tourism) to partner with Context Tours. We are enthusiastic about directing our clients to their tours, completely trusting they will make for an extraordinary experience— worth every cent. In fact, I have already sent several people their way and have received incredible feedback.
Context Tours has received rave reviews by Conde Nast, Wall Street Journal, Nat Geo, and others— and with reason. (Read what the press is saying). If you want to book a Context Travel tour, drop me a line. They offer a broad spectrum of tours in many of the major European cities and are expanding their offerings in the US and Asia.
Read about our four hour, indepth tour of the Forum and Coliseum
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