As soon as I found out my Viking Star cruise of the Mediterranean featured the opportunity to spend the entire day in Rome (with the ship docking at nearby port of Civitavecchia), I had one must-see ancient site on my list: the one-and-only Colosseum. Having never been to the Eternal City, I figured the ideal way to learn the most I could about the massive amphitheater was to book a tour guided by a local. I opted for Walks of Italy, which offers a three-hour tour that covers not only the Colosseum, but the nearby Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, as well.
Navigating to the Walks of Italy meeting point across the street from Rome’s Colosseum was painless, given the very clear directions that had been emailed to me when I booked the tour. Our group of 8 was outfitted with headsets (a must when touring the Colosseum with hundreds of other tourists and guided groups), and we enjoyed quick entry to the amphitheater; one of the key selling points of a Walks of Italy tour is no standing in line!
Within the first few minutes of our tour, which began in one of the covered, ground-level passageways of the elliptical building that dates to 80 A.D., we found out our tour guide Ferdinando had a PhD in… wait for it… Archaeology! As a working archaeologist — he’d spent two years working on an excavation in Crete — Ferdinando had an incredible wealth of knowledge and unique perspective of the Colosseum and the surrounding historic sites.
Ferdinando set the scene by describing the gladiator contests that took place there, noting that the “thumb’s up” and “thumb’s down” hand gestures we see rulers use in the movies to determine a fighter’s fate was likely a myth. Though our tour didn’t include a visit to the underground area where bloodthirsty animals were stored until their time to fight, we were able to view the passageways and got an interesting earful about the dirty, bloody, smelly scene below.
I was intrigued to learn that the humble brick and mortar that is left of the Colosseum today was once covered in thick marble, and our guide pointed out a couple of places in the Colosseum where visitors can see vestiges of its former glory days. I also appreciated that we could sit on original steps that had been uncovered and renovated, while resting and listening as Ferdinando regaled us of tales of the past.
Throughout our tour, I marveled often at the insider information gleaned from our Walks of Italy guide. I’m certain that if I were on my own, I would not have picked up the significance of the carvings in the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, nor would I have spotted the marks etched in ancient cobblestone, supposedly created by chariot wheels. I liked imagining the athletic events — perhaps foot races — that took place in Palatine Hill’s “stadium.” Simply walking among the centuries old arches, temples, churches, gardens and other ruins of “daily life” was mind boggling. And to have my visit enhanced with entertaining and informative commentary from a Walks of Italy guide made it all the better.
Toward the end of the tour, while touring the ruins of the Roman Forum — the bustling center of the city for commerce and government, back in the day (i.e. B.C.) — I had fun fiddling with different settings on my point-and-shoot camera. I like these dramatic take on these powerful, historic scenes:
I wouldn’t hesitate to book another Walks of Italy guided tour on my subsequent trip to Rome (and I must return someday; one day in the city was a mere tease). A fellow on our Colosseum tour had done the Walks of Italy tour of the Sistine Chapel the day prior and gave it high marks; other options that sound great to me are the food tours (pizza!) and underground catacomb tours. Walks of Italy also operates in Venice, Florence and the Vatican, plus Pompeii, Siena and Milan.
I was given a free Walks of Italy tour for purposes of review.