|A Giant Marble Edifice I still don't know the name of|
|Forum and Palantine Hill|
|A Bit of Colosseum|
|The Only Two Pictures of the Whole Affair|
|Look at that Carving|
My gripe isn’t with the cleaning or preservation; quite the opposite. My gripes and they are only little ones, are that they should have mocked up a small section and cleaned up the internal stonework in a section so you could see just a tiny bit of it in its glory, rather than having to look at drawings, that:
A: aren’t big enough, for more than one or two people to view and read the annotations of at a time (the crowds even at 10am were enormous)
B: aren’t enough of them to go round; repeating the message in several places would detract not one iota from the place
C: They aren’t placed where it’s light and or lit, or where it doesn’t block a corridor once you stop to read, which as above forces you to move on or move around constantly
D: some are just a bit wafty and cartoonish, a kind of romantic, stylised happy place.
Let’s be under no illusion the Colosseum wasn’t a great place to be if you weren’t a spectator, the games or shows were in the main free for the viewer. One grisly fact I wasn’t aware of until we read the boards and help make the point of the generally gruesome nature of what passed for entertainment in days gone by is: To assist in the depicting the suffering of those condemned to hell during their final judgement and as part of the dramatisation of the horror of hell for the audience for the early Christians (gotta love old testament Christians). They used to take condemned prisoners (separate from stage dancers) acting out the drama of hell, dowse them with flammables and at an appropriate moment during the festivities set light to them, so they could `contort and scream as would those not forgiven by the Lord God Almighty’ ... in the churches opinion ... just for a little realism.
|Forum District (lots of Forums)|
So it may seem contradictory, asking to see a section in its former glory, while acknowledging the fact that they used the place mostly for acts of barbarity and evil barely imaginable, in the name of entertainment (they did put on shows just for acrobats and jugglers and the like but they didn’t prove popular). However the structure warrants a section of seats, and the pull out covers, the murals etc.
I must sound like a terrible moaner, but the fact of the matter is, there are thousands of visitors trooping through this monumental edifice, spending millions of Euros, on a few rather crappy, hard foam picture boards that if you stop to stand and read you’re in the way, or constantly having to shift about so you can maintain your `reading continuity’. And inside the place the concrete hard caps that protect the ancient stone just don’t do the site (in light of this statement we went to Pompei a few days later and the difference in preservation and ambition is astonishing, but forms a separate post).
|Horse and Carts|
|A tiny bit of Palantine Hill|
|Stadium Within the Palantine Hill Complex|
Beyond the problems which are just a lack of vision and imagination, there are far deeper troubles around the sites ... almost all of the Palatine hill area, Pantheon etc. Unlicensed and unwanted Hawkers and peddlars around the sites, lots of little Bangladeshi/Pakistani/sub Saharan African men selling tut, some is Roman souvenir material a lot of it is just any old shit they can sell. One after the other, they approach you in very close proximity. This is a problem because you are warned in tourist offices, at the campsite, in the guidebooks (everywhere really) to watch out for the ubiquitous pickpockets. How do you tell? Your only choice is to put a hand out to stop them approaching, and this can be seen as aggressive, but then do you risk being bumped by someone trying to sell you a knock off Burberry Scarf and loose your wallet or do you defend your personal space?
When it’s not them it’s the locals in what can only be described as really really crappy interpretations of what a Roman legionary dressed like, trying to get you to have your picture taken with them, and these buggers want to put their arm round you ... or your wife usually. Not a single one of these characters even vaguely looks genuine, the bloke outside the Colosseum dressed as Batman (yes Batman), spent more time and money on his costume than every phoney Legionary in Rome. Then there’s the wailing cup shaking beggars. And finally to top of the dross layer, you have the `Sightseeing tour pirates’. They can approach from up to a quarter of a mile away; they have `only five spaces left on the next tour so are selling them at the discount price of €45 instead of the usual price of €65’ ... after you’ve met four of these people on the approach, you do the sums, four touts, five victims each, twenty bodies per tour, €45 a ticket is just the price. So referring to imagination of the sites conservators above ... they used their imagination and subbed out responsibility for site seeing and guided tours to, private entities as concessions. But don’t `regulate’ the process. To balance that statement all the Big Red Bus tours have fully printed and disclosed price material up front, you know exactly what you’re getting and how much it costs. Hold on where are the police you ask if there’s such a problem with hawkers? Well they sort of saunter through now and again, the peddlars literally run like lunatics away from the area. The police leave, the peddlars come back. It was described by a fella we met as watching a shark pass through a shoal of fish, but he shark is literally passing through not feeding.
The Palantine hill area is vast and suffers from all the same sorts of woes, with regards to signage and definition. Once your inside all the hawkers and peddlars are way out of range, and the area is vast, like a huge hilly park with the ruins of an ancient city inside. There is a small museum with a model or two, some odds and end of statuary and a rough timeline, other than that your pretty much on your own. Even the Imperial museum that takes in the forum area is difficult to navigate. Sections are closed off, there are dead ends without explanation of why the area was open for you to walk in and look at what? `what ... what the FF am I looking at what is there in this area that I’m supposed to be marvelling at, other than some brickwork? Excuse me clue required here’. The map is only available in Italian, at €18 for two people you would expect a copy in your own language, especially when at each ticket booth you’re asked for your nationality and or home city. I have to re-iterate I’m glad we’ve came and have seen. I think I’m more glad that I’ve seen lots of Time Team, and I’m glad I paid more attention to history and classical studies lessons at school than I’d normally have given myself credit for otherwise a lot of what we have seen would have been a total mystery or waste of money ... I also found out where Ian M Banks got some of his ideas for Surface Detail (the book I’m reading).
There is one other thing we should mention and again it’s not going to be high praise. Food and drink, if you think London tourist prices are a liberty, then come to Rome, €9 a shot of Vodka, €6 two thirds of a pint of beer, €5 for a litre of water, €3 average a cup of coffee (these are restaurant prices), find a corner shop of the main drag and things improve, but as a general rule Italy is expensive. I was asked to pay €2 for a Marathon (that’s a Snickers in new money) I dropped it on the counter and the price dropped immediately to €1.50, I still walked away and the bloke still called after me. Be careful with deal of the day menu’s chalked up outside that don’t exist once you’ve sat at a table. So your fancied Penne Arabiata at €5 is now €15 ... we got caught out ... I had steam coming out my ears, but we were buggered ... ain’t no Trading Standards in Rome. We could have refused to pay and just walked out, but it’s a risk if the owners get militant, and the police, though around in vast numbers (the queen visited the day we were there), seem like a bunch of overly dressed and fully armed juveniles, more intent on watching barely legal teenage girls in school or college groups, or messing about on their phones and smoking fags, than dealing with Hawkers, Peddlars and beggars etc ... what chance the English couple who did a technical runner.
We’ve asked ourselves if we’ve been spoiled by Spain. Yes some of the sites were not as well put together as they could be, but Spain is still effectively still recovering from fifty years of dictatorship and there are people six years younger than me born into the Spain of Franco; likewise Portugal, in a state of torpor since its heady days as master of the seven seas, still catching up after its decline and dictatorship.
Italy I believe has been free as have we since the end of the second world war, home of Ferrari, Maserati, designer brands by the bucketful, direct inheritors of the legacy of Rome, clearly wealthy in-spite of the Euro crisis, BUT!
In one of our videos I’ve said Rome is all surface no substance, sitting on its Laurels and raking in the cash, and spending it on who knows what? I think we’ve missed a lot because we only gave ourselves two days to see the ancient stuff (which is why we went). It’s too expensive and we aren’t able to say whether we would return either in moho, or just for a city break, to see the museums and galleries.
To finish: In the roughly two weeks we roamed around Italy, we spent close on £2000. Amanda had a risotto on the day we got caught out by the deal of the day menu. The rice wasn’t risotto rice, it was just long grain with cream (I made a proper one in Moho the following day). The lobster with pasta I had was from the freezer (some of the claw meat was still frozen). And yet the restaurant was full of locals, that’s one of the reasons we went in. Call me cynical, call me paranoid, but if it’s full of locals then the food must pass muster. The question is then: Is the food they then serve to tourists of lower quality to maximise margin, or are the palettes of the Italians so uncultured they don’t know quality? Apply that question to all Rome.