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  • Dougie

When in Rome, do as all tourists do. Get ruined.

My relationship with ancient Rome is marginal at best.

We had a very tall history teacher in our third year at Secondary school. He was as enthusiastic about his teaching methods as he was interested in his subject. Nothing enthused him more than ancient warfare.

So far, so Scottish.

In the 1970s, Scottish schools had revolving chalk boards fitted to the wall at the front of the class. Teachers pulled them downwards and fresh board appeared over a roller at the top. We called them blackboards but they were, in fact, made of canvas (I think) coated with green plastic. A bit like linoleum. There was a fluorescent light tube suspended from the ceiling at a lower level than other lights to illuminate the board.

We were learning about Roman warfare. The teacher had drawn an Onegar on the board to illustrate one of the reasons Rome was invincible. Until it lost the Empire to the Barbarians.

The Onegar was Roman artillery. A four wheeled wooden catapult about the size of a medium car. Think -- 1971 Fiat 128. The Onegar could propel up to 70 kg of rocks and other rubble at enemy fortifications. If you missed the defensive walls the chances are you'd seriously damage some humans behind them.

Our enthusiastic teacher decided to demonstrate how the Onegar worked. I guess he thought 12 year old boys had no idea how catapults work.

He positioned himself as if to bowl the final ball in the deciding innings of an Ashes Test Match. He stepped forward. His bowling arm -- the sling of the Onegar in this allusion -- described a great arc slowly up into the air. Instead of releasing 70 kg of rubble on our fortifications his long, mighty bowling arm struck the fluorescent light suspended from above. It tumbled to the floor. And then exploded, as strip lighting is wont to do.

Lesson learned. We cheered.

I think he was secretly pleased with his demonstration. But duty required him to call his troops to order. A bit like Maximus in Gladiator.

Or not.

More recently -- by which I mean 1973 -- our Scout Group leader got us all to pose on Hadrian's Wall in our full, kilted Scout uniforms. I suppose that's because in the 1970s it was perfectly ok to scramble all over 2,000 year old Roman ruins.

There is a prize for anyone who can pick out Douglas. Two weeks near Hexham repairing the damage we did to the ruin.

Today, however, Spike and I are 'doing' ancient Rome.

We decided to wander through the streets of modern Rome between our hotel and the Colosseum (obviously). We learned a lot.

  1. Pavements are -- in places -- a work in progress. They'll be nice when they're finished.

  2. Dropped kerbs are somewhat rare. They frequently do not drop to be flush with the road which adds adventure to the journey. And on many blocks across the city there may be an almost dropped kerb at one junction but no such dropped kerb at the next junction. Retrace you route or go down backwards with Spike's assistance.

  3. Parking on the pavement is a thing.

  4. Sideways parking between parallel parking is also a thing. There are lots of Smart cars wedged between other cars.

  5. Because there are lots of Smart cars wedging themselves between parallel-parked larger cars, dropped kerbs on junction corners are a parking Godsend because when you're parking your wee Smart car on the pavement or sideways there is less of that inconvenient kerb in the way.

  6. Pedestrian crossings are particularly helpful if you have a quick delivery to make.

  7. There are many cobbles.

I took to the roads (every other Roman does). Some were quieter than others.

When we reached the Colosseum it looked to me a bit like a building site. I was worried -- to be honest -- that the excavation activity to put in a new Metro station would do more harm to Rome's greatest tourist attraction than 25 hairy Scout's ever did to Hadrian's Wall.

Clearly the authorities shared my concern. There was not-at-all-ancient scaffolding holding up the very old church and high boards sealing off the construction site.

I bet Mark Anthony never had this problem.

"Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me ...."

Brrrrrrrrr. Chug, Chug, Chug, Drill, Dig, Bang, Crash.

"Guys ... gie us a break with the construction will you? I'm tryin' tae make a speech about Julius here!"

But beyond the building site wall, beyond the place where ancient Roman flagstones meet modern Roman cobbles we found our way to one of the most famous buildings in human history.

"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the true emperor, ..."


I promised I would not do the Russell Crowe thing. (But I do really like that gladiator movie. Among other things it does well, I think, is try to capture the overwhelming sense of awe -- and intimidation -- mere mortals must have felt entering the largest amphitheatre ever built.)

Even now, 2,000 years later, when we are used to skyscraper towers that reach to the clouds, billion dollar sports stadia, cavernous airport terminals and even giant shopping malls, the 'Amphitheatre of the Colossus' is a spectacular place, a mighty building, an authentic wonder of the world -- ancient and modern.

And now -- I'm glad to say -- it has a lift and step free access throughout most of the public areas. hoc est optimum nuntium, as Maximus never said.

Next time anyone tells me 'heritage restrictions' prohibit access and inclusion modifications, I can add .. "well, the Colosseum is accessible" .. to Edinburgh Castle -- the 1,000 year old collection of defensive fortifications and a chapel, sitting on top of an extinct volcano, whose access audit I carried out for the Scottish Tourist Board thirty years ago.

Up in the seats where the proles used to sit (and scream for blood -- it would seem) this ancient monument remains a magnificent beast of a building.

But one cannot stay forever in the great Colosseum re-living the glorious and victorious past. At some point the serious matters of state call us to the Forum -- beyond the bread and circuses of the arena.

You join the parade of champions taking the wheelchair way between the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Basilica of Amelia.

You pause for shade beneath the blossom before the Arch of Septimius Severus (currently behind construction hoardings -- in the real world -- for restoration).

You follow the wheelchair way towards the Temple of Saturn where a not very local artist -- using a totally authentic Roman-era A4 IPad -- is supervised in her act of recreating Roman columns by an interested, appreciative random stranger.

You pass under the arch that leads to the underworld, guarded by a ferocious (but yawning) spirit creature (okay, okay ... it leads to the ruins of Trajan's Piazza).

Before ascending to Elysium accompanied by a triumphant guard of honour. Or something like that.

We emerged from the Forum late in the afternoon; weary, too hot, ready for the long road home. I absolutely took the road again.

Like all heroic poems -- The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Days of Our Lives -- this epic ended with a visit to the launderette just round the corner from our fabby hotel. While we waited for our small, service wash we found a cheap and cheerful pizza place about fifty metres away.

It was -- I'm happy to report -- the very best Margherita I have ever tasted.

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