Earlier this week I read with interest and excitement the news that the Colosseum is to open for night tours.
It will be opening to small groups of visitors each Saturday evening for seven weeks starting on 21 August, which is excellent news because as it happens, I will be in Rome on a Saturday falling within this period. I would imagine that it will be highly oversubscribed, but it’s worth a shot!
The lucky few to see inside the Colosseum after dark will be following a well-trodden path. For the Victorians, a stroll about the Colosseum by moonlight was very much the done thing, thanks to the immortal words of Lord Byron in “Manfred”:
The stars are forth, the moon above the tops
Of the snow-shining mountains. Beautiful!
I linger yet with Nature, for the night
Hath been to me a more familiar face
Than that of man; and in her starry shade
Of dim and solitary loveliness,
I learn’d the language of another world.
I do remember me, that in my youth,
When I was wandering,—upon such a night
I stood within the Coliseum’s wall
Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome.
Inspired by these words, Murray’s Handbook to Central Italy, first published in 1843 and the essential companion to any Victorian traveller, recommended the twilight hours as the best time to view the Colosseum. This view continued to be propounded throughout the nineteenth century, and night-time visits became so popular that some entrepreneurial type began putting on private light shows for paying tourists, who marvelled at the Colosseum being lit up with red and blue lights.
Somehow, I think that I would probably prefer today’s tours for their greater historical awareness… So wish me luck!
And thus ends what will probably be the first of many entries devoted entirely to Rome’s most famous monument.