Gathering his toga tight against the December chill of the Colosseum's uppermost tier, the great Roman orator Cicero cautions gawking visitors -- including me -- to not judge his peers harshly for the bloody spectacles they once enjoyed in this ancient site.
“Come, come see the arena,” he says, with a sweeping gesture towards the great arena. “This is Rome!”
Okay, so it wasn't really Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was last seen in the Colosseum more than 2,000 years ago. But the actor who plays Cicero did a pretty good job of surprising a group of us on a special “Archaeology at Christmas” tour.
I tagged along for a news feature I wrote earlier this week about the program, which pairs actors and archeologists at four of Rome's museums -- collectively, the Museo Nazionale Romano -- plus the Colosseum to give visitors some different insights into Rome's history.
The Colosseum tour includes a rare visit to the uppermost tier, which was very interesting to see with some great views (though a tough climb up.) For an interview about the program, I met an archaeologist at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which I'm sorry to admit I had never visited before (even though it sits right outside the Rome's main Termini train station. Impossible to miss!)
The Archaeology at Christmas program includes a special tour around the Palazzo Massimo that ends among the frescoes from the dining room in the suburban villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus. Actors there perform short excerpts from Shakespeare's Italian plays.
The life of a second-century female fishmonger is translated by an archaeologist from ancient inscriptions displayed in the Museo Epigrafico alle Terme di Diocleziano. There are also events at the Crypta Balbi, on Via delle Botteghe Oscure near Rome's Largo di Torre and at the Palazzo Altemps.
There really is something new to learn and see every day in Roma!