The Colosseum in Rome is used for one thing and one thing only--tourism. The Colosseum in Rome wasn't the first time I saw a Roman arena--or more properly, amphitheater. When I traveled throughout France years ago I first saw the Arena de Nimes and then the Arènes d'Arles. The one in Nime was hosting--of all things in the heat of August--Carnival on Ice... yes, ice skating in a Roman Arena. Who would have even thought of such a thing. In Arles they were having a bullfight the night I was there--a type of Provençal bull fight where the bulls aren't killed. Perhaps this is why my visit to the Colosseum felt strange, although seeing it was the highpoint of my visit to Rome. It wasn't being loved and used by the people of Rome. It was only a method of cashing in on tourist dollars. The other Roman arenas I had seen in France were still being used and loved by the locals and visitors alike...
So, instead of visiting the Colosseum, when all the other tourists flock and crowd into each other making it a task to look out into the vastness of the amphitheater, how about visiting an ancient amphitheater that you can actually be an audience member in... watching a concert or other special event? I've got one for you--the Arena di Verona, in Northern Italy's Veneto region. Yes, the same Verona where tourists flock to see the "real" balcony that the fictitious Juliet so poetically entranced her love Romeo--also not real.
But Verona is real. And so is its Arena. Julius Cesar actually did sleep here. Shakespeare never slept here... or anywhere else in Italy, for that matter. But you can... and enjoy modern concerts held in it's famous arena...
The arena was built in 30AD on a site which at that time was beyond the town walls. The ludi (shows and games) that were staged there became so well-known that spectators came from far off places just to see them. More than 30,000 spectators at a time could partake in the events in the Arena di Verona. Originally, there were white and pink limestone but an earthquake in 1117 nearly destroyed all of this, and the rest was re-used in other public buildings.
During the Renaissance the Arena was first used for musical performances and by the 1850s operas were performed there because of the better than average acoustics. In 1913, opera really took over with performances by the Italian opera tenor Giovanni Zenatello, the impresario Ottone Rovato and a staging of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida.
Nowadays, four to six opera productions are staged in the arena each year between June and August, but during winter, the local opera and ballet companies perform at the L'Accademia Filarmonica. Be advised that tickets to sit on the arena's stone steps are much cheaper to buy than tickets for the padded chairs on the lower levels. I don't know about you, but sitting on the stones that ancient Romans sat on 2000 years ago appeals to me more than parking my butt on a modern chair. Candles are given out to audience members and lit after sunset around the arena. I'm not an opera fan myself, but it must be an amazing experience to see performances in such a setting. But if opera isn't your thing either, you might be able to catch a concert by the likes of pop and rock stars like Paul McCartney, the Who, Rod Stewart, Stink or Radiohead.
So, if you want to sit where Romans sat two millennium ago while enjoying an opera or concert, think about coordinating your travels to Italy with a stay in Verona along with one of these fantastic events at their Arena. You might be watching Foo Fighters instead of gladiators fighting, and the blood and gore might be overacted to music and song by some fat people in costumes and face paint, but you'll still have the night of a lifetime!
Now, if they'll just install 30,000 seats in the Colosseum and start booking the Kinks, Billy Joel or James Taylor, I'll book a flight back to Rome...
Check here for upcoming events in the Arena di Verona.
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved