Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pt.20 The Coliseum at Arles

Pt.20-TheColiseum at Arles

Follow this grand adventure from the beginning:
Link to Pt.1 of this series

Sacre Bleu, What Are Le Romans Building?
We went back into the city of Arles. The shoreline has an expansive park with a round flower garden, forming a place for cars to turn around. We went back through the shop area we had been through before, not stopping, and as we proceeded another block, wondering if we’d gone the wrong way, we saw it — the Coliseum. Already on a high hill, the Coliseum is located on top of a two-flight stairway. It is very imposing in 1998. Think of how it must have been the biggest thing that Frenchmen ever saw during the Roman Empire. It must have been very intimidating to have someone who could build such an imposing structure take over and occupy your country.

What? No Gladiators?
The Coliseum is open to the public for exploration when it is not being used for public events. The facility is in such good shape that it is still being used for rock concerts, bullfights, and other special events. It was set up for a sculpture exhibition when we visited. The performance area was full of half-assembled and partially finished modern sculptures made of wood, clay, styrofoam, etc. Nothing impressive except some cobalt blue foam structure that looked like a 3D Van Gogh, with mountains and trees protruding a la Starry Night.

We entered at about 10 feet above the performance area. The original stone ridges were used to mount wooden bleachers. Where the original structure had been destroyed, the gap was bridged with wood and metal scaffolding. The access was controlled to one entrance by gates which had been installed over all of the entrances but the main one. We walked around about a quarter of the way, and then ducked into the under-structure through an exit gate. It is very well preserved. We went up and down original staircases. The outside wall supports the upper bleachers; the wall is made up of an endless series of tall arches which extend all the way around the coliseum. The arena is constructed much the same as a modern stadium, stairs lead to the upper seating areas, and access and exit would be almost simultaneous, with no waiting, if the structure were full, and all the exits utilized.

Ready for Your Closeup, Monseur?
We went as high as we could go, walked around another 1/4 turn, and then we went down the stairs as far as we could. We reached the performance entrance. Lotsa “performers” must have gone down this path, recently and anciently, from Christians of old to the bulls of modern times, only to find that their performing days were numbered, and that number was one. There were ante-rooms adjoining the hallway, some with large entrances, and some with narrow entrances. The entire inside had a strange distinctive smell that I have never smelled before or since, and can still recall by thinking about it. It was like a very old mixture of urine, sweat, and mustiness, which had soaked into the structure so thoroughly that its very stones were permeated with it. Nothing fresh. It did not smell like a restroom, or a urinal, or a locker room, or a cattle barn. This was a distinctive “coliseum” smell.

At Last I Can Buy My Chateau! Merci, Monseur!
While exploring the outer wings of the coliseum, we heard guitar music. Looking up, about half the height of the top of the coliseum, and overlooking the coliseum, was a row of stores balanced on the edge of a dropoff. It is from one of these shops that the sounds came. We later went up the steep hill, because the grass was greener there, and found a number of Van Gogh prints for about $3 each at one of the shops. We passed the shop with the musician, and he was just sitting on the sidewalk, playing his guitar, and he was not that exceptional a player. I reached into my pocket and sought out the largest coin. A 20-cent piece, worth 2/5 of a Franc, was what I pulled out of my pocket. The coin is larger than many coins more valuable, larger than 1 franc, larger than 5f, and larger than 10f. It is, however, only worth 2/5 of 18 cents, or about six cents. The guitar player paused, picked up the coin, stretched out his arm to regard it from a distance, kissed it tenderly, and stuffed it in his front shirt pocket. Touche.

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1 comment:

Leslie Hanna said...

"access and exit would be almost simultaneous, with no waiting, if the structure were full, and all the exits utilized."

Amazing to think the Romans figured this out 2000 years ago, and we STILL don't get it.

I love your story - keep 'em coming!