Every major city has it’s cliche attractions: Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Empire State. In Rome the biggie is the Colosseum and while I did visit it, I actually enjoyed Rome’s OTHER Colosseum just as much.
Turns out just about the time the original Colosseum finished up in 80AD, new Emperor Domitian decided to make his mark by building his own Greek style stadium just down the road. Finished in 86AD, the Stadium of Domitian held 15-20,000 spectators; about half the size of the original. It was shaped more like a track field than a circle and hosted more Olympics type events. It’s the first known stadium made entirely out of brick.
Much of the stadium was lost to time. I only learned of it while touring the Baroque explosion that is St. Agnes in Piazza Navona (also known for the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini).
In St. Agnes I noticed a mention of the original stadium but thought nothing of it as pretty much everything in Rome is on top of something else. However, when exiting the church (looking towards the back left of the square if you’re facing the fountain) I saw a sign that said “archeologia” that piqued my curiosity.
Turns out on the back side of the square is an entrance to the recently recovered Stadium including an entire end section 2 stories high, many artifacts, and even the original stairs. The entire ruin is inside a building that also contains a really interesting re-enactment of what the original games would have looked like to spectators.
What made the Domitian Stadium special, though, was that it was pretty much deserted! Instead of jostling for a view, I was able to stroll undisturbed and really got an idea of how everyday Romans spent their leisure time. I left feeling not like a squashed tourist, but like I actually saw something special.
Have you ever found an alternative to the “must see” site that excited you more than the original? Please share in the comments.