My Life as a (Petty) Criminal in Rome

I've been to Rome nine or ten times in less than 5 years. I have visited all the famous sites at least three times now; each time I see something new and fascinating. I've also noticed a trend, a distressing trend. Rome is becoming more and more inaccessible to us, the globe-trotting visitor. It might be called "The Eternal City", but that doesn't mean nothing changes.

sign For example, during my first visit in December, 1996, I was thrilled to walk inside the Colosseum's first arcade. I could walk through one of the outer ring's arches and into the area between it and the second wall. It was a fascinating experience and an imagination-inspiring act. I was able to gaze up into the arches 8 or 10 meters above me and look into the next level's arcade. I imagined myself walking into the building back then, hearing the roar of the crowd and anticipating an afternoon of grisly entertainment.

No more. The arcades have been gated off for several years now. At first I thought it might be temporary, since the Colosseum was undergoing a great deal of cleaning and repair. Unfortunately, the cleaning teams have left but the bars remain. It is indeed unfortunate, since now no one else can have the same experience I had.

A second example is the Colosseum itself. In the recent past, the first level was free and a ticket for the second level was LIT 8 000. It's now LIT 10 000 to get in to the first level with no additional charge to go to the second level.

To counterbalance this change in policy, the Roman Forum is now free. Except... except you can no longer sit on the steps of the Basilica Julia, or wander onto the foundations of any of the other buildings there. You can walk into the Temple of Julius Caesar and walk on the paving stones of the Sacra Via (and even through the Arch of Septimius Severus and up the Capitoline Hill, which I'll admit is way cool), but that's it. Maybe most people don't care, but to me it's a darned shame. I feel very lucky to have visited Rome prior to 1998, when these changes were made.

These changes have also made me a little rebellious, too, I think, and have driven me to a life of misdemeanor crime in bella Roma. As sites become more and more inaccessible, I feel more and more obligated to gain access for myself, just so I can have the same experiences others had before me (and of course to share them with you).

Hence, my experience at the Amphitheater Castrense. The amphitheater is now just an elliptical wall (no superstructure remains) and is a part of the church called Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. It is not open to the general public but one can gain access by asking permission of the Don of the church. Well, in theory it's possible. Apparently the church never grants permission.

sign When I walked over to the church the day I gained entry, I was only expecting to take a few photos of the outside, just like everyone else. I could not believe my eyes when I walked up to the church front and saw the gate in the amphitheater wall open. I knew I'd never get another chance, and dammit I wanted to know what was in there and why the church kept telling people, "No" (or worse, ignoring them completely).

So, I walked in.

"What the hell! What's the worst that can happen?", I asked myself.

Knowing what I do about Italian society and being very willing to be "flexible", I decided annoying the powers that be was worth the experience of getting in somewhere most people don't and can't see. Oh, and share with all of you. Let's not forget THAT!

What I saw was underwhelming, really. The Soprintendenza had placed two informative signs around a fenced off excavation site near the gate, a second pit at the back (but no signs) and there was a small part of superstructure way in the back near the second pit, but that's it, really.

I took a photo of the first sign and then walked to the adjacent side of the fence and took a photo of the second sign.

Just then, I noticed an old man looking at me.

He said something that in retrospect was, "Hey! You don't belong in here. You better get out."

I just shrugged and walked down the garden path, snapping away. I took a few more photos at the opposite end of the garden (I can't really call it an amphitheater, it is, as I said, just a wall). When I was finished I looked up. I had been so absorbed in what I was doing and so proud of myself for busting in to the "forbidden site" I didn't notice the gardener had left and shut the gate behind him.

sign "Oh, shit" I thought. Now what do I do? I was hesitant to try the gate, although I shouldn't have been. I am (now, thanks to 20-20 hindsight) sure it opens from the inside. I guess I wasn't thinking too clearly at that moment. I decided instead to walk into the church through a door that opened right onto the excavation area. I figured I'd end up walking into the church from some obscure corner entrance and no one would be the wiser. "I am a genius!", I thought.

Some genius.

I walked into the door and immediately realized what I'd done. I wasn't in the church , I was in the "back office area", someplace I *really* had no business being.

So, I did what any of you would do; I immediately tried to quickly and quietly figure out where the hell I was and get out the door without being caught (because being caught is not as perfect a story as not being caught, but being caught is in fact a better story than not being caught. But, I digress. As usual.). Just as I began walking down the hall I heard a voice call out. It was one of the church priests and he was obviously not very happy to see me. He said a few things to me, which I didn't understand and then when I thought he was finished I said (in Italian). "Sorry, I don't understand you. Where is the exit for the street?"

OK, fine. This is what I said: "Mi dispiace. Non caputo. Dove l'uscita per la strada?"

Happy now?

He looked at me for a second, and then gestured to the door I was heading for when he called me. It was down the end of a short, wide, tall hall through a set of glass doors. I looked at him, pointed and said, "There (Qua?)?" He gave me that Italian "yes you dumbshit" shrug. I took that as a confirmation of my question. I walked through the glass doors, down a few steps unlatched the big green door and walked out onto the piazza the church is in. I had just exited the big green gate to the church that was right next to the big green gate to the garden.

I heard the big green gate latch solidly behind me. Only then did I begin to breathe again and then I began to laugh the laugh one laughs when one is inordinately pleased with oneself for beating the system.

Bwa ha ha ha!