Why bother to visit the Colosseum?
OK it's one of the most memorable buildings in Rome -- indeed in Western culture. And the reason I co-wrote a book on it, is that I truly believe that its history from ancient gladiatorial arena to 19th century botanical garden is more fascinating than most people realise. It looks absolutely tremendous from the outside. But is it really worth a couple of hours queuing to see the very battered ruins of the interior?
I'm not so sure.
I have just been in Rome for a few days, doing a recce for a new little tv series on ancient Rome (from the point of view of ordinary Romans, not the emperors and generals etc). I'm not going to give away exactly what we've been seeing -- it will ruin the surprise when you watch (how's that for a tease!). But what has struck me as we have gone round the city of Rome is the mad concentration of tourism.
Everyone wants to see the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine (all those are on a combined ticket -- which you can buy online: good tip)), the Capitoline museums (on the Campigoglio) and the Vatican. There are crowds of people, and a dreadful line to get in at almost all times of the day (the later the better is my experience). But go to the wonderful collection of sculpture in the Palazzo Massimo (near the main train station) and you will not have to queue for a minutes, and you will find some of the most stunning works of Roman art to have survived (Livia's Garden Room from Prima Porta is here, for example, and you can't get better than that).
Even fewer people make it to the nearby museum in the Baths of Diocletian (less stunning for art, but some great material on early Rome, a beautiful Michelangelo Cloister -- and some extraordinary ancient terracotta scuptures, the medium everyone tends to forget ).
But the prize for the best least visited museum must go to the Central Montemartini -- which huses some of the overspill from the Capitoline collections in a disused power station down the Via Ostiense past the Pyramid. First of all the juxtaposition of ancient sculpture and industrial machinery is brilliant (like Musée d'Orsay, only better). But it includes some real treasures (the pediment of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus -- a first century BC building which 're-used' a fifth century BC set of 'original' Greek sculptures; or the tremendous statues from the emperors' pleasure gardens in Rome. Stunning, and when we were there, we saw 2 other visitors.
And just outside Rome, there's the port city of Ostia. Now, this is not in truth quite as impressive as Pompeii or Herculaneum in terms of sheer survival (it was abandoned and gradually covered by sand, not taken out by an earthquake). But unlike Pompeii, you have the streets more or less to yourself, and you can get a feeling of what it was like to walk through a densely populated Roman town...with series blocks of flats built in brick (this was a multiple occupancy place unlike Pompeii...).
What could be done to entice people away from the 'big few' sites into these other amazing places? They all come fully recommended by me, but do a bit of googling before you go; the info available on site is not always all it might be. (Amanda Claridge's Archaeological Guide covers the city sites well too -- though doesnt do Ostia).