Grim Entertainment Then, Refined Entertainment Now

The city of Pula, Croatia is a port not far from Rovinj. It has a bit of a gritty, industrial look to it from a distance, during the approach, and up close. There were many Tito-era, ugly Communist-style, cement apartment buildings. Some seemed rather new, but just as ugly as the others. Perhaps a few of Tito’s architects passed on their design sense to a bunch of apprentices.

The streets and yards were not quite as tidy as where we’d been so far, but still not bad. We could have avoided Pula, but went to see what is reputed to be the best remaining Roman coliseum, not counting the one in Rome. It did not disappoint.

pula-1It’s a slight oval shape and you can see where its been repaired with newer stones. The main seating area was still there, with only a few signs of extensive repair, but I could be mistaken. They might have been completely rebuilt at some point in the past. Most of the original pillars and rim were in good shape. The only thing left of the stone rooms where they kept the about-to-die prisoners, the lions and bears, and where the gladiators hung out before killing each other was piles of rocks and portions of walls.

Back in the day, the gladiators spent a few hours in rituals and prayers to the female god Nemesis before entering the ring. They took their religion seriously every day because they never knew if they’d survive the fighting.

pula-2It turned out that my memory of fifth grade world history was a bit hazy on the whole coliseum thing. I thought it was all about torturing the Christians and then watching them die. It turns out that the gladiator battles of the morning and afternoon were the main attraction. Tortures and death of Christians and other criminals were minor lunchtime entertainment. “I’ll have a sausage pastry please, two lemonades and—oh, look at the legs of that silly Christian wiggling under the lion.”

pula-3But, no blood on the gravel for us. It was a beautiful outdoor room with views downhill to the harbor, and views uphill to nearby apartment buildings, shops and homes. The citizens of Pula now hold world-class concerts in the coliseum. Here’s a link to a couple of famous cellists, known as 2Cellos, playing there. One of whom grew up in Pula.

(Side note: hot dogs in Croatia come wrapped in croissants. No bleached white buns here folks. At the tiny sandwich shop you also have your choice of water, juices, sodas, whiskey, rum, vodka, grappa, and so on. It would be like picking up a rum and coke with your turkey sandwich at Subway.)

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