Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Gardens of the Colossus

As you probably know, the Colosseum in Rome – which as a building and institution is easily transferable to any kind of setting - had all manner of hidden depths and internal tunnels: as well as
the possibility of having your party enslaved and made to fight in it, with all the attendant risk and potential imperial favour that brings, it's a kind of pre-packaged dungeon (though it's oddly hard to find good plans of its innards – these are ok). Imagine its lower tunnels, light filtering down in harsh columns amid the gloom, the thrum of the crowd above, the narrow passageways filled with restive slaves and caged beasts and caches of weird gladiatorial equipment.

And also with plants? Admittedly not during its gladiatorial heyday, but subsequently when it fell into its equally dungeon-friendly medieval dereliction – a hermit built a chapel in there – the Colosseum became famous for the immense variety of plants growing across its vast structure. Botanists made exhaustive studies of the hundreds of varieties of plants there, concluding that the combination of sunlight, shelter, and large amounts of undisturbed growing space were ideal for a profusion of plants otherwise rare in central Rome: pears, capers, strawberries and more. There was also, though, a more romantic – though now generally disbelieved – explanation for the profusion: that the seeds of exotic plants had been brought there on the living bodies of the yet more exotic animals imported from across the empire for the games: elephants (3500 during Augustus' reign!), giraffes, lions, bears, all of
them unwittingly giving their lives to smuggle the seeds of a geographically impossible garden centuries hence.

Imagine it: at the centre of the great – but less great than it was in ancient times – metropolis, the seat of massively wealthy theocrats and endlessly intriguing bluebloods, sits the vast, layered shell of the Colosseum, the tunnels beneath it unmapped, the walls festooned with alien plants: flowers with no names in the local languages, fruits untasted for centuries, trees twisting like smoke across the blood-soaked stones. Imagine the vegetable wealth in there, the potions and poisons that could be produced: imagine the various local figures willing to pay the party to go in there and get them. All those stories – the circle of druids who worship on moonless nights within the great arena, the hauntings by hundreds upon hundreds of slaughtered men and beasts, the way the plants themselves seem not to stay still from night to night – they can't be more than fairy tales, surely?