The legendary gladiatorial arena in Rome is one of the most thrilling attractions the city has to offer. In its prime time, the 50,000-seat Colosseum Rome was coated in travertine and covered by a giant canvas held aloft by 240 posts. Living in the ancient times, you would take your place in the tiered seating that encircled the arena. From up high, you would form part of a rowdy crowd and watch enslaved gladiators and wild animals fight for their lives in gory battles…
This is the best thing about Colosseum. It’s not just a landmark, it’s a story.
The history if this structure is long, bloody, turbulent, as well as covered in the dust of its own ruins. Understanding why and where it came from is essential to making the most of visiting the Colosseum.
After the Roman emperor Nero notorious for his decadence took his own life in 68 AD, his years of outrageous excesses and misrule provoked a series of civil wars. Three different emperors attempted to take the throne in the turbulent years after Nero’s death; It was the fourth, Vespasian he Flavian, who ended up ruling for 10 years (69-79 AD). First of all things, Vespasian tried to markedly tone down the lavish excesses of the Roman court, restore the authority of the Senate and promote public welfare.
One of his major steps was returning the lush territory close to city center back to the Roman people. It was a grand gesture since Nero usurped this space to built an enormous expensive palace for himself after Rome had suffered a devastating fire in A.D. 64. So, Vespasian decreed that on the site of Nero’s Golden Palace, would stand a new amphitheater where everyone could enjoy gladiatorial battles and other types of entertainment.
And so, in 72 AD, a large amphitheater was commissioned to replace Nero's Domus Aurea. This is also why Colosseum’s original name was Flavian Amphitheater, to commemorate Vespasian's family (Flavian). Unfortunately, he didn’t live long enough to see it complete. The Colosseum officially opened one year after Vespasian’s death under the direction of his son Titus. To honor its inauguration, Titus organized games that lasted 100 consecutive days and nights!
The Colosseum enjoyed about four centuries of unceasing use before the struggles of the Western Roman Empire and the slow change in public tastes (rise of the Catholic church) caught up with it. Large gladiatorial combats and other decadents and cruel public entertainments were abandoned by the 6th century AD. Already by that time, the structure had faced severe damages caused by lightning and earthquakes.
During the medieval period, the Colosseum underwent quite a few significant but not necessarily flattering changes.
For instance, by the end of the 6th century, a small chapel was built into its structure. Although Colosseum’s religious use never really took off, the changes didn’t stop there. The once glorious yet gory arena was also converted to a cemetery and the many vaulted spaces in the under the seating were converted into housing quarters and workshops. In fact, the records show people rented and lived in these spaces until late 12th century. In the 13th century, Colosseum briefly served as a castle to a powerful Roman family, the Frangipani.
However, the severe earthquake in 1349 caused the south side of the Colosseum to crumble and thus sealed it's grim fate. In years that followed, the public abandoned the arena completely and instead, used it as a source of materials for important building projects around the city including St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John Lateran, and Palazzo Venezia.
During the 16th-17th century, The r was subjected to a couple of bad ideas including proposals to turn it into a wool factory to provide jobs for Rome's prostitutes or a bullfighting arena. Needless to say, none of these suggestions got very far.
On the other hand, in the 18th century, Pope Benedict XIV decided to declare it a sacred site where the early devoted Christians have been martyred by the Roman Empire. He banned people using the arena as a quarry for building materials and devoted it to the Passion of Christ installing Stations of the Cross inside it. There would be nothing wrong with that, except there are no historical grounds to support this information. Still, in the following centuries, many popes worked to save the structure.
Numerous restoration projects worked to reinforce the facade as well as remove the vegetation that threatened the structural integrity. Still, by the 20th century, a combination of weather, pollution, neglect, and vandalism ruined almost two-thirds of the original Colosseum, including all of the arena’s decorative elements. The largest restoration project lasted from 1993 - 2000 costing over €20 million. Today, the maintenance and preservation efforts persist as the Colosseum continues to be one of the leading Rome tourist attractions.
The finished Colosseum was unlike any other building in the city of Rome. It was and remains the largest structure of its kind; a freestanding arena with four floors rising 45 meters high, stretching over 189 m long and 156 m wide.
Colosseum’s one-of-a-kind facade comprises of three levels of arched entrances supported by columns. Each floor has columns in a different style (order). The bottom level is decorated with a simple Doric order, the second with a slightly more elaborate Ionic order, and the third one in the most ornate Corinthian order.
The amphitheater had eighty entrances of which seventy-six were numbered and ticketed enabling thousands of spectators to be seated within minutes. Out of the remaining four, two served to the emperor exclusively and two belonged to the gladiators. One of the gladiator gates was known as Porta Libitina after the Roman goddess of death. This is the door through which the dead were removed from the arena. The other door was Porta Sanivivaria through which the survivors and winners of the battles left the arena.
The Colosseum's interior comprised of three main parts: the arena, cavea, and podium. It was able to accommodate 50,000 spectators as well as The arena featured a wooden floor which was covered in sand before each battle. The sand was supposed to prevent the gladiators from slipping as well as soak up their blood. Special trapdoors led down to the underground rooms and hallways beneath the arena floor.
The spectator seating (cavea) had three main tiers. The lowest tier belonged to magistrates and senior officials; The middle tier hosted the wealthy citizens and the highest the commoners. The emperors, senators, and other important people set on the podium (a broad terrace in front of the tiers of seats).
The top floor was equipped with awnings to provide protection against the sun and other whims of nature as Romans watched the games. Besides gladiatorial combats, there were wild animal fights, hunts, and grander combats such as mock naval battles for which they flooded the arena with water. The majority of the fighters who competed in the Colosseum were men (although there were a few female gladiators), generally slaves, criminals or prisoners of war.
The Colosseum is one of the most popular Rome tourist attractions, hence planning your visit is the way to go. Here are few tips that will help you prepare adequately.
In general, the Colosseum is open from 8:30 am until one hour before the sunset which translates to:
You can enter the amphitheater until one hour before closing time. Both of it entrances are suitable for people with disabilities and wheelchairs are available to use for those who request it. The toilets are located on the south side of the Colosseum.
There are two ways to skip the line that stubbornly forms outside the Colosseum every single day. You can either:
It is advisable you do so online and in advance, especially if you are traveling with kids. The Colosseum ticket and the regular tour grants you entry to the first and second level of the amphitheater. Colosseum underground and the arena are only accessible with a special guided tour.
So, some of the Colosseum tours give you a lucrative access not possible with a standard ticket.
Each of the tours has its advantages. However, if you are in for a more intimate experience, we advise you choose one of the special tours.
The Colosseum ticket (or tour) also includes entries to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. All of these landmarks are part of the same excavation area but they have separate entrances. The ticket is valid for 48 hours since its first use.
Getting up early and going to Colosseum in the morning pays out in two ways. You get to avoid the afternoon crowds and you will have enough time to see the Forum and Palatine Hill with time for breaks in between.
Summer is the busiest and hottest time of the year. If you can’t stand crowds and heat, your visit is not going to be particularly pleasant. All three, Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are exposed to the sun with very few shady areas. If you don’t have much choice in the matter, make sure you use a hat and sunscreen.
Be it for the heat or the sheer amount of walking this part of Roman history entails, you should wear very comfortable shoes and carry along plenty of water. Colosseum tour or visit usually lasts about an hour and a half so you can buy the water before or after. However, Once you enter the Roman Forum, you won’t have a chance to buy anything and the walk isn't short.
Majority people opt to purchase their tickets from the official website of the landmark or monument in question as they seem the most trustworthy. However, they rarely come with the best conditions. For instance, usually, these tickets are nonrefundable. However, booking with agencies often allows you to cancel or reschedule your reservation in case there are unpredictable changes to your travel itinerary.
Even if you see the Colosseum during the day, it’s absolutely worth it to come by in the evening as well. The sight of the amphitheater illuminated by strategic golden spotlights is quite impressive. Perhaps make it part of your walk to or from dinner.