There is probably no edifice more symbolic of Rome than the Colosseum. An engineering marvel in a culture that was routinely outstanding in works of great civil engineering.
The Colloseum, also known as the Flavian amphitheater, was started under Vespasian in 72AD and was finished 8 years later under his son, Titus. It was the largest amphitheater built by the Romans. In its heyday, it was used for gladiatorial contests and similar spectacles. What these spectacles amounted to really were entertainment for the masses, allowing the ruling classes to strengthen their position in society by distracting the masses from more immediate concerns. Putting on gladiatorial contests was by no means cheap, and over time their provision became associated with political corruption. Starting with Augustus, the games were publicly financed as a matter of public interest.
Remember, of course, that the gladiators, though they had something similar to rock star status in some quarters, were slaves for the most part. They were taught to fight to the death against other gladiators, against wild beasts, against criminals. The gladiators came from lower social classes and generally fought in one to three contests a year. The spectators came into play in deciding the life or death of the combatants in case of a tie.
With the rule of Constantine and the coming of Christianity the gladiatorial contests started to change. First it became common that they were no longer fought to the death. Gradually, the gladiatorial competition was outlawed as pagan. By 435 AD gladiatorial fights were no longer mentioned.
The Colosseum, damaged by earthquakes and fires, ceased to serve much of a purpose with the decline of gladiatorial contests and the games. In the Middle Ages it served as a cemetery. It appears as a ruin today because over time so much of its stone was pilfered for use in other statues, palaces and monuments.
Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, this largest of Roman arenas was constructed between 70 and 80 AD on the former site of Nero's artificial lake. That very naughty emperor claimed as his own a large area of Rome that had been devastated in the great fire of 64 AD and built the lake, extensive gardens and a lavish palace (Domus Aurea) on the land. He also supposedly had an enormous likeness of his cheeky self cast in bronze and placed near his new house for all to admire. It was this statue, the Colossus of Nero, that is believed to be where the Colosseum got its revised name. Anyway, Nero's evil ways caught up with him and after he rather reluctantly cut his own throat to escape slow death by flogging, his successor, Vespasian, reclaimed the land for the public. The new emperor had most of the palace torn down, gave the colossus a new, non-Nero-like head, filled in the lake and ordered the building of this massive entertainment center for the people of Rome.
A couple of interesting facts:
• The design was so efficient for filling and emptying the arena of thousands of people in a hurry that it's still the model for athletic stadiums built two thousand years later
• Although all events were free, everyone had to have a ticket and you were seated according to your social class
• The exterior walls were once covered with marble that was looted to make quicklime or used as building material for other structures
• While many unfortunates perished here in games of weaponry and spectacles involving wild animals, there is no record that any of them were Christians martyred for religion. Most casualties were gladiators or condemned prisoners.
• Almost as an apology for its violent history, the Colosseum is now an international symbol of support for abolishment of the death penalty. Whenever a death sentence is commuted anywhere in the world or any country abolishes capital punishment (a requirement for joining the EU) the ruins are illuminated with gold versus the white lighting normally used.
There's too much to cover here so do some reading before you go; I'm including the URL for the site with entree fees, hours, etc. Tickets include entry to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum and are good for 2 days: buy them at Palatine Hill to avoid the worst of the lines! Audioguides are available as are guided tours:
And see my tip on Chiosco Bar for a great place to take a breather in Parco Colle Oppio just down the street:
This is my favorite spot to waste time in all of Rome.
2007: We'd just come limping from the Colosseum (and 9 hours on our feet) and were heading through the park across the street when we saw a little kiosk and scattering of tables in a cool, green corner. Sinking gratefully into a couple of chairs, we ordered up a beer and spent a delightful hour or two within view of the ancient arena and the ruins of Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea). Our brews came with an attentive waiter and lighthearted chatter from little groups of Italian friends and families seated nearby. Grownups sipped coffee and wine in the shade; tiny babies were fussed over and passed around; older children dribbled ice cream and sped around on scooters; lots of laughter... this is still one of my favorite memories of Rome.
We made a beeline here on a return trip in 2012, crossing fingers and toes that it hadn't closed. Not only was it open but our Senegalese waiter from 5 years earlier was still scuttling about with trays of espresso and wine. It was a joyful reunion all around and Mustafa was very glad to see us - once we jogged his memory.
The best part? It remains virtually undiscovered by the hordes mobbing the pile down the street. We've been here four times (would have been 5 but it's closed on Mondays) and have yet to see or hear another tourist - not that it couldn't happen.
Chiosco has been a park fixture for over 40 years and you'll find it close to the corner of Viale Della Domus Aurea and Via Mecante, to the east of the Colosseum, in Parco Colle Oppio. Don't worry about the name of the park as it may not be clearly marked; it's roughly the green space to the northeast of the Colosseum. The bar is also east of the Domus Aurea ruin in the park, and close to a playground so it's a great place to bring the kids. I'm including a website with a fun write-up from another big fan of this little gem (when it was Pavilion Bar):
The end of the games occurred in the 5th c. The taste of the public changed, the declining Empire entered in a military and financial crisis. The expenses needed to organize the shows were so enormous that the function of the amphitheatre became obsolete.
Although damaged by earthquakes in the fifth century, it seems that the Coliseum remained nearly intact till the 8-9th century.
In the 11th c. it became the property of the Frangipani family, with whose palace it was connected by a series of constructions. In the 14th c. the Coliseum belonged to the municipality of Rome; a third of the building was used as hospital. Very bad for the Coliseum was the earthquake of 1349 by which the western and southern portion of the shell collapsed. The enormous mass of stone mainly travertine of this part of the structure served as a quarry for the Romans. Four churches were erected in the vicinity from this material. Many thousands of cartloads of travertine from the Coliseum were carried off by contractors.
It should be noted that in the Middle Ages the Coliseum was not considered as a sanctuary of the martyrs. This idea developed only in the 17th c. where an end was put to the plunder.
The growing vegetation in the wall cracks increased the damage to the structure.
Since 1643 botanists are studying the plants and their variation over the centuries at the Coliseum (684 species have been identified). A well-documented history of flora shows the monument's progress from slum to tourist attraction!
Open all days from 08.30 h.
Closing times: 16.30 h in winter, increasing to 19.00 h in summer
Attention: closed on 1/01 and 25/12 !
NEW: Diego Della Valle, owner of Tod's shoe company, will invest 25 million euros in the RENOVATION of the Coliseum. The amphitheater looks black from the pollution and the vibrations of the nearby subway make bricks fall down. The renovation would start late this year and will last for 2,5 years. The monument will remain open to the public.
On the outside of the Colosseum it is pretty obvious that it is not in its top form and has seen better days. What do you do with an old Roman amphitheatre after the fall of the Roman Empire? Well, you can use the stones to build other things, after all, the stones are precut and ready to use – a sort of early Home Depot. Part of St. Peter’s Basilica came from the Colosseum. Time has taken its toll as well as earthquakes have inflicted damage on the structure.
From the outside, the Colosseum has four layers: the lowest level with the entrances has archways with Doric columns leading into the structure, followed by two more levels with Ionic and Corinthian columns, each level getting more elaborate, and then topped with a fourth level with windows. You can get a good view of these columns from the southern side of the Colosseum.
So what are you looking at? As I mentioned before, it is a very large sports arena, but definitely the field is missing as are the seats. But you can definitely get a sense of the magnitude of the structure. Now imagine it filled with people – between 50,000 to 87,000 spectators depending on which estimates you read – all cheering for their favorites. Pretty impressive, huh?
The field of the arena is missing, but it gives you the opportunity to see the hypogeum or underground. This appears to be an elaborate labyrinth of rooms and halls, which is exactly what it is! This is the part of the arena where the gladiators, animals, props, and other items for shows were kept. There are a number of smaller rooms, which makes sense since you didn’t want the lions just roaming about under there! There were a number of mechanical systems, pulleys, etc., that would bring these animals and props up to the arena stage. This part of the Colosseum also had underground tunnels that linked it to other parts of the town – where the gladiators lived and were trained and where the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins could arrive without having to walk amongst the commoners waiting outside.
The seating is in tiers, similar to today’s stadiums, each with a specific class of society being able to sit in them, and, like today, the best seats were down below. There were special boxes for special people (Emperor and his party, the Vestal Virgins, etc.) which were the best seats in the house. Next came seats for the senators, followed by the nobles and knights, then Roman citizens (separated by wealth), and at the very top, our modern day nose-bleed section, would be the poor, the slaves, and women. The arena could be emptied very quickly at the end of a show or in case of emergency due to the number of stairs and tunnels leading to and from the seating.
I’m pretty sure that the Colosseum is on most must-see lists of visitors to Rome. Even if you don’t go inside it, you will want to walk around it just to see Rome’s greatest amphitheatre that was begun almost 2,000 years ago. Despite having seen the Colosseum in many pictures, it was impressive to see up close. Once inside, the best way I could describe it would be to think of a modern day football stadium without its field and seats. That’s how big it is!
Tickets: If you plan to go into the Colosseum, you are going to need tickets. I highly recommend you get them somewhere other than the Colosseum, where the ticket lines tend to be the longest. Some people use the ROMA Pass, some purchase their tickets online ahead of time, and others, like us, purchased our combo ticket at the Roman Forum ticket counter. We were there in late February so it wasn’t as crowded as the summer and the line was very short. If you are coming in high season, you will most likely want to get your ticket ahead of time.
Once you have your tickets, you can climb the steps up into the arena. Even in February, the Colosseum had many people and the steps are steep; this part seemed to go slowly, so I can only imagine what it would be like with double or triple the amount of people to work around.
There are various places you can enter the arena area – on three sides of the arena and on different levels. Once you are there and inside, I would suggest you visit all of them as each gives you a different view point. While photographs are allowed, it is difficult to find a good position due to the throngs of people. If you want that perfect photo, be prepared to wait for a space to open up. This requires patience as many people seem to stand in their spots for a long time, reading their tour books, taking photos, or just chatting about what they are seeing.
Audio Guide While not always a fan of Rick Steves’, he does a good audio tour of the Colosseum (as well as other sites in Rome) that you can download for free from iTunes. You can download this to your iPod before you come to Rome and enjoy it as you explore the Colosseum. They are informative and provide some good details about what you are looking at.
For me the Colloeseum is the most iconic landmark in Rome, and the place i immediately associated with the city even before I visited.
I would advise booking your tickets online. The queues were not too bad when we visited in February but I can imagine in peak season it would be manic!!! It is really easy and you just print them off and bring with you. Tickets are valid for 2 days and allows access to the Forum (which is a much bigger site and requires a half day visit).
We got the audioguide which cost 11 Euros - being totally honest it was a complete waste of money, and I didn't like the fact i had to leave my drivers license with them (or other form of ID) until a returned the guide. The guide only had about 6 points, they were not clearly marked and to be honest the majority didn't give that much information and most of it i had picked up in a guidebook (The eyewitness ones are excellent) - so I wouldn't bother again. You can hire a guide but personally i prefer to explore somewhere at my own pace.
It is a very interesting structure explore and interesting that all residents in Rome had a free of charge seat at the Colloseum to watch the games - the higher up you were the less important you were. The important people had front row seats. The emporers had their names enscribed on their seats. You can see all underground tunnels where the animals/gladiators would have been and some of the staircases in the arena are still visible (although they are very steep!)
You get a lot of guides offering to take you round - and a LOT of men in Gladiator costumes touting for business (photo's) although i am not sure that the romans would have worn socks under their sandals ;-)
In my opinion the visit to the Coliseum is a must when one is in Rome. Awfully it is always very crowded and the queue to buy the ticket is too long any time. It is advisable to buy the combined ticket in the Palatine Hill where the queues are usually shorter.
The Coliseum started to be built in 72 AD and was inaugurated in 80 AD. It used to be venue for fights of gladiators, spectacles with fierce animals, sea battles, animal hunts and other spectacles. The coliseum had capacity for 50,000 people. There are over 80 arches through which spectators entered, so that they were accommodated or evacuated very quickly.
The visitor can walk through tunnels, a part of the arena, and the galleries.
There is no review that can encompass the sheer size of this place.
We allowed a day for this and included the Roman Forum as well. We bought our tickets at the entrance to the Forum and in the afternoon did the Colosseum. We felt drawn back to Colosseum again the next day .
It is crowded but its expected .
All you do when you enter here is imagine the crowds in the past and what they "saw" .For a partial ruin it is amazing .
It is typical of Rome though the cars and the noisy road right by . I wonder though how the environment is causing problems with this vast structure and it is a beauty that should be given ample time to enjoy .
The gladiators are there but they were not pushy ,some other reviews made them sound complete oafs ,I guess its their job to try and get as much money for the picture.
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