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 which had been devastated in the great fire of 64 AD, and built the lake, extensive gardens and a lavish palace (Domus Aurea) in the space. 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 from which the Colosseum acquired 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 were seated according to their social class
• The exterior walls were once covered with marble which was later looted to make quicklime or reused 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:
You may also pre-order tickets here:
And see my tip on Chiosco Bar for a great place to take a breather in Parco Colle Oppio just down the street:
NOTE: advance reservations for the Third Ring/Underground tours offer on the Coopculture website sell out very quickly during high season. Also, if you are planning to visit the Forum and Palatine on the same day as the Colosseum, be aware of bag size restrictions for those two sites:
I have visited Rome three times and will this fall spend six months there to study Italian now after graduation. I love Rome and it is a magnificent city in so many ways I can't even count them, but there are some things one should know before visiting.
A big warning where one is most likely to encounter beggars, thieves, pickpockets, street sellers, scammers and "weird" or even "dangerous" people, or just people in general that might cause you an unpleasant and uncomfortable experience - they mostly gather on tourist attractions. So try to bring as little as possible whenever you're out exploring, leave your passport/ID/credit card at the hotel locked in a safe. Always bring cash, that's my number one tip. I have never been robbed in Rome, and I always try to bring as small purses as possible and always close them. No money in the back of your jeans pocket, then you will most likely get robbed. Also try to keep you cellphones and camera in your bags as much as possible - showing off your iPhone/camera will make you an easy target. The underground is also an easy place for pickpockets to approach you and rob you, so I never get on a way too crowded train - in that case I keep my purse in sight and therefore have full control that nobody is trying to rob me.
And, speaking of the worst tourist attractions I'd definitely say the Colosseum. There are except for street sellers, pickpockets, scammers etc. also homeless people living there. When I was there on a school field trip in October, I saw the same man two days in a row masturbating in public on a bench in the middle of the square! There were children passing by him, and he just lay there completely careless. Just minutes later, he approached my female classmates and said "Ciao bella" - they were not present when he lay on a bench. This was an extremely uncomfortable situation for me, I ran away and threw up as he wiped himself on the bench.
Lesson learned: try to spend as little time on the square of tourist attractions as possible - just pay the entrance fee, enter and get inside, and therefore exit when you're done. Also never sit on the benches of famous tourist attractions as many homeless people sleep on them and therefore it is a likely location for bacteria to spread. And well, also be well prepared and try to visit the less tourist crowded areas. I really liked the Trastevere area, check it out!
It's gorgeous, overwhelming and breathtaking and is one of those most photographed and recognized buildings in the world. Believe me when I tell you that a visit to the Colosseum will not disappoint. I had wanted to see the Colosseum since I was a little girl and when I finally took a trip to Rome, I was absolutely overcome with its sheer size and beauty!
Ticket and admission lines are very long here all year, so be prepared to wait (and wait). You can shave off some time by purchasing your ticket in advance online. I highly recommend doing this. There are all sorts of tips and tricks for avoiding the lines (check out Rick Steves for the most up to date tips). A tour is especially informative but you can still see much of the structure if you opt to do a self guided look about. Note that you cannot go into some areas of the building unless you are accompanied by a licensed tour guide.
It's haunting during the daylight hours but is breathtaking when lit up at night. Try to go around dusk and sit outside and marvel at this architectural wonder (but be warned that you will be pestered like crazy by people trying to sell you tourist junk).
This is my favorite spot to waste time in all of Rome.
2007: We'd just come limping from the Colosseum (and nine 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 Mecenate in Parco Colle Oppio. Don't worry about the name of the park as it may not be clearly marked; it's the green space across the street from Colosseum. Best way is to enter the park on Viale Serapide and follow it to the east. The bar is also east of the Domus Aurea ruins, 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):
Addendum: what with long-awaited weekend tours now available of some restored areas of Domus Aurea, Chiosco will likely be discovered by more tourists: the Parco Colle Oppio excavation is within splittn' distance.
One of the things I had looked forward to see in Rome
was the colosseum. When we came there the queues
were very very long so unfortunately we didn't enter.
Anyway it was still impressive to see it from the
outside if you want to enter it can be good to book
tickets in advance on Internet.
Colosseum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Rome.
It is an ancient Roman amphitheater which was built between
70-80 AD. It could take up to 87000 people in the audience, an
audience that came here to see gladiator tournaments, fights
between wild animals and executions.
Colosseum is 48 meters high and it is 524 meters in circumference. We walked around the whole building.
Colossum by night looks just stunning. It is extremely well illuminated and one who did it is a master of his job. The light is graduated from almost poor to very bright and this combination was perfectly executed. This play of shadow and light in rotation makes Colosseum very attractive in a dark night, as it was during my stay in Rome.
The outer walls of travertine stone were set without mortar, they were held together by iron clamps. During the centuries, however, it has suffered extensive damage and its large segments collapsed following several earthquakes. The present day exterior of the Colosseum is in fact the original interior wall. The amphitheater was ringed by eighty entrances at ground level.
In medieval times the arena of the Colosseum was converted into a cemetery, and numerous vaulted spaces in the arcades were converted into housing and workshops. Around 1200 Frangipani Family took over the Colosseum and fortified it, using it as a castle. Later on, the interior of the amphitheater was extensively stripped of stone and such devastation culminated in the 15th and 15th centuries, when the stone of the Colosseum was massively used as construction material.
In 1780, the Pope declared the Colosseum a holy place where until the fourth century mass torture and martyrs of the Christians took place and thereby further devastation stopped.
Yes, it looks huge when looking at it from the outside but its real proportions one can be aware of only after getting inside. There were seats for about 60.000 spectators on three different levels. Each class had separate entry and separate seats. First level was dedicated exclusively to judges, senators and aristocracy. The second one was for the middle class while third on the top for those who were poor.
There were the underground levels too, called "hypogeum", where gladiators, servants and animals stayed during the games. Hypogeum itself had different levels with huge network of paths, staircases and elevators. The ground floor, where gladiators fought, was called "harena", it's Latin name for the sand. The colloquial name for the amphitheaters soon became arena.
Gladiator fights took place approximately 500 years. In the 6th century the Colosseum was practically abandoned, because it no longer served its purpose. Namely, the last gladiatorial fight mentioned around 435.
The Colosseum was originally called "Flacian Amphoteatre" but the name that is popularly called has received after the colossal statue of the Emperor Nero, which once stood in front of the amphitheater. It was primarily built for the gladiator fights but it also served for various other spectacles, such as, hunting of exotic animals or for a sea battles. The construction was completed around year 80, during Emperor Domitianus, who was the last emperor of the Flavian dynasty.
The Colosseum has a shape of large cylindrical body in an elliptical floor plan, with seats that are slanted down towards the arena.
Colosseum had a wall mantle, that has almost disappeared in the arcade openings through which the corridors, on three floors, treated with light and air. Same arcades were decorated with sculptures, which in passed centuries have disappeared, and on top of the amphitheatre was a wooden structure with a sliding roof of the canvas.
So-called "hypogenum" is a series of underground tunnels, used to house animals and slaves while waiting their turn for a fight. It consists of two level subterranean network of cages and tunnels beneath the arena. Around eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces, while larger hinged platforms (hegmata) provided access for elephants and other big animals.
The hypogenum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Colosseum, like stables for animals, gladiator's barracks at the "Ludus Magnus". (Ludus was a training school for gladiators.). In hypogenum existed elevators, lifting cages for animals and hydraulic mechanisms to flood arena rapidly. Except for gladiator fights, the Colosseum was used for staging spectacular naval battles and then the arena was kept filled with water.
The Colosseum was out of time architectural project, if necessary it could be emptied of crowd in about ten minutes, and it is very difficult to achieve in modern stadiums. The Colosseum was entered on 80 gates, in the ground level, while the emperor had at his disposal a separate entrance through the tunnel.
The viewers were strictly separated by status. The best seats were reserved for the emperor and Vestal Virgins, then for senators and patricians, while the top of the amphitheater was for the common people. Each entry had a numeric number and the tickets were of clay tablets on which there was wrote the gate number and the seat. Better places, close to arena, were called "immum" (the lower seats), while those for the common people have been called "summum" (the upper seats).
The first impression one gets when approaching to it is, gosh this construction is so huge. With all technique and skills we have today it takes several years to build the football stadium and finish it, what a brilliant effort was to build the Colosseum two thousands years ago.
The Colosseum was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian, who died in year 79., and finished during era of his sons Tit and Domitianus. As most of the other constructions in Rome, the Colosseum was never finished according to its plans. Truth is, fourth level is missing.
It was built for about 50.000 spectators but sometimes there were around 80.000 of them. In order to protect the spectators from a heat, kind of sailing canvas (called "vella") was added to its top. More than thousand sailors needed to operate with that huge vella.
The Colosseum was architectural wonder in many aspects. Over twenty entries leaded to its interiors, on three different levels, and less than half an hour needed to empty it. It takes more than that in most of football stadiums built nowadays.
We started from Brussels and on the third day morning we arrived in Rome; traffic was fluid. We aimed at the Colosseum, turned around the monument and parked our car, a Fiat 600, in front of it without any obstruction by anybody.
We quietly admired the Colosseum. For me it was the first time, my wife had already visited Rome.
That was in 1966.
Things have slightly (euphemism) changed since then. Since August 2013 even the access by the Via dei Fori Imperiale is closed for traffic.
On our last visit we stayed in a hotel close to the monument so that we could see it from the terrace and walk around in the evening when the crowds are gone and the atmosphere with the illuminations of the monuments changes from touristy in day time to some romantic as we like to imagine antiquity.
As for the monument itself I think I wrote everything I could in my reviews :
"Roman Building Efficiency".
"The Coliseum and the Martyrs."
"The Coliseum in the Middle Ages."