The Colosseum (or Flavian Amphitheater) is the most visited monument in Italy and a true icon of this Mediterranean country. Elected one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World” in 2007, this oval amphitheater is also considered a masterpiece of classical architecture and a symbol of the grandeur of the Roman Empire, one of the most important empires ever in Western History.
The Colosseum was built in the 1st century AD, to host great public shows, among which gladiator games and animal hunts stood out. Located in the largest archaeological complex of Ancient Rome (currently called “Parco Archeologico del Colosseo”), it’s still the largest amphitheater in the world today!
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- Brief History of the Colosseum
- How to Get to the Colosseum
- What to See at the Colosseum
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Brief History of the Colosseum
The Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian and the work was completed during the rule of his son and heir, Emperor Titus. He was succeeded by his brother, Emperor Domitian, who made modifications to what became known as Amphitheatrum Flavium, in honor of this Flavian Dynasty.
This gigantic oval amphitheater had a capacity for 40 thousand to 70 thousand spectators and hosted all kinds of popular events: munera (gladiator fights), venationes (hunting of wild animals), naumachias (simulations of naval battles), re-enactments based on episodes from Roman mythology, and public executions, among others.
Did you know? The name “Colosseum” is thought to derive from a colossal bronze statue, which Emperor Nero had placed at the entrance of his sumptuous palace (the Domus Aurea or Golden House). In fact, this statue was called “Colossus of Nero”!
Nevertheless, everything changed in the 5th century, when the gladiatorial games were abolished. And the decline of its popularity turned the Colosseum into a quarry, with many of its building materials being used to erect buildings such as Saint Peter’s Basilica, in Vatican City!
Other than that, the Colosseum served as an animal shelter, residential complex, military fortress, and even a Christian sanctuary. In the 19th century, the ruins of the monument inspired Romantic artists and writers, in addition to triggering archaeological excavations and restoration campaigns, which continue to this day.
Did you know that the Colosseum was part of Italy’s second set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 4th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Paris (France), between September 1st and 5th, 1980.
Only one other Italian site was announced in the session: the Church and Dominican Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie with “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.
Nowadays, Italy is the country in the world with the most UNESCO sites: it has fifty-eight heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization!
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit five of them:
- Cinque Terre (1997)
- Historic Centre of Florence (1982)
- Historic Centre of Rome and the Properties of the Holy See (1980) – Castel Sant’Angelo, Colosseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill
- The Porticoes of Bologna (2021)
- Venice and its Lagoon (1987)
How to Get to the Colosseum
The Colosseum is located in the Piazza del Colosseo, one of the most touristy squares in Rome. And from here, you’re very close to many other popular archaeological sites such as the Arco di Constantino (100 meters), the Palatino (450 meters), the Foro di Nerva (500 meters), the Foro Romano (600 meters), the Foro di Augusto (650 meters), the Foro di Cesare (700 meters), and the Foro di Traiano (750 meters).
In my opinion, Rome is a true “open-air museum” and therefore deserves to be explored on foot. However, if you prefer to travel by public transportation, you can reach the Colosseum by bus (numbers 51, 75, 81, 85, 87, and 118; Colosseo stop), tram (number 3; Colosseo stop), or subway (line B1, Colosseo station).
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Colosseum is open every day of the year (except on the holidays of January 1st and December 25th), from 9 am to 5:30 pm (in March), from 9 am to 7:15 pm (from April to August), from 9 am to 7 pm (in September), from 9 am to 6:30 pm (in October), or from 9 am to 4:30 pm (in November and December).
As for tickets, they cost €18 (adults) or €4 (young people aged between 18 and 25, who are citizens of the European Union), and those under 18 don’t pay admission. In addition, it’s important to note that this ticket gives you access to the entire Parco Archeologico del Colosseo, which includes the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill!
TIP: Since the Colosseum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, I recommend that you buy your ticket in advance to avoid the endless lines at the site. And if you want, you can also check other types of tickets on the official website of the Colosseum Archaeological Park!
What to See at the Colosseum
The arena of the Colosseum was a large stage, more than 80 meters long and about 50 meters wide. And despite having a wooden floor, the arena was covered in sand, to absorb the blood and sweat of the fightings. Interestingly, the Latin name for “sand” is “arena” (hence the name given to this element of the amphitheater).
These days, only a small part of the arena has been rebuilt – although the Italian government has announced the construction of a new retractable floor. When this is completed, the Colosseum will again be able to be used for mass shows, such as concerts, operas, and plays!
Sotteranei (or Ipogeo)
The undergrounds of the Colosseum are often referred to as the “hypogeum”, the name given to underground structures from Classical Antiquity, such as temples, tombs, galleries, etc.
In the case of the Colosseum, the hypogeum refers to a series of tunnels, where caged slaves and animals waited for their turn to fight.
Built by Emperor Domitian, this sort of “underground labyrinth” also hid the complex machinery used in the shows from the view of the spectators.
This consisted of shafts, elevators, pulleys, and trapdoors, which allowed the protagonists and their respective sets and props to go up or down.
Like other Roman theaters and amphitheaters, the cavea of the Colosseum corresponded to the place where the public sat. Despite this, at that time, these stands were organized into five different sections, separating the spectators according to their social class!
In short, the farther a citizen sat from the arena, the lower his condition was. At the Colosseum, the emperor and his senators sat on the podium (the area closest to the arena), while the plebeian women and children sat on the portico (the area furthest away). Even so, entry was free for all.
Arco di Constantino
The majestic Arch of Constantine is just a few meters from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill – which is why it’s also part of the Parco Archeologico del Colosseo.
Built by the Roman Senate to commemorate the ten-year reign of Emperor Constantine and his victory over Emperor Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (in 312 AD), this triumphal arch was the last to be erected in Ancient Rome.
Its impressive dimensions – around 21 meters high, almost 26 meters wide, and more than 7 meters deep – make the Arch of Constantine the largest arch in the Roman Empire!
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