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Ancient Rome - The Colosseum





 Ancient Rome - The Colosseum

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The Colosseum

            The Colosseum is Rome's signature attraction.  It is lovely at night.

Note -  The Colosseum is in the process of being cleaned, a action that will not conclude until 2016 (actual-end date is uncertain).  Until then parts of the monument (particularly the arcades) will be hidden behind scaffolding and covered with tarps while restoration experts make the venerable arena look as good as new.

The Colosseum, once known as the Flavian Amphitheater, dates from the 1st century AD.  It was commissioned by Vespasian late in 70 AD, opened during the reign of his son Titus in 80 AD and was completed by Domitian before the century ended.

Other emperors augmented the Colosseum, but when the Empire declined, it suffered from lack of maintenance, was damaged in a series of fires and was used for housing.  In addition, parts of the stadium were used as a quarry and several of Rome's favorite monuments were constructed, at least in part, from stonework from the Colosseum.

            The Colosseum is over 16 stories high

In its heyday the Colosseum was an immense oval-shaped building, nearly two football fields long, over 16 stories high and equipped with 80 entrance/exits, which helped to fill it and flush it very quickly when events were held.  We were surprised to learn that the Colosseum was originally equipped with a moveable awning (velarium) that provided relief from the sun, so the citizens of the Empire could watch in comfort as people and animals fought and often lost their lives. In addition, the Colosseum was constructed in a manner that allowed the stadium floor to be flooded and used to recreate mock naval battles.

The arena was designed to seat over 50,000. The Roman emperors believed that providing spectacles, even violent ones went a long way in pacifying the common people and bolstering the reputation of the emperor. The Colosseum served as much for social control as it did of the love of sport and performed this role until late in the 5th Century AD.


The Colosseum was the scene of incredible mayhem.   Battles involving warriors, criminals and those who displeased the Emperor were an attempt  by the Empire to maintain control and channel the barbarism of his subjects.  Seating at the spectacles was controlled and segregated with the power curve aligning spectators from the bottom (seating for the desirables) to the top (seating for the undesirables) of the Colosseum.  Of course, the emperors and their supporter had the best seats near the floor of the arena, but  were separated from others.  The members of the Roman Senate were seated close to the action, followed by the rich and influential.  Finally, ordinary citizens were allowed to sit in the higher rows, although women were relegated to the very top tiers of seats.

During your visit, you will notice that large sections for the Colosseum's walls are "missing".  The Colosseum was constructed in an area known as the Labricana Valley, which was composed of a combination of soft alluvial (water borne) deposits sitting on top of more rigid rock layers.  It is thought that the instability of the valley's surface may have made the stadium susceptible to damage from earthquakes.  In fact, parts of the Colosseum were damaged by strong earthquakes in the 2nd, 5th, 8th, 14th and early 18th centuries (in an earthquake that destroyed L'Aquila in central Italy).  Some of the destruction was repaired during a renovation in the 19th century. 



Below are photographs of the interior of the Colosseum viewed from the east (top) and the west (bottom). The numerous chambers and passages beneath the floor (thought to be wooden) of the arena housed gladiators, animals and slaves who accessed the arena through a series of gated passages that kept them separated until the "games" began.  

In late summer 2010 (August) for the first time in over 2,000 years,  one of the underground corridors where the gladiators prepared for battle was opened to those on formal tours.  Unfortunately, the underground area is subject to flooding and is often closed to protect the safety of the visitors.  Also opened to the public was the Attic or top viewing level of the stadium, which provides a panoramic view of the Colosseum.

           The interior of the Colosseum viewed from its eastern side   

           Still magnificent today, the Colosseum must have been spectacular when opened.

Note: Visitors must purchase a combo ticket (available at the Colosseum) that covers entrance to the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, or you can book tours from local companies.  Another alternative is the Roma Pass that provides entry to the Colosseum, Forums and a number of attractions over a three-day period.  See the official Roma Pass website for more details.

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For a detailed, although unofficial website on the Colosseum, follow this link to the BBC's excellent history of the Colosseum.











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Colosseum, Roman Forum Combo Tickets

Note: Anyone intending to visit must purchase a combination ticket that covers entrance to the Forum, Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

See Select Italy for advanced tickets. Otherwise, you can buy them locally, but may run into long lines depending on the season.


















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Skip the Line Private Tour: Ancient Rome and Colosseum Art History Walking Tour

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