Note - The Colosseum is in the process of being
cleaned, a action that will not conclude until 2016 (actual-end date
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
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.
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
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
"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.
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
website for more details.
Return to our section on Ancient Rome
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If you need information about another travel destination, try
Destination Guide Index
or Googling ThereArePlaces.
For a detailed, although unofficial website on the Colosseum, follow this
link to the BBC's excellent history of the
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Colosseum, Roman Forum Combo Tickets
intending to visit must purchase a combination ticket that covers entrance
to the Forum, Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.
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
From Viator Tours