The Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome

The Colosseum or Coliseum (Latin: Colosseus – “huge”, Italian: Colosseo), also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium), is perhaps the grandest construction in the history and culture of ancient Rome. It is located to the south of the central part of the Eternal City, just east of the Roman Forum. Built during the extensive reconstruction of Rome, it had been the most prestigious place for entertainment in the capital and empire for four centuries. Over the time, this tremendous arena became the hallmark of Rome.

History

The Colosseum was created around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to Roman people. After, in A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus opened this massive construction for 100 days of games with gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. For that time, the Colosseum was known as the Flavian Amphitheater. It was actively used for four centuries, but in the 18th century, the arena became a source of building materials. Consequently, two-thirds of the original construction has been destroyed over time, but the amphitheater remains one of the most famous touristic destinations in the world and an iconic symbol of Rome.

Construction

In 64 AD, the Great Fire of Rome wrecked the Eternal City. It happened during the rule of Nero, who appropriated the land and built a luxury palace with a lake and gardens, which we all know as Domus Aurea (“Golden House”). Also, 37 meters high statue of Nero was created on the site. However, the misrule of the emperor caused many civil wars. After his death and during the rule of Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), the new emperor with his sons, Titus (79-81) and Domitian (81-96), tried to restore Senate and develop the welfare of citizens. Around 70-72, Vespasian restored Nero’s Domus Aurea, and built a new amphitheater for people to enjoy gladiatorial combats and fights with animals.

Construction of the Colosseum in Rome

 

The Colosseum demanded huge input of materials and manpower for its construction. However, after the war with the Jews, Vespasian acqired more than 1000 slaves and necessary funds for the amphitheater building. The beginning of works was in 71-72 AD. He decided that the area between the three hills of Rome: the Caelian Hill, the Esquilline Hill, and the Palatine Hill, will be an ideal location.

When the Emperor Vespasian died, the helm of the state was passed to his son Titus (Latin: Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus)

The successor finished the building of the Colosseum and entitled its generic name – the Flavian Amphitheatre. Moreover, the building accommodated 50 to 80 thousands of people, having on average 65 thousands of visitors.

Early Ages

Colosseum in the early ages

The Colosseum quickly became a place of attraction. Therefore,Titus, his brother Domitian (Latin: Titus Flavius Domitianus) and following emperors of Rome always took care of it and improved the construction regularly. In the 3rd century AD, the amphitheater was almost ruined because of a great fire, so Alexander Severus (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexandrus) actually restored the structure.

In the 5th century AD, Rome renounced the pantheon of pagan gods in order to finally turn to the Christianity. The emperor Honorius August (Latin: Flavius Honorius Augustus) immediately issued a ban on the gladiatorial combats because of contradiction to the precepts of the new religion. However, the Colosseum retained its status of the venue for entertainments, but offered only fights of wild animals. In the 5th century, Italy fell under the domination of the West Goths and it has led to the gradual destruction of the Flavian Amphitheatre.

Middle Ages

Colosseum in the middle ages

At the end of the 6th century, a small shrine was built inside the Colosseum. The arena became a cemetery, while the niches and arches of the amphitheater were used for trade shops and workshops. In 1200, the aristocratic family, Frangipani, received the building with the full ownership and began to work on its fortification.

In the middle of the 14th century, an earthquake hit Rome and led to the destruction of the outer south wall of the Colosseum

Modern Age

Colosseum in the modern ages

From the 16th century, the church had a great influence on the Colosseum. Pope Sixtus V had planned to build a wool processing plant on the territory of the ancient site. In the 17th century, the amphitheater had a new entertainment – bullfighting.

In the middle of the 18th century, Pope Benedict XIV declared the Colosseum a holy place for the Catholic Church, the early Christian shrine.

Subsequently, the pontificate had made numerous attempts to restore a historical place. Throughout the 19th century, there were widespread works regarding the excavation of the amphitheater arena and strengthening of the damaged facade. The construction acquired its modern form during the reign of Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce (“the leader”).

Nowadays

Nowadays, the Colosseum is one of the most famous sights of Rome. Every day, thousands of tourists visit Roman amphitheater and the surrounding area, while the average annual flow of people reaches several million.

Structure

Structure of the colosseum

The external view of the Colosseum was borrowed from the theater. It is an ellipse-shaped construction with dimensions of 189 meters (620 ft) long, 156 meters (512 ft) wide and a base area of 24 thousand square meters (6 acres). Earlier, the height of the outer wall reached 48-50 meters (157-164 ft),while the perimeter was 545 meters (1788 ft). The arena itself has an oval shape with a width of 55 meters (180 ft) and a length of 87 meters (285 ft). From the audience, it was enclosed with five-meter (16 ft) wall.

External view

The construction of the outer wall took about 100 thousand cubic meters (3,531,467 cubic ft) of travertine. Stones, laid without cement, were stitched with metal piles with a total weight of 300 tons. The past centuries and a strong earthquake deprived the Colosseum of former luster. Only the northern segment of the original construction has survived. The rest was used for building materials by the medieval inhabitants of Rome. It was only in the 19th century, when the city authorities decided to restore the historical place.

External view of the colosseum

The undamaged part of the Colosseum consists of 3 tiers of arches set on each other

Interior view

The architects of antiquity faced a difficult task: they had to provide easy access to massive stands of the amphitheater. For this purpose, they built 80 entrances on the underground floor of the construction. Moreover, 76 of them were intended for the “mere mortals”, while the remaining 4  for the August’s people. The main northern exit was reserved for the emperor and his retinue. Four “elite” entrances were decorated with artificial marble and favorably compared with ordinary portals.

To visit the amphitheater, antique audience bought tickets on which the numbers of the row and the seat were engraved. Visitors could get to the seat via vomitoria – passages below the stands. Also, vomitoria ensured emergency evacuation of spectators from the Colosseum.

According to historical records of the 4th century AD, the amphitheater accommodated up to 87,000 spectators

Arena

The basis of the arena was a thick wooden platform (“harena” in Latin) 83 x 43 meters (272 x 141 ft), covered generously by sand, which hidden a deep underground, called the “hypogeum”. By modern days, the original Roman arena almost didn’t survive. It consists of two-level tunnels and cages located under the arena.Moreover, this is where gladiators and wild animals were before the fight.

colosseum arena

80 vertical lift platforms ensured the delivery of animals, including elephants, to the arena of the Colosseum

Such complicated mechanisms required constant repair and upgrades.  Additionally, a chain of underground tunnels connected the hypogeum to different points of the amphitheater and even beyond it. Also, the underground had a special tunnel for the needs of the emperor and the Vestal Virgins.

Many different types of mechanisms have been located underground. For example, forerunners of elevators and structures, opening cages of very dangerous predators. Also, scientists have discovered the remains of the ancient hydraulic system which allowed one to quickly raise or lower over the whole arena.

Interesting facts

The internal part of the Coliseum was severely damaged by time. Nevertheless, famous celebrities prefer only this area for their performances. These celebrities include: Ray Charles, May 2002, Sir Paul McCartney, May 2003, Sir Elton John, September 2005, Billy Joel, July 2006.

The image of the Colosseum has been used in art for many times: literature, cinematography, computer games, and music. The most outstanding examples of this:

  • Age of Empires
  • Civilization
  • Assassins’s Creed
  • “Roman Holiday”, 1953
  • “Gladiator”, 2000;
  •  Bob Dylan – “When I Paint My Masterpiece”

Roman Holiday movie

Hotels Near

Read the full list of hotels and our tips here

Tickets

The full ticket to the Coliseum will cost 12 euro. This price also includes visiting the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The ticket is active for 48 hours.

Discounted ticket will cost 7.5 euro, which is valid for EU citizens aged from 18 to 24 years.

EU citizens have the possibility to visit the Colosseum for free! Residents of the European Union under the age of 18 and after 65 years can pass through a special entrance to the amphitheater free of charge.

ticket to the colosseum

Reservation in advance costs 2 euro, but it helps to avoid long queues at the ticket office. Also, do not trust guides, offering their services next to the walls of the Colosseum.

Working hours: 8:30 a.m. to late afternoon hours:

  • from 8:30 a.m. to 04:30 p.m. – from the 2nd of January to the 15th of February
  • from 8:30 a.m. to 05:00 p.m. – from 16th February to the 15th of March
  • from 8:30 a.m. to 05:30 p.m. – from the 16th of March until the last Saturday in March
  • from 8:30 a.m. to 07:15 p.m. – from the last Saturday in March to the 31st of August
  • from 8:30 a.m. to 07:00 p.m. – throughout September
  • from 8:30 a.m. to 06:30 p.m. – from the 1st to the last Sunday in October
  • from 8:30 a.m. to 04:30 p.m. – from the last Sunday in October until the 31st of December

How to get

The Colosseum located in Rome’s historic center, next to the Roman Forum.

  • Address: Piazza del Colosseo
  • Metro: Line B (station Colosseo), line A (Manzoni), and then the tram №3, running to the South
  • Buses: № 60, 75, 85, 87, 271, 571, 175, 186, 810, C3 and the electric minibus №117
  • Tram: №3

The Colosseum is one of the most important sites of the Eternal City. Undoubtedly, it is worth to visit the amphitheatre with such a rich history and huge size.

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Author: Yekaterina Zusmann

Yekaterina Zusmann
For the last five years I live in Rome, Italy. Recently, I've graduated from the American university of John Cabot with major in communication and minor in entrepreneurship. I have a passion for writing, traveling, and exploring new things.

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