visiting the Colosseum

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Being the icon of Rome, visiting the Colosseum is a must on EVERYONES list! With 2,000 years of history, it is one of the world’s most well-known structures. I took the hop on hop off bus tour from the Omnia Card to get to the Colosseum.

With the pass you can explore the top-tier walkways, exhibitions, and artifacts. It does not cover the tour of the underground structure. Many friends told me to do this tour before I went to Rome. However, had I known it would sell out so quickly I would have booked in advance. So I’m warning you now, if you wish to see the underground book in advance! If you’re looking for a great tour, my friend recommends the Dark Rome to the Colosseum. You can bypass lines and have access to parts of the Colosseum not open to the public. Such as the rarely seen Colosseum underground with it’s 2000 year old original floor.

Roman Colosseum History

You’ll learn a lot about the Roman Colosseum history during your visit. The Colosseum’s original Latin name was Amphitheatrum Flavium. The name Colosseum is believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby. The statue did eventually fall, possibly to reuse its bronze. By the year 1000 the name “Colosseum” had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre.

Nero had built an enormous palace for himself after a great fire ripped through Rome in A.D. 64. Around 70-72, Vespasian returned that land to the Romans in order to build a new amphitheater. It was a gift to the Roman people. Nice gift right? Building it so the public could enjoy gladiatorial combats and other forms of entertainment. Completed under Titus’ brother and successor, Domitian. I spent the better part of a day there. It is HUGE, so get ready for a LOT of walking! In 80 A.D., Titus opened the Colosseum with a 100 days of games, including gladiator combats and wild animal fights.

Roman Colosseum History

Building an Amphitheater

The Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. Early amphitheaters, had been dug into hillsides to provide adequate support. However, the Colosseum is a freestanding structure, made of stone and concrete. Three stories of arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns. Each story contained columns of a different style (order). The bottom was columns of a simple Doric order, a design which was originated by the Etruscans. Followed by Ionic and topped by the ornate Corinthian order. The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic metres (3,531,467 cubic feet) of travertine stone. Set without mortar; they were held together by 300 tons of iron clamps.

Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section and row. They accessed their seats via vomitoria, passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. Allowing spectators to quickly get into their seats and exit within only a few minutes. Sounds familiar ya? The name vomitoria derived from the Latin word for a rapid discharge, from which English derives the word vomit. Yuck…

The Colosseum Tours

As part of the Colosseum tours, you see a number of artifacts. One such artifact is a gold Orphic tablet. It’s from Vibo Valentia, the western necropolis in the late 5th/4th century B.C. There was also an inscription which commemorated the restorations financed by the Prefect of Rome in 484 or 508 A.D. It was discovered in 1810 in the main north entrance of the amphitheater. It is in dedication to the emperor Carinus made by an imperial bureaucratic official between 283 and 285 A.D. The audio guide on the Colosseum tour is very easy to follow and provides you with tons of information.

Roman Colosseum History

Visiting the Colosseum: Are You Not Entertained?

The Colosseum has a wooden floor covered by sand (the Latin word for sand is harena or arena), covering an underground structure called the hypogeum. Little remains of the original arena floor, but the hypogeum is still clearly visible. You can see it in the image above. Containing a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena. Gladiators and animals were held before battles in this area. As I mentioned before, I was unable to visit this area. But if you book in advance, you can gain access to this section of the amphitheater. If you zoom in on the photo above you can actually see the people on that tour.

Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath. Larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like. If you’ve seen Gladiator, you’ll get an idea of what this looked like years ago.

Quick Facts

  • Built in 10 years
  • Measuring 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters)
  • Seated more than 50,000 spectators
  • Top story awnings which were unfurled to protect the audience from the hot sun
  • Gladiatorial combats, hunts, wild animal fights and mock naval engagements
  • For naval entertainment, the arena was flooded with water
  • Gladiators were mostly men, though there were some female gladiators
  • Gladiators were mostly slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war

Colosseum Tours

The End of an Era

The Colosseum remained active for over 500 years. The last recorded games were celebrated in the 6th century. The Colosseum’s use saw its end with the Western Roman Empire and the change in public tastes. Even before then, the arena had suffered damaged due to lightning and earthquakes.

After the games, the vaulted spaces in the arcades were converted into housing and workshops. Around 1200 the Frangipani family took over the Colosseum and fortified it, apparently using it as a castle. There have also been times that the Colosseum was abandoned completely.

Sometimes it was used as a quarry for building projects, including the cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and defense fortifications along the Tiber River. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks. Sad, but true. Many buildings are made from reused materials. When I was in Croatia, there was a wall made from gravestones.

Colosseum Tours

A Rebirth of the Colosseum

Beginning with the 18th century, various popes made efforts to conserve the arena as a sacred Christian site. By the 20th century, a combination of weather, natural disasters, neglect and vandalism had destroyed nearly two-thirds of the original Colosseum. This included all of the Colosseum’s marble seats and its decorative elements. Restoration began in the 1990s, and have progressed over the years.

Visiting the Colosseum was one of the highlights of my trip to Rome. As you’ve probably already surmised, I am a history lover so writing this post was a joy for me. It was also great to look back thru these amazing shots I took! And this isn’t even all of them! It is a marvel that the Colosseum still survives today, all after it has gone thru.

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Michelle Jensen is a twenty-something traveler, occasionally solo, you’ll find road tripping across the U.S. or hostel-hopping in Europe. Currently residing in Los Angeles, CA with a day job in Television.

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