There’s something about holidaying in Rome that’s rather niggling. It really can be a love / hate affair. The tourist crowds are overwhelming, the humidity can be flustering, and the pace of the city can leave you breathless. But nowhere else in the world will you witness so many architectural wonders in one place, all mingled into the modern markings of everyday city life. And nowhere else in the world can you walk the path of ancient Romans and breathe the air of the Flavian dynasty before stepping back out to grab a slice and an Aperol spritz at a bustling café.
Rome is much more than just a holiday or a cultural travel experience. Traveling to Rome is every much a project and when you’re visiting ancient sites such as the grand Colosseum, you need to have a plan. This incredible structure, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is one of the most popular attractions in the city and it attracts over 5 million people every single year. Visiting the Colosseum and other nearby sites such as the Pantheon and the Vatican can be as exhausting as it is fascinating – so it pays to be prepared. If you’re planning a visit to the Colosseum, here is everything you need to know including history, interesting facts, tickets and pricing, and how to get there.
The Colosseum is an oval shaped amphitheater in the center of Rome and it is the largest amphitheater ever built, making it one of the greatest wonders of the world. Still very much intact, the Colosseum is one of the best kept ruins of the Roman Empire and this site dates all the way back as far as AD 72 under the rule of the emperor Vespasian. Built of concrete and sand, it is estimated that it once held up to 80,000 people at any one time. The average audience for events was around 65,000 heads and the oval theater was a stage for gladiators and public spectacles. The arena itself measured over 83 metres by 48 metres and just like we’ve seen in the all the fictional films and recreations, this area featured a vast underground structure called the “hypogeum”, a place where historians believe that gladiators, prisoners and animals were held; this underground area is still very much visible now.
Situated just east of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, the Colosseum and its sister sites form one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. For those looking to explore this spellbinding and magical part of Rome, be sure to set aside a few days so that you can thoroughly explore your surroundings.
HISTORY OF COLOSSEUM
This oval theater is a true representation of the Flavian Dynasty and became a continued project throughout the generations of the famous royal trio; Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Construction of the Colosseum began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and it was later completed under the rule of his successor and son, the heir to this throne, Titus in AD 80. The amphitheater received several more modifications under the rule of Domitian, the younger brother and successor to Titus between AD 81 and AD 96.
By 217, the Colosseum was badly damaged. Historical records tell us that it was struck by lightning, which then caused a huge fire and much of the upper levels and the wooden arena area were completely taken out. Repairs took place between the years of 250 and 252 and as far as historians can tell, gladiator events were still being recorded up to the year AD 435. By Medieval times, the Colosseum had changed drastically and was becoming a site that provided multiple uses to the public; changes included the addition of a chapel, the arena has been transformed into a cemetery, the under seating areas had been used to create housing, and other areas were renovated into workshops and stalls.
Around 1200, the amphitheater was even being inhabited as a castle and by the 16th Century, there were talks of turning it into a wool factory under the instruction of Pope Sixtus V. So throughout history, this unique site has provided the world with much purpose but even today through all of its mutations and transformations, visitors can still get a sense of the original Flavian Amphitheatre. And this archaeological wonder is very much a depiction of life in ancient times for the people of Rome.
FACTS ABOUT THE COLOSSEUM
Getting under the skin of the site’s history can really help you make the most out of your visit. Here are 7 interesting facts that you may not know about the Colosseum…
• There are 80 entrances to the Colosseum – this Roman amphitheater really is huge. But even when you’re in there, amongst all the tourist crowds, it’s hard to understand the vast size of it all. There are 80 entrances to get into the building, which really brings home the sheer vastness of this space.
• It’s the largest amphitheater ever built – it’s the largest amphitheater in the world to have ever been built to our knowledge. It stands 48 metre high (which is only 8 metres shorter than the Leaning Tower of Pisa) and it covers a total area of 6 acres (24,000 m2).
• There are 5 million tourists every year – visiting the Colosseum is one of the most popular things to do in the city and it attracts more than 5 million people per year.
• There are 36 trap doors – used as an arena for shows, games, tournaments and plenty of public spectacles, it’s no surprise that the Romans built trap doors to assist in their special effects. There are said to be 36 of these doors dotted around the arena and one has been recently rebuilt.
* It took less than 10 years to build – started by the emperor Vespasian and completed by his son Titus, this vast oval theater only took 10 years to build (with some further modifications in the years to follow). With such a huge space and so much seating, it seems almost impossible that the Colosseum was completed so quickly. But it was finished in less than a decade due to the 60,000 Jewish slaves who worked on it day in, day out.
* The Colosseum survived two earthquakes – there are lots of different events through time which have caused damage to the Colosseum but the two major causes were the earthquakes which occurred in 847 AD and 1231 AD.
* The Colosseum was a gift to the Roman people – this amazing monument is a lasting symbol of the Flavian dynasty; the emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Historians believe that the amphitheater was built as a gift to the people and was used to bring the people closer together through entertainment.
VISITING THE COLOSSEUM
HOW TO GET TO THE COLOSSEUM
The Colosseum and the Palatine are located in the central area of Rome. Close to the Roman Forum and also the Piazza Venezia, this site is conveniently placed near other tourist attractions and amenities. Your nearest Metro station is Colosseo (Line B) which is just 1 minutes away from the site itself and although the Metro service in the city isn’t the best for getting around the central districts, all of Rome’s top attractions are actually very well serviced.
There are also a number of bus stops in the nearby area, with an option of a hop-on / hop-off bus service if you wish to see several sights in one day. Alternatively you can get a taxi or use the Uber app on your phone to get a price quote before you agree to a taxi fare with the driver. But please bear in mind that on Sundays, motor traffic is forbidden in some limited traffic zones (for example Via dai Fori Imperiali, that is the street connecting Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, across the Imperial and Roman Forum) so you will have to plan your transport in advance or set aside enough time for walking / cycling.
TICKETS & ENTRY FOR THE COLOSSEUM
When it comes to getting your tickets for the Colosseum, there are a number of options you may want to consider.
A) BOOK ONLINE
Booking your ticket online is often the easiest choice for many tourists because this eliminates the long queuing times when you buy your ticket from the ticket desk. Booking online allows you to also print your own ticket so you don’t have to wait for anything to arrive in the post. Please note that you may still need to visit the ticket desk to have your order code scanned by a member of staff before they give you an allocated time slot and physical ticket – so remember to read the small print! Print out your tickets.
B) TICKET OFFICE
For travellers who haven’t planned ahead, it’s the dreaded queues at the ticket desks. But don’t be fooled into thinking the desk outside the Colosseum is the only place you can buy a ticket from. Queues here are long so if you don’t have time to wait around, try one of the other nearby ticket offices such as Via di San Gregorio (Palatine), Largo Salara Vecchia or former Largo Romolo e Remo (Roman Forum) and Via Sacra (Roman Forum, Arco di Tito). Without an advance ticket for entry, you can expect to queue anywhere between 45 to 60 minutes to actually get into the Colosseum so be aware that if you haven’t booked an allocated timeslot for your arrival, you could spend more time queuing outside than actually inside the monument.
C) GO WITH A TOUR!
Tour operators provide today carefully curated tours so that you can get the best out of Rome in the limited time that you have, and you won’t have to worry about tickets, bookings, transport elements or Rome’s road restrictions. Roma Experience offers both shared tours and private tours to suit your budget and travel preferences and all entry, including tickets into the Colosseum will be included. The tour packages allow you to skip the line and we can also give you exclusive access to the Colosseum’s underground tunnels.
WHAT TO SEE AT THE COLOSSEUM
The Colosseum is so vast and when you’re amidst the large crowds of tourists, it can easily be an overwhelming experience – especially when you don’t have a guide to show you all the must-see features. Roma Experience’s guided tours of the Colosseum will give you the history and background of this world famous monument, whilst talking you through all the unseen and quite often missed elements of the arena. If you are going without a guided tour, here are the things that you simply cannot miss!
• Arena floor – this is where all the action was and to look up at the top seating areas will highlight just how large the Colosseum really is!
• Hypogeum – this is the underground level beneath the arena floor where slaves, prisoners, animals and gladiators were kept during public spectacles and events.
• The Third Tier – like the underground tunnels, the Third Tier section of the Colosseum is not accessible for the general public and you must book with a tour like our Colosseum Underground in order to experience it. The Third Tier is definitely worth it as you will experience the incredible height of the amphitheatre and get the most incredible views.
Tickets to the Colosseum will also include the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum so we would definitely recommend setting aside a whole day to explore this. Be sure to see The Fori Romani, Septimius Severus’s Arch, The House of the Vestals, The Arch of Constantine, the arch of Septimius Severus, the hippodrome of Domitian, and the famous Palatine Hill where all started. And also, remember to bring a good quality camera as this combined ticket really does go far in terms of site coverage and archaeological monuments. You will see so much along the way! There are small fountains providing drinkable water in the Roman Forum and on the Palatine Hill, so bring a bottle to fill up especially during the summer because it can be really hot. Wear comfortable shoes.
If you want to get the most out of your Colosseum visit, here are our top inside tips!
1. Go Twice!
It might sound crazy to spend twice the money and twice the amount of time but like many wonders of the world, the Colosseum deserves to be seen both in the day and at night. Just as you would experience Petra by morning and then camp under the stars at night, or just as you would turn up to Angkor Wat for sunrise only to return again for sunset, the Colosseum is very much worth it. You could book a tour for both day and night, or you could tour the inside in the day and return at night to watch it light up in the dark blue twilight sky.
2. Go with a Guide
Go with a guided tour to get the most out of your Colosseum visit. Not only can you jump the queue and get a knowledgeable guide to tell you all about the amphitheater’s history but you will also gain exclusive access to certain areas of the site which are not open to the rest of the paying public; a group tour of the Colosseum is a great option if you are on a budget but you still want to see all the highlights and you don’t want to miss out the chance to have a professional guide who is able to make the glorious past of ancient Rome come back to life again.
3. Dedicate a Whole Day (At least)
Don’t sell yourself short and end up having to rush. The Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum cover a vast amount of space and with such busy tourist crowds around, it can take you quite a few hours to get through everything you want to see. There are also other attractions in the nearby area and plenty of nice places to sit down, grab a drink and relax so set aside at least a whole day for central Rome so you can enjoy it at your own pace. Although the Vatican is close by, it is better to do the Colosseum and Vatican on different days. Actually, not that it is impossible, people do it, but it is tiring and there is just so much to absorb in each site, so much to see and touch and experience that if you have two days, we would recommend to do Ancient Rome and Vatican City in two different days. Some companies however do offer all-inclusive tours of Rome in one day. It is tiring but feasible. So if you are young and energetic go for it!