The Colosseum is the symbol of the city of Rome and one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. As the saying has it: “When the Colosseum will fall, so Rome will fall. When Rome will fall, so the world will fall”.
Address, Opening Hours and Admission
Address: Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma. Metro: Colosseo (line B). Bus: 51, 75, 85, 87, 117, 118, N2. Tram: 3, 8. We have created a separate page for the opening hours and admission price of the Colosseum. Note that the ticket includes a visit to the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.
The original name of the Colosseo was Anfiteatro Flavio and under that name it was built on the east side of the Roman Forum, in a valley between the three hills Palatino, Esquilino and Celio. In order to be able to start building the Romans had to drain the artificial lake Nero had created for his Domus Aurea.
The spot was chosen because of two reasons. Firstly, Vespasianus wanted to return to the people of Rome the land that Nero had appropriated for his private use. The second reason was more practical. Since the lake already existed, after draining it, far less time would be needed to dig away the earth and tuff stone needed to create space for the foundations of the amphitheater.
Construction was begun between the years 70 and 72, under Emperor Vespasianus. Work was finished under Titus in the year 81. Later Domitian made some alterations.
In the 6th century it stopped being used for its original purpose. Stone and marble elements were plundered and became building material for newer constructions.
After the games stopped the Colosseum was abandoned. Between the 11th and the 13th centuries the Frangipani turned it into a fortress, which was later taken over by the Annibaldi.
In 1244, Pope Innocent IV expropriated the Colosseum and for a while it was used for modest housing, small shops and a few convents.
In the 18th century, Pope Benedict XIV put an end to the Roman habit of using the monument as a quarry for building materials. He protected the monument by consecrating it as a church.
In 1820 Pope Pius VII commissioned Valadier to build supporting walls for the outside of the Colosseum.
Facts and curiosities
The name Colosseum is not because of the size of the building, but because of an enormous gold-plated statue of emperor Nero that stood beside it. Of the 35 meter tall statue itself no trace remains. The design of the 7,5 by 7,5 meter square where the foundation used to be can still be seen between the Colosseum and the Via dei Fori Imperiali. It was during the construction of this last street that the last traces of the statue were removed. (The statue started its life in the atrium of the Domus Aurea, and was only later placed beside the Colosseum.)
The saying, “When the Colosseum will fall, so Rome will fall. When Rome will fall, so the world will fall” is attributed to the monk and historian Bede (672-735).
The Colosseum used to be covered with slabs of marble. After the fall of the empire, the marble was plundered, to be reused for new constructions. The iron clamps that were used to hold the blocks of stone together was also plundered, which is why you can now see holes lots of holes in the walls of the monument.
In 1744 Pope Benedict XIV put an end to the plundering of the Colosseum by consacrating the monument. For the 1750 Jubilee he had 14 Stations of the Cross built inside the building. The Via Crucis procession ended at a cross, which also stood inside. Nowadays the Pope still follows the Via Sacra, but the Via Crucis ends outside the Colosseum.
In 1870, after the unification of Italy, when the church was not very popular, this Christian cross was removed. It was returned in 1926, under the fascists.
Description Colosseum Rome
The foundation consists of a great number of pillars, resting on a gigantic concrete “doughnut”, which is located around 13 meters below ground.
The Colosseum is elliptical in shape. Its axis has a length of 156 m and a width of 156m. It stands 48.50m tall, down from the 52m when it was constructed.
The Colosseum is made from bricks covered with travertine marble.
The first floor (10.50m) has Doric columns, the second one (12.50m) Ionic columns and the third one (11.60m) Corinthian columns. The fourth and final floor is characterized by brickwork and small windows.
It is on this highest level that the beams can be found to which the velarium, a cloth that protected the audience from the sun, was attached. A special group of sailors, living in a nearby barracks, was in charge of this velarium. The cloth was attached to poles on top of the building, which were in turn held in place by bollards outside the monument. Five of these can still be seen on the Colle Oppio side.
What remains of the outer wall is supported by walls built by Valadier in 1820 at the behest of Pius VII.
There are 30 deep niches in the walls, maybe used for small lifts that could bring the animals and fighters up to the arena.
The irregular holes between the joints of the blocks were drilled in the Middle Ages to recover the iron pins holding these blocks together.
The 80 ground floor arches gave access to the stairs leading to the various sectors of the cavea. The 4 entrances at the main axes were the only ones not numbered. The numbers are still visible on the surviving arches. The northern entrance led to the imperial tribune, the other three main entrances were for the privileged classes.
The arena was covered with removable wooden planks. A large gallery led from the centre of the arena to the “Ludus Magnus” gladiator school and barracks. A strong net, held in place by poles and elephant tusks, made sure the animals could not enter the barracks when there were games. As an extra precaution archers were ready to shoot, should something unexpected happen.
Since the arena floor has disappeared, you are looking down at the cellars. The steps are also gone and generally speaking the interior is not in a very good condition.
Augustus had his pulvinar (a kind of VIP box for the Emperor) built between the seats that were meant for senators and members of the court. The pulvinar could only be entered through the so-called Passaggio del Commodo, which was named after the emperor who had been ambushed there.
Only the emperor and the senators had their own marble seats. The steps close to the arena still show the names of the last 195 senators, plus the cancelled ones of former occupants. Everybody else’s seats were made of brick.
The various sectors could be reached by means of several corridors and stairways. During the games drinks, pillows and chick peas were sold in these hallways.
The arena itself was also elliptical (77 by 46m) and consisted of a wooden floor covered with sand. The gladiators and the wild animals entered through the Porta Triumphalis while the losers were carried out through the Porta Libitinensis.
It could hold around 73,000 spectators. If necessary, thanks to a network of hallways the stadium could be evacuated in 10 minutes.
Before entering the arena the fighters and the animals were held in rooms underneath the Colosseum. They entered through a network of corridors, lifts and ramps.
Apart from the fights between gladiators, wild beasts and slaves the Colosseum also hosted mock sea battles and hunting parties, as well as plays based on classical mythology. The mock sea battles stopped after Domitian had had the underground service quarters built.
Entry was free, although a membership card was necessary. The emperor and his entourage sat on marble seats in the front row. The seats above the emperor were for priests and other notables. Women were all the way at the top, except for the Vestal Virgins, who sat near the emperor.
Th gladiators were highly trained and valuable. If they lost a battle, they were often spared. Slaves, convicted criminals and animals were forced to fight to the death, however. In the course of the 10-day inaugural games in the year 80, five thousand animals were killed. Tigers and other wild animals were imported. Once, during the reign of emperor Commodus, 100 bears were killed in one day. Some animals ended up being virtually exticht in certain areas.
The last fights were held in 438, while the last hunting games took place under Theodoric, in 523.
Buildings that were constructed using material plundered from the Colosseum include Saint Peter’s Basilica, Palazzo Venezia, the port of Ripetta (which does not exist anymore), Palazzo della Cancelleria, and the Ponte Sisto.
Colosseum Photo Gallery
Latest Colosseum news
What scientists already suspected has now been proven true: The Colosseum has started leaning and its north side now stands 40 cm taller than its south side. The probable reason is a crack in the 13 meter thick concrete “doughnut” underneath the monument.