The Colosseum- Iconic Symbol of Rome

In a city full of ancient ruins, no other structure in Rome is as iconic as the Colosseum.

The Colosseum has been regarded as a symbol of Rome since the Middle Ages. The significance of the Colosseum was reflected in Bede’s writing when he wrote in 7th century, “As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome shall fall; and when Rome falls, the world will end.”

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View of the Colosseum from Palatine Hill.

Well, the Colosseum still stands mighty, long after the fall of the Roman Empire. It has survived several earthquakes, plant overgrowth, looting, and modern day pollution to become one of Rome’s top tourist attractions. Millions of people travel from all over the world to visit the Colosseum in Rome, excited to admire its architecture, learn about its history, and hear stories about the bloody games that took place here.

History of the Colosseum- Why Was it Built and What Was it Used For?

Construction of the Colosseum began around 70-72 AD when it was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian as a gift for the people of Rome.

The public had become frustrated with the excess and decadence of previous emperor Nero, so building the Colosseum was Vespasian’s attempt to promote public welfare. The site of Nero’s vast palace would now be home to an amphitheatre where the Roman people could enjoy some entertainment.

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Construction of the Colosseum took almost a decade and it was officially opened in 80 AD by Vespasian’s son, Titus. The dedication was as grand as the building itself, with 100 days of games taking place to establish the Colosseum as a premier venue for wild beast shows and gladiator combat. During the inauguration games, it’s believed 5000 wild animals were slaughtered and 2000 gladiators lost their lives.

The Colosseum was in active use for over 400 years, hosting gladiator fights, battle re-enactments, mock sea battles, drama plays, public executions of prisoners, and exotic animal hunts. Rhinos, crocodiles, bears, elephants, lions, tigers, and giraffes were all victims of the animal hunt shows that took place in the Colosseum.

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By the 6th century, a change in public tastes and struggles of the Roman Empire put an end to the spectacles at the Colosseum. Eventually, the Colosseum was abandoned and its stones were taken for numerous building projects in Rome.

By the time the 20th century arrived, almost two-thirds of the original Colosseum had been destroyed by natural disasters and human neglect. Restoration work began in the 1990’s, successfully reviving the Colosseum’s former glory.

Architecture of the Colosseum

The Colosseum is a massive structure, measuring approximately 190 by 155 metres (620 by 513 feet). It is not only the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire, but the largest amphitheatre ever built.

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My first view of the Colosseum as I exited the subway station.

The Greeks had a big influence on Roman architecture, but unlike earlier Greek theatres that were built into hillsides, the Colosseum is free-standing. Its elliptical design resembles two Roman theatres put back to back.

The outer wall was constructed with travertine stones held together with iron clamps rather than mortar. Its façade is comprised of three stories of superimposed arcades framed by half-columns. It’s thought that statues were once displayed under the arches of the arcades.

The Colosseum originally had a retractable canvas awning, known as a velarium, to protect spectators from sun and rain.

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum there was seating for 50,000 people, who were seated according to social rank. Of course, the Emperor got the best seat in the house, with a special podium on the north end of the theatre. The lowest tier was reserved for senators and above them were the nobles and knights. The top tier was for ordinary citizens, with the poor citizens sitting higher up. Women and slaves were relegated to the very top of the amphitheatre.

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When you visit the inside of the arena, you can see the underground chambers and passageways that were originally covered by a wooden floor (called the hypogeum). These passageways were used to transport animals and gladiators to the arena. You will need to use your imagination to picture the floor covered in sand to prevent slipping and soak up the spilled blood.

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The passageways where the gladiators and animals waited for battle.

Interesting Facts About the Colosseum

  • The Colosseum was originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre because its commissioner, Emperor Vespasian, was of the Flavian dynasty who ruled the Roman Empire from 69-96 AD.
  • Most of the gladiators who fought in the Colosseum were slaves, prisoners of war, or criminals.
  • In 2007, the Colosseum was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
  • Over 6 million people visit the Colosseum in Rome each year. In 2018, the Colosseum was the world’s most visited tourist attraction, welcoming 7.4 million people.

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Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

Opening Hours: The Colosseum opens at 8:30 am and closes one hour before sunset.

Admission: Tickets to the Colosseum include entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Tickets are valid for 2 consecutive days (after first use) and permit one entry into each site.

  • Since the Colosseum can only accommodate 3,000 people at once, it’s recommended you buy your tickets/reserve your entry time in advance online. If you’re visiting in high season (summer) try to get tickets a few weeks in advance because they do sell out.
  • If you haven’t bought your ticket in advance online, purchase at Palatine Hill to avoid the huge ticket lines.
  • If you have a Roma Pass, you will still need to book an entry time. This can be done online for a small fee, or at the ticket offices for free.
  • If you miss your entry time by longer than 15 minutes, you will have to buy another ticket if there’s availability.
  • Because of the capacity limits, entry to the Colosseum may be delayed, even for pre-booked visitors.

Buy Digital Tickets to the Colosseum

For quick and convenient access to the Colosseum, here is a trusted site where you can buy digital tickets and have them immediately delivered to your smartphone (no need to print).

Purchases made through the included links earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you, and help support this website. Thank you!

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Are you planning a trip to Rome, or just interested in learning more about the Eternal City? You may find these posts helpful:

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