09 Apr Colosseum : An epic history through the ages
What can be expected when visiting the largest amphitheatre ever built by the Roman Empire?
A brief look back in time will give us an idea of the importance that this huge space dedicated to the “Roman Games” represented.
Construction of the Colosseum (Colosseo in Italian) started between 70 CE and 72 CE under the Roman Emperor Vespasian. It was completed in 80 CE under Titus and would undergo further changes up until 96 CE. After the demolition of the nearby 30m-high Colossus of Nero the name Colosseum remained, as if in tribute to the lost statue.
Originally the games were private and were mainly held as part of funerals. Built in an era dominated by dynasties and where class discrimination was rampant in the empire, every citizen nonetheless had free access to games. Spectators however, were seated according to their social standing: The Emperor and the senators were on the 1st level, wealthy citizens were on the 2nd level while the third and fourth levels were reserved for the common people.
At the time, this huge space could attract upwards of 50,000 people. The curious spectators would come to watch the many bloody fights and witness the unparalleled brutality of the wild animals and gladiators. The executions of death row inmates were also used to please the crowds in addition to the very popular chariot races and dramatic performances based on Roman mythology. Often forgotten but very popular too were elaborate re-enactments of famous naval battles. Did you know that the Colosseum arena was flooded and huge reconstructions along with miniature warships were used to celebrate the Empire’s great naval victories?
The Romans turned the violent and cruel gladiatorial combats into a veritable show. Under the Empire, these bloodthirsty games took increasingly important proportions that defied belief. On the inauguration of the Flavian Amphitheatre, as the Colosseum was also known, Titus slaughtered 9000 wild animals. Trajan, another Roman emperor, organized games lasting 120 days with 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators, all used to celebrate his triumph against the Dacians. One of the purposes of the games was to give the spectators lessons in combativeness and courage. The games would continue to be held for almost 500 years, during which time more than 500,000 people and over a million wild animals were brutally killed. The historian Alison Futrell in his book “Blood in the Arena” recounts the morbid details of these fights.
Today, Rome’s most emblematic monument attracts over five million visitors a year! Partially destroyed during an earthquake in the year 847 CE, the amphitheatre is easily recognizable and should not be missed when visiting or passing through the city. Great musicians like Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel and Ray Charles have all performed there!
When first visiting the Colosseum, you will possibly be struck by the fact that the arena doesn’t have a flat, sandy surface as one would expect after seeing popular films like Ben Hur or Gladiator.
What we see today is called the Hypogeum, a vast system of tunnels that housed the training rooms and the cages for wild animals or prisoners on death row. Back in the day, the Hypogeum was covered with wooden planks which in turn were covered with sand.
Some practical information to help with your visit to the Colosseum:
No matter how many pictures you’ve seen of this enormous building, nothing really prepares you for the first time you see it with your own eyes. If you can, try approaching from the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the side which shows the Colosseum off to best advantage. If you come at night you will also get a great view of this beautifully lit monument!
Book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. With skip-the-line tickets you’ll also get to avoid the long queues. Visit our website where you can book your tickets to visit the Colosseum.
When is the best time to visit the Colosseum, and what tickets should you choose?
With the Colosseum there is no real off-peak period during the year! The Colosseum, located in the heart of Rome along with the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, the Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel all make the Italian capital one of the most visited cities in Europe.
If you want to make the most of your visit and avoid the crowds or you’d like to take some shots without too many tourists in them, then the best times to go are either early morning or just before closing. Be aware however, that last entry to the Colosseum is one hour before closing time.
We’re no longer living in times where tens of thousands of spectators could enter and take up their seats in just fifteen minutes! In the summer, the wait in queues can range anywhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours with temperatures often reaching 30°C (86°F). To avoid this, we strongly recommend you opt for skip-the-line tickets. You’ll have priority access and an assigned entry time, so make sure to be on time!
Access to the Colosseum is free on the first Sunday of every month. You can expect queues twice as long though, so this is not the best day to go if you don’t want to waste your precious time queueing up.
Guided or unguided tour?
We also recommend opting for a guided tour. Another good option is an audio guide which provides detailed explanations and interesting facts about this famous building. This generally takes between 90 and 105 minutes. You can of course just appreciate the amazing architecture but with a guided tour or an audio guide, your visit will take on a whole new dimension! An unguided visit to the Colosseum takes about an hour.
Your tour begins on the 2nd level; the Colosseum comprises four levels in total, although the fourth and last level is no longer open to the public.
Opening hours and security control:
Admission is free for anyone under the age of 18, as well as the disabled and a person accompanying them (free if this latter is a European citizen, otherwise a normal ticket well need to be purchased).
All visitors must pass through a security checkpoint where you will be asked to empty your pockets of all metal objects.
- The Colosseum opens ever day at 8.30 am except on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th when the monument is closed.
Closing time depends on the time of year:
- From the last Sunday of October until February 15th: last entry is at 3.30pm with closing at 4.30pm.
- From February 16th to March 15th: last entry is at 4pm with closing at 5pm.
- From March 16th until the last Saturday in March: last entry is at 4.30pm with closing at 5.30pm.
- From the last Sunday of March until August 31st: last entry is at 6.15pm with closing at 7.15pm.
- from September 1st to 30th: last entry is at 6pm with closing at 7pm.
- From October 1st until the last Saturday in October: last entry is at 5.30pm with closing at 6.30pm.
For safety reasons, entry is limited to 3,000 people and access to the building slows once this number is reached.
How to get there?
Address: Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy
The Colosseum has a total of 80 entrances, but only the South entrance is used for visitors.
There is however, a second entrance reserved for priority access visitors with skip-the-line tickets.
Buses: Lines 60 – 75 – 85 – 87 – 117 – 271 – 571 – 175 – 186 – 810 – 850 – C3
Metro: Line B, get off at “Colosseo”
The tourist information hotline number is +39.06.77400922 (in Italian)
Inside the Colosseum: Audio guide, shop and guided tours
The location of the toilets is indicated by arrows. The toilets are situated on the ground floor, near the entrance and ticket windows. Queues can be long though, expect a wait of at least fifteen minutes.
Good to know:
You are allowed bring one small bag into the Colosseum. Large bags, backpacks and suitcases are prohibited, as are dangerous objects such as weapons, knives, explosive objects or fireworks. It is also forbidden to enter the Colosseum with deodorant spray or glass bottles.
Your bottles of plastic water must be emptied before entering. Make sure to keep your empty bottle though as there are water fonts inside where you can fill up again. Vendors offering bottles of water work the queue.
Beware of pickpockets! They are most active in and around the popular tourist sites! Keep an eye on your belongings and keep your money, credit cards and hotel keys in your front pockets. Avoid placing your bags unattended on the ground, even the time to take a picture!
The Colosseum (and its toilet facilities) are accessible to visitors with disabilities. Head to the tickets windows if you need assistance accessing the lifts.