When the topic of Rome is brought up, most of our minds tend to visualize the Colosseum. For many years, this has been the iconic image printed on postcards as well as the cover on many books about this ancient city. You may have seen this famous arena featured throughout numerous television shows and movies. However, you may be curious to discover even more about this historic landmark before taking your vacation to Rome.
The Flavian Amphitheatre lies conveniently in the heart of Rome, situated slightly east of The Roman Forum. This magnificent area started being constructed in 72 AD under the rule of Emperor Vespasian, and it was not until 80 AD that it was fully finished. Vespasian’s successor, Titus, oversaw the completion of this massive structure, and there were alterations done between the years 81 through 96 AD, under the rule of Domitian. Together, these three emperors were recognized as the Flavian dynasty, which is how this arena received its original Latin name, the Flavian Amphitheatre.
The largest building of its time
Over time, two-thirds of the Colosseum has been destroyed, and today’s outer layer, was in fact, the inner layer of the original design. Inside, during the opening ceremony in 80 AD, between 50,000 to 60,000 spectators, all arranged according to social status, sat tightly next to each other awaiting the ostentatious opening ceremony. It was a massive structure, dominating the city, standing over 45 meters (150 feet) high, four stories tall. The oval arena itself, on the inside, measured 87.5 meters x 54.8 meters (287 feet x 179.79 feet), and with the outside measuring 189 meters x 156 meters (620 feet x 511 feet) across, this was certainly the largest building of its time. Over the course of 100 days, viewers watched anxiously as great fights took place, along with other shows and hunting displays, where thousands of animals were slaughtered. During the opening ceremony there was even a time when the area had been filled with water to put on a show that represented an authentic sea battle – Naumachia.
Actively used for nearly four centuries, the gradual change in the public’s desires for entertainment, along with the struggles faced by the Western Roman Empire, soon helped to put an end to the horrific fights and hunts. In the many years that followed, after long endured damages from earthquakes and other natural phenomena, the Colosseum was eventually abandoned. During the time of abandonment, various pieces of iron and metal, along with many of the marble and limestones that were used for decorations were taken from the building, which is why you’ll see many holes throughout the façade standing today. If you look up at the many arches along the, now, outer walls, try to visualize the grand statues, depicting gods and other divinities that once stood in each and every one of them.
How the Colosseum got its name
Originally there was a massive 100-feet (30 meters) bronze statue that Emperor Nero (one of the most notorious of all Roman Emperors) had built of himself called the Colossus of Nero. After he took his own life in 68 AD, Emperor Vespasian added a sun crown atop the head of the statue, to resemble Sol the Roman sun god. Later, Emperor Commodus converted it into a statue of himself as Hercules, and replaced the head. However, today the Colossus is non-existent, and may have been entirely destroyed during the Sack of Rome in 410 AD. Some even believe that it may have existed after this due to an eighth century medieval poem that was attributed to the Venerable Bede that has long been quoted: Quamdiu stat Colisæus, stat et Roma; quando cadet collisæus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus. In English this is translated into As long as the colossus stands, Rome will stand, when the Colossus falls, Rome will also fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world. These are said to be the influences of what gave the Flavian Amphitheatre the nickname that we know it by today: the Colosseum.
The Cross dedicated to the Christian martyrs
As you stand in the remains of this grand area, you will see a large cross on the lower level. In fact, this is where the emperors of Rome would be seated when watching a fight, or the execution of a Christian martyr. Rome is infamously known as a city where many Christians were tortured and killed for their beliefs. The Colosseum was one of the places where they would execute them; sometimes only a single person was put to death in front of the audience, other times it was an entire family. The cross that you see standing today is dedicated to the many Christian martyrs that died here, and reads “The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions”.
The museum and gift shop are on the 2nd floor
Making your way to the upper floor, along the outer wall, you will come across a museum that has been dedicated to Eros, also known as Cupid the Greek god of love. You’ll be able to view many ancient marble statues along with artifacts that have been collected from the Colosseum, and some that were found during previous excavations at other locations nearby. There’s even a display showcasing games that were very popular in ancient Rome and Greece, such as knucklebones (tali) and dice (tesserae). There are also several images that will show you how the Colosseum looked during its glory days, with visuals of the seating arrangements, the tunnels under the arena floor, and the horrific battles between the gladiators.
On the second floor of the Colosseum, you’ll also find a great gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs for your friends and family. There is a wide selection of apparel, including male and female styled t-shirts that have cute logos and sayings on them, and you can even purchase a gladiator helmet! Many books are also available here with topics ranging from Roman history to fun and colorfully illustrated cook books. Souvenir favorites include postcards, replica coins, and models of the Colosseum that are available in different sizes. You can also find a few leather goods here, such as wallets or small purses, however do expect to pay a slightly high price for these items. Prices range from 3 EUR (3.27 USD) for the smaller items all the way up to more than 100 EUR (109 USD) for some of the more expensive pieces.
Make sure to hold on to your ticket
To reach the Colosseum (Colosseo) you can take the Metro line B to the Colosseo stop, where upon exiting the station you will see this historic gem right in front of you. Opening hours are from 8:30 am until one hour before sunset, which is usually around 5:00 pm. There is a ticket booth to the left once you enter, and will cost 12 EUR (13.23 USD) for adults, 7.50 EUR (8.27 USD) for citizens of European Union member states who are between the ages of 18 and 24, and free entrance will be granted to all European Union member states’ citizens under the age of 18 and above the age of 65. Once you buy your ticket, please do not throw it away. This will also grant you access into the Roman Forum (Foro Romano) as well as the Palatine Hill (Palatino), and remains valid for 2 days. There are also many guided tours available, and I highly recommend that you attend one that will take you underground to view the tunnels underneath the arena. This is where the animals were caged, and where gladiators would await their turn to dance with fate. Outside of the Colosseum you will see many people dressed up as gladiators, ever so willing to take pictures with you, but please be aware that this is a tourist trap, and you will be charged at least 5 EUR (5.51 USD) to do so. There are also many souvenir shops, and if you explore the streets close by, you will run into some incredible restaurants and cafés.
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