The Flavian Amphitheatre, more popularly known as the “Colosseum”, is the main symbol of Italy and one of the must-see destinations in Rome.
Located in the heart of the city, and with many tourist attractions in its vicinity, the Colosseum is an excellent starting point to begin a day of exploring the vestiges of ancient imperial Rome.
A brief history of the Colosseum
In the year 64 AD, a great fire lasting seven days destroyed ancient wooden buildings in the center of Rome. This tragedy created large spaces that were used to build various monuments, an artificial lake, an imperial residence (the Domus Aurea), and a gigantic bronze statue dedicated to Emperor Nero.
In 69 AD, after Nero’s suicide and several power struggles, Vespasian became emperor. His priority was to erase the traces of his predecessors and rebuild the empire, so he ordered the destruction of the Domus Aurea, drained the lake, and modified monuments and statues.
To win the approval of the people, Vespasian also ordered the construction of an amphitheater. The work began in 72 AD and was completed eight years later. By then Vespasian had died, but his son Titus inaugurated the enclosure with a 100-day festival, featuring countless fights involving exotic animals (alligators, hippos, elephants, lions, and the like), enslaved gladiators, and even small warships.
The amphitheater continued to be used for performances for several more centuries, but after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, it suffered a decline as a result of disuse, earthquakes, and looting.
The remains that we see today survived because Pope Benedict XIV protected the amphitheater in 1749 by declaring it a sacred site for martyred Christians. Today, the Colosseum is a true historical and archaeological treasure. It is a symbol of Italy’s national identity and a reminder of the greatness of the ancient Roman Empire.
Curiosities about the Roman Colosseum
One of the lesser-known facts about Rome’s Colosseum is that it had a so-called velarium. This was a huge sail that covered a significant portion of the upper part of the Coliseum. The retractable canopy rested on 240 masts above the amphitheater, while ropes anchored it to the ground. It served to protect the audience from the bright sun.
Keep reading to find out more curiosities!
Origin of the name
The original name “Flavian Amphitheater” has its origins in the time of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire from 69 to 96 AD.
The name “Colosseum” originated from a gigantic bronze statue of Emperor Nero. It was later modified and dedicated to the sun god, and then was known as the “Colossus Solis”. It moved to the side of the amphitheater with the help of 24 elephants.
Over time, Romans simply referred to the amphitheater as the “Colosseum”, about the statue and large dimensions of the building.
It is believed that the statue may have been destroyed in 410 AD during the Visigoth sacking of Rome, by then no longer the imperial capitol. It is also likely that it collapsed during an earthquake in the 5th century and that the Romans used the bronze remains for other purposes.
The place where the famous statue was located can be easily recognized by the large pedestal that is currently located at the side of the Colosseum.
The amphitheater had many gates
The Colosseum had 80 entrances, making it possible for 50,000 spectators to leave the venue within 10 minutes.
The north and south gates were used by the emperor, civil authorities, and the Vestal Virgins (priestesses consecrated to the goddess Vesta).
Gladiators entered exclusively through the east gate and if they lost their lives during the combat, their bodies were taken out through the west gate (known as the “gate of death”).
Naval battles were reenacted
Recreations of mock naval battles (known as naumachias) were re-enacted in the Colosseum. These were performed in the flooded arena of the Flavian Amphitheater before the construction of subterranean tunnels in the time of Emperor Domitian.
Titus Flavius is known to have sponsored two naumachias during the inaugural celebrations in 80 AD and five years later, Emperor Domitian organized another naval battle at the Colosseum.
Due to the relatively small dimensions of the Colosseum’s arena (79 meters long and 47 meters wide), the naumachias were not as grand as one might think. Since life-sized vessels could not float and maneuver in the limited space, smaller fully-regaled ships easily maneuvered and simulated combat and shipwrecks.
The hypogeum wasn’t built until ten years later
The hypogeum is an elaborate complex of underground tunnels and rooms beneath the Colosseum’s arena. The beasts sacrificed in the arena, along with the gladiators who killed them and each other, were housed here in cages. Subterranean warehouses stored the accouterments for battles, scenery for performances, and arena maintenance items, and all were lifted into the arena by a sophisticated elevator system.
The substructure of the Colosseum was built approximately ten years after its inauguration because it had housed naval battles in which the theater was partially flooded. The wooden roof that covered the hypogeum no longer exists, so a detailed view of the tunnels (or what is left of them) can be seen from the spectator stands.
Gladiator fights were organized
Contrary to popular belief, gladiators did not die in all of their fights. Since they were slaves and had monetary value, they often survived the battle and recovered to fight again.
However, when someone with great economic power wanted to show generosity, he would organize numerous fights to the death, which were celebrated with great fervor by the Romans. The emperor had the last word and decided if the gladiator deserved mercy or death, according to the clamor of the spectators.
It is estimated that around half a million people and more than a million animals died in the Colosseum.
The different functions of the amphitheater
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was used in various and curious ways by the inhabitants of Rome. In the Middle Ages, the arena of the amphitheater was transformed into a cemetery, with the vaults under the stands serving as homes and workshops. During that time, even a small chapel was built inside the Colosseum.
Julius Caesar never visited it
Contrary to portrayals in the Asterix and Obelix comics, the famous emperor Julius Caesar was never in the Colosseum. He was assassinated 125 years before the amphitheater opened.
It became the quarry of Rome
Earthquakes and other natural phenomena have damaged the structure of the amphitheater over the centuries. However, the greatest damage was caused by the Romans themselves, who used limestone blocks and other materials from the Colosseum to build new buildings in Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica.
The holes in the facade of the structure show where iron support rods held stones in place.
How to get to the Colosseum
Due to its excellent location in the heart of Rome, the Colosseum is very easy to reach by foot or public transportation.
A few meters from the famous site is Colosseum station for Line B of the Metro. As soon as you leave the station, you will see the amphitheater in all its splendor.
The cost of a single ticket for a subway trip (BIT ticket) is €1.50, although there are also several types of passes available.
You can use any of the following city bus lines to get to the Colosseum.
|Origin and destination|
|Origin and destination||Connects the San Giovanni subway station to an area near the Trevi Fountain, passing through the Colosseum.||Connects the Termini area with the Trastevere and Monteverde areas. It has two stops on one side of the Colosseum.||Connects the Vatican with the east of Rome. It stops at Piazza Venezia, Circo Massimo and the Colosseum.||Connects the Termini area with Venice Square and the Colosseum. It extends towards the southeast of Rome.||Very similar route to Line 85 but has its terminal station north of Castel Sant’Angelo.||It connects the eastern part of the Colosseum with the area where the Trevi Fountain is located.||Useful to visit some places of interest such as the Colosseum, Piazza Venezia, Circo Massimo, Roman Forum, and even the Baths of Caracalla.||It operates only on the weekends. Its layout is useful for visiting places of interest in the center of Rome.|
Tramway Line 3 connects the Trastevere district with the Villa Borghese on a route around Rome to the east. It has a stop right next to the Flavian Amphitheater.
For trips by tram, you can also use the BIT ticket of €1,50.
Taxis are the most comfortable option to reach the Colosseum, but also the most expensive one. A ride from Termini Station to the Colosseum, for example, would take just under 10 minutes but cost approximately €7.00.
In Rome, it is difficult to get a cab on the street. The options are to go to cab stands, to call for one, or to get one through an app.Take precautions and other advice when using cabs in Rome. For detailed information, see Guide to using Rome’s cabs.
We believe that once you reach the Colosseum, the best way to discover Rome is by foot. The location of the Colosseum in the heart of Rome is unbeatable, and you can easily visit other places of great interest in the area by walking to them.
Due to the large influx of visitors, it’s best to book your visit to the Colosseum in advance. This way you avoid the long queues that normally form at the ticket offices.
Please, note that the Colosseum can only accommodate up to 3,000 people simultaneously, so there may occasionally be delays even for visitors with reservations.There are currently three different types of tickets, as shown in the table below:
|Type of ticket|
|Time of validity|
|Type of ticket||Ordinary||“Full Experience Arena”||“Full Experience Underground”|
|Time of validity||24 horas||48 horas||48 horas|
|Details||Includes an entrance to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill.||Includes an entrance to the Colosseum (with access to the arena), the Roman Forum, and the Palatine, with access to restricted areas known as “SUPER”.||The same as the “Full Experience Arena”, except it offers access to the underground area and not to the Colosseum’s arena.|
How to buy tickets
Tickets for the Colosseum can be purchased online or directly at the box office on the day of your visit. Our recommendation is to book your ticket online. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to stand in line for a long time to get in.
If you buy an e-ticket, you can have it printed somewhere in advance or pick it up at a special counter at the entrance with shorter queues.
Discounts and free entrance
European Union citizens between 18 and 25 years old are entitled to the reduced rate of €2.00 for any ticket purchase.
Children under age 18 of any nationality can benefit from free admission to the Colosseum.
For all online purchases and reservations, including discount rates, it’s necessary to pay a reservation fee of €2.00.
On the first Sunday of each month admission to the Colosseum is free for everyone. However, we advise against visiting on those days, as the queues are usually particularly long.
The Roma Pass includes entrance to the Colosseum, but to use it you must make a reservation to visit at a specific time.If you book online (on the official website of the Colosseum) or by phone (at +39 06 39 96 75 75), you must pay a €2.00 reservation fee.
On the day of your visit, you can book a time for a visit without paying the €2.00 reservation fee at the nearby ticket offices for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, but there is a risk that tickets will be sold out and you will have a long wait in line.
The Colosseum is open every day of the year except for January 1 and December 25.
Schedules vary depending on the season. It normally opens at 8:30 am and closes between 4:30 pm and 7:00 pm. Access is allowed up to one hour before closing time.
Due to health measures to control COVID-19, opening hours have changed. You can find more info here.
Useful tips for your visit
- The Colosseum can only accommodate up to 3,000 people simultaneously, which sometimes causes long lines. To avoid (or reduce) long waiting times, book your visit online.
- Another alternative to avoid waiting a long time is to buy the ticket at the ticket office of the Roman Forum or the Palatine Hill, which are usually less crowded. If you do this, you can go directly to the entrance of the Colosseum and skip the line for Colosseum tickets.
- All visitors must pass through a mandatory security checkpoint with metal detectors before entering the Colosseum. This can also mean delays during peak hours.
- Medium- and small-sized backpacks are allowed to enter. They’ll be checked with metal detectors and might be opened to be visually inspected by the security staff.
- You must present your ID or passport to be admitted to the Colosseum. Don’t forget to bring it.
- You have a 15-minute grace period to appear at the scheduled entrance time. If you arrive later, you will be denied entry and will not receive a refund.
- If you want to buy an ordinary ticket, you can include a video guide by paying an extra €6.00. The guide is available in Spanish, English, Italian, among other languages.
- Outside the Colosseum, it is common to find actors disguised as centurions with whom you can take pictures. If you are interested in such a souvenir, agree on the price before taking the picture to avoid misunderstandings.
Nearby places of interest
The Colosseum is surrounded by other attractions. Here’s a list of sights you might want to visit while you’re in the area.
Arch of Constantine
Among the three Arches of Triumph that still exist in Rome, this is the best-preserved one. The striking monument was built in the early fourth century to commemorate the victory of Constantine I at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.
It’s the last great monument of Imperial Rome and was inaugurated on the 10th anniversary of Constantine’s reign. It’s an imposing 21 meters high and 25.6 m wide and stood on Rome’s triumphal route.
The Arch of Constantine is right next to the Colosseum (a 2-minute walk).
The remains of the great palace that Emperor Nero ordered to be built in 64 AD can be visited in a virtual reality experience tour.
The virtual reality glasses allow you to explore Nero’s extravagant residence in all its glory and get an idea of what it would have looked like at the time.
The entrance to the Domus Aurea is about 300 meters northeast of the Colosseum (a 5-minute walk).
Basilica of San Clemente
This intriguing building complex is a Roman Catholic church dedicated to Pope Clement I. The first tier was built in the fourth century, making it one of the oldest Christian churches in Rome.
Over the centuries, three successive floors have been built over it, of which the top three can be visited. During a visit, you can admire (among other things) the underground temple of the Persian sun-god Mithras and numerous medieval frescoes.
The Basilica of San Clemente is located about 350 meters from the Colosseum. (a 5-minute walk).
The Ludus Magnus was the largest of the four ludi (gladiatorial schools) known from ancient Rome. The rectangular building complex was commissioned by Emperor Domitian (81-96) and completed by Hadrian (117-138).
The building was located in the valley between the Caelius and the Esquiline, east of the Colosseum—to which it was connected by a subterranean passage.
The Ludus Magnus is located across the street from the east side of the Colosseum (a 5-minute walk).
This was the epicenter of social, political, religious, and cultural life in ancient Rome. It was also the heart of the empire and the ruins found here are surprisingly interesting.
No trip to the Eternal City would be complete without a visit to this majestic complex. It’s a must-see site and access is included in the Colosseum entry ticket.
The entrance to the Roman Forum is 550 meters west of the Colosseum (a 7-minute walk).
The Palatine is one of the seven hills of Rome and the first that was inhabited. Since the imperial period, it was the hill where the emperors built their palaces.
Here you can visit, among others, the remains of the residences of the House of Augustus, the Domus Tiberiana, the House of Livia, the Domus Aurea, the Farnesian Gardens, the Domus Transitoria, and the Hut of Romulus.
The entrance to the Palatine Hill is 500 meters south of the Colosseum (a 7-minute walk).
Considered to be the largest sports stadium built by man, this archaeological area was the site of legendary entertainment activities for nearly a thousand years.
Most of the building is underground and there’s not much left to see above ground. However, through a virtual reality tour, you can discover what the circus used to look like. It’s definitely worth a visit.
The entrance to the Circus Maximus is located 700 meters south of the Colosseum (an 8-minute walk).