Arco di Costantino
On the western side of the Colosseum, this triumphal arch was built in 312 to honour the emperor Constantine's victory over rival...
A monumental exercise in vanity, the Domus Aurea (Golden House) was Nero’s great gift to himself. Built after the fire of AD 64 and...
Arco di Tito
A glass-and-metal exposed-brick café-bar, Oppio has fabulous views of the Colosseum from the outside tables. It’s a great place for a...
Hostaria da Nerone
This old-school, family-run trattoria near the Colosseum is not the place for a romantic dinner or a special-occasion splurge, but if...
Piazza del Colosseo · interesting places nearby
Rome’s great gladiatorial arena is the most thrilling of the city's ancient sights. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the 50,000-seat Colosseum (Colosseo) was inaugurated in AD 80 and used to stage spectacular gladiatorial games in front of baying, bloodthirsty crowds. Two thousand years on and it's Italy's top tourist attraction, drawing up to five million visitors a year.
Built by the emperor Vespasian (r AD 69–79) in the grounds of Nero's palatial Domus Aurea, the Colosseum was completed in AD 80 after eight years' construction. To mark the occasion, Vespasian's son and successor Titus (r 79–81) held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5000 animals were slaughtered. Trajan (r 98–117) later topped this, holding a marathon 117-day killing spree involving 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals.
The 50,000-capacity arena was originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre after Vespasian's family name, and although it was Rome’s most fearful arena, it wasn’t the biggest – the Circo Massimo could hold up to 250,000 people. The name Colosseum, when introduced in medieval times, was not a reference to its size but to the Colosso di Nerone, a giant statue of Nero that stood nearby.
The outer walls have three levels of arches, articulated by columns topped by capitals of the Ionic (at the bottom), Doric and Corinthian (at the top) orders. The external walls were originally covered in travertine, and marble statues once filled the niches on the 2nd and 3rd storeys. The upper level, punctuated with windows and slender Corinthian pilasters, had supports for 240 masts that held up a canvas awning over the arena, shielding the spectators from sun and rain. The 80 entrance arches, known as vomitoria, allowed the spectators to enter and be seated in a matter of minutes.
The Colosseum's interior was divided into three parts: the arena, cavea and podium. The arena had a wooden floor covered in sand to prevent the combatants from slipping and to soak up the blood. Trapdoors led down to the underground chambers and passageways beneath the arena floor – the hypogeum. Animals in cages and sets for the various battles were hoisted onto the arena by a complicated system of pulleys. The cavea, for spectator seating, was divided into three tiers: knights sat in the lowest tier, wealthy citizens in the middle and the plebs in the highest tier. The podium, a broad terrace in front of the tiers of seats, was reserved for emperors, senators and VIPs.
With the fall of the empire in the 6th century, the Colosseum was abandoned. In the Middle Ages, it became a fortress occupied by two of the city's warrior families: the Frangipani and the Annibaldi.
Damaged several times by earthquakes, it was later used as a quarry for travertine and marble for Palazzo Venezia, Palazzo Barberini and Palazzo Cancelleria among other buildings. Pollution and vibrations caused by traffic and the metro have also taken their toll.
The top tier and hypogeum are open to the public by guided tour only. Visits, which cost €8 on top of the normal Colosseum ticket, require advance booking.