From the incredible Colosseum and the eye-opening El Jem to the astonishing Nimes Arena, the world’s largest and most famous surviving Roman amphitheatres are absolutely mind-blowing places to discover. Other prominent sites to visit usually include the ancient stadiums of Arles, Pula and Pozzuoli, which are all fascinating in their own right. To begin your journey exploring this list of amphitheatres from ancient Rome you can view our editor’s top ten picks below as well as checking out a host of other locations which you definitely won’t want to miss.
Where are the Top 10 Roman Amphitheatres in the World?
Easily the most famous and the largest amphitheatre of ancient Rome, the Colosseum saw gladiators, criminals and lions alike fight for their lives in spectacular events. Today it remains a world renowned, iconic symbol of the Roman Empire. A visit to the Colosseum offers a great insight into the lives of those who had the misfortune of fighting there. In particular, it’s possible to tour the underground hallways and corridors where the gladiators would prepare to fight. There’s also a museum with a wealth of interesting artefacts and information and audio guides are available in a number of languages.
El Jem in Tunisia is a magnificent UNESCO listed third century Roman stadium. From the outside, the El Jem bears a striking resemblance to its older and larger counterpart in Rome. In fact, with its abundant original characteristics and elliptical stone walls, which are intact up to 35 metres in places, many argue that El Jem is in better condition that the Colosseum. Constructed by the Emperor Gordian between 230 and 238 AD, El Jem Amphitheatre was vast and able to accommodate up to 35,000 spectators. The structure measures 162 metres long and 118 metres wide, making the El Jem Amphitheatre the largest of its kind in North Africa.
Possibly the best preserved Roman stadium in the world, Nimes Arena survived due to its adaptation over the centuries, being used as a fortress and village before its eventual restoration. Built during the reign of Augustus, Nimes is a marvel of Roman engineering. A vast oval with a stunning façade resplendent with archways and ornamentation, the arena could seat up to 24,000 people. Now fully restored, Nimes is a popular tourist attraction and allows people to experience what it would have been like for Roman spectators. Including an interactive audio guide and some detailed exhibits, the site is now a fitting museum of its past.
Arles is a UNESCO listed Roman sports arena still in use today. Built during the reign of Augustus, at the time Arles was flourishing as a Roman colony. It could accommodate over 20,000 spectators and had over a hundred Corinthian and Doric columns spread over two levels. Today the site’s excellent state of preservation, in spite the fact that it was used as a medieval fortification.
Pula Arena in Croatia was built in the first century AD and still hosts events today. Constructed during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, it was able to accommodate approximately 20,000 spectators. Now restored with a capacity of 5,000 people, Pula Arena’s shows are far more docile in nature and are mostly operas and film festivals. Definitely one not to miss.
Also known as Pozzuoli, the Flavian Amphitheatre was constructed during the reign of the Vespasian around the same time as Rome’s Colosseum. Later damaged by ash and rubble from the eruption of the Solfatara volcano, the site lay abandoned and was later used as a quarry for its marble. Nevertheless, when it was excavated in the nineteenth century, archaeologists found it in a good state of preservation, with many of its walls and floors intact. One of the highlights of a trip is exploring the underbelly of this once-thriving stadium and wandering through the rooms and chambers below the arena itself. It is even possible to see the quarters in which the gladiators would have prepared for their contests.
Verona Arena was built in 30AD and is though to have been the third largest of its time. Originally made up of three elliptical rings of arches, during its prime the arena could hold up to 30,000 people and would have played host to an array of ancient entertainment. As with many similar Roman constructions, the arena suffered during the decline of the Empire and was pillaged for masonry during the middle ages. Despite this however, the arena stands in an excellent state of preservation and still hosts events, operas and open-air performances.
The amphitheatre of Leptis Magna would once have held almost 20,000 people and is still an impressive site today. Originally founded by the Phoenicians, Leptis Magna later became part of the Carthaginian Empire and was then incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC. Most of the remaining structures found at the site originate from the reign of Septimius Severus, who was born here.
Once holding over 30,000 spectators, the arena of Carthage was one of the biggest ancient stadia in North Africa. Unlike similar sites in North Africa, such as El Jem, this site has been mostly lost to ruin, but it is still worth a visit. A Roman circus near the site was thought to be able to hold at least double the number of spectators but has been all-but-lost to history and there is little if nothing to see.
The oldest Roman amphitheatre to have survived today, Pompeii arena was able to hold around 20,000 people and was the first ever stone construction of its kind. One of the best known ancient sites in the world, Pompeii itself was famously destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii amphitheatre is staggeringly impressive and one of the most iconic ruins to be found at the site.