The Colosseum - History and Facts | History Hit

The Colosseum

Rome, Lazio, Italy

Once the largest amphitheatre of Ancient Rome where gladiators, criminals and lions alike fought for their lives, the Colosseum remains a world renowned, iconic symbol of the Roman Empire.

About The Colosseum

The Colosseum is a site like no other. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, nothing represents the sheer power and magnificence of the Roman Empire like this stunning piece of ancient architecture.

History of the Colosseum

The Colosseum, or ‘Colosseo’ in Italian, was once the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It was built in the 1st century AD by the Emperor Vespasian as a place for the people of Rome to enjoy. Originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre after Vespasian’s family name, the man who brought the Roman Empire back from the brink would not live to see its completion.

The construction of the Colosseum was very much a symbolic gesture to create a clear distinction between Vespasian and his predecessor, Nero. Nero had committed suicide after suffering military coups, partially a result of his extravagance, which included building the opulent Golden House and a vast statue of himself. By contrast, Vespasian was building the Colosseum for the citizens of Rome. As if to emphasise this point, the Colosseum was built in the former gardens of Nero’s palace over the site where Nero’s colossal statue had stood.

Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum was opened with great fanfare by Titus, Vespasian’s son and successor. He marked the opening of the Colosseum with one hundred days of games, including stunning battle recreations on artificial lakes of water. The fact that the Colosseum was completed by this date was particularly impressive considering the building’s incredible complexity, vast size and the fact that Vespasian only came to power in 69 AD.

Even despite the short timescale of the build, the result was spectacular. Not only was the Colosseum able to take up to 50,000 spectators, it was also perfectly symmetrical, ornately decorated in marble and stone and an incredible feat of engineering.

The Colosseum remained the amphitheatre of Rome until the end of the Roman Empire. This was the place where gladiators, lions and those accused of crimes were put to the test, often fighting to the death.

Since the fall of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum has suffered from various destructive forces, including extensive pillaging of its stone and marble as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes. In fact, its materials contributed to many famous Roman buildings such as St Peter’s Cathedral and the Palazzo Venezia. Yet, even though a third of the Colosseum has been lost over time, this magnificent structure remains one of the most fascinating and beautiful historic sites in the world.

The Colosseum today

A visit to the Colosseum offers a great insight into the lives of Roman citizens and those who had the misfortune of fighting there, and for many, it’s synonymous with the power, theatrics and brutality of Ancient Rome. In particular, it is now possible to tour the underground hallways and corridors where the gladiators of ancient Rome would prepare to fight and ponder their mortality. Also recently opened are the higher areas of the structure, from where you can take in views of the Roman Forum.

There is a museum within the Colosseum with a wealth of interesting artefacts and information and audio guides are available in a number of languages.

The Colosseum receives around 7 million visitors a year: it’s worth booking your tickets online and visiting earlier or later in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds. The Terrazzo Belvedere (top 3 floors) and hypogeum are accessible via guided tour only, which must be booked in advance. Guided tours are also available for the main building. Security is unsurprisingly tight. The site is closed at weekends.

Getting to the Colosseum

The Colosseum is located in central Rome, slightly south of the forum. It’s easily accessible via public transport: the subway station Colosseo is a few minutes walk away, and buses stop there and along the Piazza del Colosseo / Via Dei Fori Imperiali.

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