Just east of the Roman Forum, among the Seven Hills, in a low and flat valley between the Palatine Hill and the Caelian, Esquiline you will find the Colosseum, in the heart of Rome.
This enormous and ancient amphitheater measures around 620 feet by 513 feet.
The Colosseum is in fact the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. In its time, the amphitheater was not like other amphitheaters in that it stood by itself.
Most amphitheaters, particularly during this ancient time were built directly into a hillside. This building style was used to provide additional support that architecture alone would not provide. The Colosseum however is freestanding, and made of stone and concrete.
The Colosseum exterior is now well known for its many arches. It is in fact comprised of approximately eighty arched entrances spread over three stories.
Columns that were semi-circular in shape then support these arches.
The three stories had differences in the columns providing the support. The first story columns were of a fairly simple Doric order, in the middle sits Ionic order styled columns, and on the top sit the most ornate Corinthian order of columns.
The Doric order is one of the three categories of classical architecture, the other two being Ionic and Corinthian. Doric style is recognizable for its simplistic nature, including circular capitals at the top of columns.
The Ionic style is a bit more fanciful, and is characterized by the use of volutes, which are spiral or scroll like decorative elements. Additionally, Ionic columns generally stand on a base separating the column shaft from the platform and a decorative cap. The Corinthian style is the most ornamental, notable due to the thinner slightly fluted columns topped by elaborately decorated capitals.
Near the entrance to the Colosseum separating the amphitheater from the Palatine Hill, lies the Arch of Constantine built in 315 AD to honor the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius. This arch is the largest built by Romans to commemorate a triumph.
Spanning the Via triumphalis, the Arch of Constantine is passed through by all emperors entering the city in triumph. This highly decorative piece of architecture was a welcome addition to the Colosseum area.
The Colosseum interior once housed seating for an audience of somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 people. The top story also had optional awnings that could be unfurled to shield the spectators from the hot sun during the long spectacles that would take place at the center below.
The events that took place within the Colosseum most famously included gladiatorial contests however, the space was also used to conduct animal hunts, executions, battle reenactments, mythology based dramas, and sometimes it was even filled with water for mock sea battles.
This gigantic oval- shaped amphitheater made of stone was a gift to the people of Rome from Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty around 71 AD. It took almost ten years to construct this monstrous gathering place so it was not until 80 AD that Vespasian’s son opened the structure. The Colosseum was officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater and the opening festival included one hundred days of games.
These games included combat between gladiators and wild animal fights among other endeavors. The Flavian emperors came into power after Nero, a decadent Roman emperor, took his own life after chaos reigned for years during his rule.
The Colosseum was used for a long time, an estimated four centuries in fact. Eventually however, public taste and the struggles of the Roman Empire put the Colosseum’s special type of large-scale entertainment to rest. Over time, the amphitheater had suffered damage from natural phenomena like lightning and earthquakes. However, the structure was used in a myriad of ways through the years.
During the sixth century, a small- scale chapel was built into the structure of the amphitheater. The arena that formally saw slain animals and gladiators among other games of the time was converted into a cemetery. Spaces that existed under the seating area were converted and rented out to those seeking housing or workshop space. This rental arrangement continued until around 1200 when the Frangipani family, a powerful clan in Rome during the Middle Ages, fortified the Colosseum for use as a castle.
You may recognize recreations of the Colosseum with a side missing, this happened in the great earthquake in 1349. The outer south side of the structure was on less stable ground than the rest of the building and collapsed during this natural disaster. The stone from this collapse was used around Rome to build all sorts of buildings including palaces, hospitals, churches, etc.
The northern portion of the Colosseum that was still standing after the earthquake was occupied by a religious order in the mid-fourteenth century through the early nineteenth century.
During this same time span, the interior of the amphitheater was stripped of stone to reuse throughout Rome, similarly to the rubble resulting from the fallen south side of the structure. The marble façade was burned to make quicklime, a compound used in building.
The bronze clamps decorating the walls and holding stonework together were removed. You can still see the damage this caused on the walls of the building to this day.
Church officials in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought an efficient use for this space at the heart of Rome. A wool factory and space for bullfights were proposed but were did not come to fruition. Pope Benedict XIV forbade using the Colosseum as a quarry in 1749. He also consecrated the structure to the Passion of Christ and declared it sanctified by the blood of Christian martyrs.
The Pope’s assertions however cannot be backed up historically. Those in that position after Pope Benedict XIV carried out many restoration and stabilization projects, leading to this historic building remaining today. More recently, in the 1930s under Benito Mussolini, the arena area was excavated to reveal the original structure.
Today, the Colosseum is also linked to the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope leads a procession each year on Good Friday by torchlight beginning near the Colosseum. This is also one of the most popular tourist attraction to this day in Rome. Another restoration project was implemented from 1993 through 2000 to neutralize the effects of time and pollution corrosion.
Because of the popularity of this landmark, time slot entry tickets are now sold. This means that you should purchase a ticket in advance for a specific time unless you are part of a group tour. Otherwise you can expect to wait in line for hours and hours.
You won’t believe how long the line gets; insane is a pretty close definition to explain it. Even the skip the line tickets have a decent wait of around a half hour or so. The Colosseum is open to visitors beginning at 8:30 AM daily. My advice for you is to get there early, as the later it gets, the busier the crowds become.
The closing hours vary through the year but is usually about an hour prior to sunset. Free admission is offered on certain dates and circumstances so be sure to check and see if your visit matches any of those criteria. It is important to note that security restricts backpacks, luggage, and other bulky bags.
Additionally, alcoholic beverages, bottles, glass containers, and spray cans are also prohibited. Animals are also not allowed to access the site. Be prepared for airport style security upon entry to the Colosseum, resulting in long queues at most time.
ater is allowed inside, but no other beverages are permitted. After 3:00 PM is generally the quietest time to visit the Colosseum.