The Colosseum, one of the wonders of Rome

Only when visiting in person you can better understand how huge is this monument. The great gladiator’s arena is the most thrilling of Rome’s ancient sites. The Colosseum, with nearly 2,000 years of history, brings you back in time, allowing you to discover life during the Roman Empire.

A bit of History

The Colosseum is located between three hills of Rome: the Palatine and Roman Forum on the west, the Esquiline on the north and the Cealian on the east.
In 64 AD, large part of the city was destroyed by a huge fire. So, emperor Nero used the valley as a site for his new palace,  the  Domus Aurea (Golden House), which took an enormous area.  Where now stands the Colosseum, Nero built an enormous artificial lake, along with a huge park provided with all sorts of amenities, luxurious mansions and fountains. Nero took his own life in A.D. 68, his misrule and excesses fueled a series of civil wars.

Anyway, no fewer than four emperors took the throne in the tumultuous year after Nero’s death; the fourth, Vespasian, would end up ruling for 10 years (A.D. 69-79). The Flavian emperors, Vespasian, his sons Titus (79-81) and Domitian (81-96) toned down the excesses of the Roman court, restored the Senate authority and promoted public welfare. Vespasian gained popularity among the Roman citizens, dissociating himself from Nero, showing that the times of tyranny and despotism were over. He made a point of giving back the area of Nero’s Domus Aurea to the Romans.
The Colosseum then stood on the former site of Nero’s mansion as a splendid symbol of a new political order.

Colosseum or Flavian Amphiteatre?

The emperor Vespasian originally commissioned the amphitheatre in AD 70-72 in the grounds of Nero’s vast Domus Aurea. As Vespasian belonged to Flavian family, the official name is Flavian Amphiteatre.
Vespasian never lived to see it finished and it was completed by his son Titus, a year after his death.
To mark its inauguration, on 80 AD, Titus held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5000 animals were slaughtered.
Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain citizens with free games (Bread and circuses). Games were a symbol of prestige and power and they were a way for the emperor to increase his popularity.

Games were held for a whole day or even several days in a row. Representations usually started with comics or exotic animals shows and ended with fights between animals and gladiators or between gladiators. Fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war or convicted criminals. Sometimes free Romans and even emperors took part in the games.

Colosseum numbers

The elliptical building is huge, measuring 188 meters by 156 meters and it’s high more than 48 meters. It was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. The Colosseum had seats for 50,000 people.
Unlike other amphitheaters, the Colosseum was a freestanding structure made of stone and concrete. It was clad in travertine and covered by a huge awning known as the velarium, protecting spectators from the sun.

The outer walls had three levels of arches, 160 statues were in the niches on the upper floors, framed by columns with Ionic, Doric and Corinthian capitals. Entrance was through 80 arches, known as vomitoria, allowing spectators to take a seat in a matter of minutes.

The Colosseum’s interior had three sections: the arena, cavea and podium. The cavea was divided into three levels. Magistrates and senior officials sat in the lowest, wealthy citizens in the middle and the plebs in the highest level. Instead, women (except for vestal virgins) were relegated to the cheapest sections at the top. The podium, a large terrace right at the arena level, was reserved for emperors, senators and VIPs.
The arena was built over the hypogeum where animals were caged and where gladiators were kept waiting for the fight. The arena had a wooden floor covered in sand, to avoid that the combatants slipped and to soak the blood up.

Gladiators

Roman gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war or convicted criminals. they fight to set themsleves free. The emperor, indeed, has the power to give them freedom or keep them as slaves.
The most of them were men, but there were a few female gladiators as well. Shows were attended by every kind of people and frequently the emperor himself. As gladiators fought, vicious screams and curses were spoken from the audience. A contest after another was staged in a single day. If the ground became too soaked with blood, it was covered with more sand and the performance went on.

The end of the Colosseum

The gladiatorial games continued until 5th century AD., because with the fall of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum was abandoned. Unfortunately, in the Middle Ages it became a fortress occupied by the powerful Frangipani family. Later, it was plundered of its precious travertine, and marble was used to build Reinassance palaces.

The Colosseum today

On 7 July 2007 the Colosseum became one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
More recently, pollution and vibrations caused by traffic have taken its toll. So, Colosseum underwent a massive restoration, the first in its 2000-year history. A €25-million project sponsored by the famous shoe brand Tod’s.

Visit the Colosseum with us: have a look at our tour Colosseum Arena, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill.