12 Colosseum Facts + What to Know Before You Go
If you are planning a trip to Italy’s capital, I’m positive that one of the first Rome attractions you’ll consider visiting is the Colosseum. To know more about it, here are some interesting Colosseum facts, its gory history and some tips and tricks to know before you go.
Hardly in need of any introduction, the Amphitheatrum Flavium is one of Rome’s most visited and photographed landmarks, one of those must-sees no guidebook would ever dare forgetting. It must be its look, its majesty or its ancient wisdom overlooking our whimsical modernity, but the Roman Colosseum never fails to attract thousands of people every day.
You don’t even need to plan a specific tour to see this fabled place, it’s visible from many of the spots you’ll be likely visiting. If you are in Piazza Venezia, you can see it wrapped up in the maze of the city’s pollution, if you go up to the terrace of the Vittoriano Complex, yet again it will come up in your pictures. In a nutshell, if you are in the city center it’s almost impossible to avoid it.
So, what’s so cool about the Roman Coliseum? Its architectural style? Ridley Scott’s influence on his audience? Read on and find out!
READ MORE: If you want to delve deep into the history and architecture of this famous Rome landmark, check out our guide to the best Colosseum tours.
12 Interesting Colosseum Facts and History
1. The Colosseum as a symbol of Roman engineering skills
Elliptical in shape and measuring 188 mt in its long axis, 156 in the short one and 50 mt in height, the Colosseum comprises of four floors, its facade made with limestone from nearby Tivoli. Its imposing structure reveals in full the skills of ancient Romans in the organization of a construction site.
2. It officially opened in 80 AD
Funded with the spoils of the war in Judea, the Roman Colosseum was started by Vespasian, inaugurated by Titus in 80 AD and completed by Domitian, who added the underground section and the dwellings for the gladiators.
3. It reflected the layers of society
One of the most interesting Colosseum facts is that each level of the audience bleachers was aimed at a specific class. This way the Colosseum respected the layers of the Roman society. And although access was free, citizens were given a card with their specific seat number.
4. The wild animals used in the games came from different places
Europe, North Africa, Middle East, and were killed very cruelly. Sadly, this is one of the main facts about the Colosseum. These beautiful wild animals were taken brutally away from their natural environment, many of them died even before reaching Rome.
5. Gladiators fought against each other or against wild animals
They were either slaves or criminals. But sometimes even noblemen who wanted to feel the vibe of risking their lives by proving their strength to the population and the Emperor participated in the shows.
6. The shows served emperors’ propaganda needs
Here the Emperors, devoid of their humanity, coined the infamous “thumb down” expression and bewitched the citizens with the gimmick of Panem et Circensem. This can be interpreted as the forerunner of today’s propaganda system of distracting public opinion from the real problems by giving them money and entertainment. Except that today we don’t get the money.
7. It all started as a propitiatory ritual
As the Roman Colosseum history goes, the shows (ludus -i in Latin) were originally conceived as propitiatory rituals to appease the gods. Eventually, they evolved into atrocious games where countless men and animals were brutally slaughtered.
8. Strength and pride were vital
In ancient Rome physical strength, pride and bravery were crucial to a man’s personality. This is the reason why gladiators who didn’t give evidence of such traits during the fights could even be sentenced to death by the audience, some 50,000 to 70,000 people. This was considered the worst way to die, humiliated in the public arena.
9. During the shows, spectators played table games
Visiting the Colosseum inside you can also see on display what we can consider the trash left by spectators, objects, and tools they used during the breaks, chessboards, tables for betting, pawns made with the most different materials, from bones to terracotta, even spindles women used for weaving and makeup tools.
Often spectators would gamble, even though it was allowed only during the Saturnalia, festival in honor of the god Saturn. The passion for games was so big that it was a common practice among men, women, patricians, and plebeians without distinction.
10. More Colosseum facts: Spectators cooked, ate and drank during the shows
All the objects found from the diggings reveal an image of a theater overcrowded with noisy and vociferous people busy in all types of activities, including eating, heating up their meals or even cooking from the scratch, as the rudimentary stoves found on the bleachers show.
Writers of the time report that the most common foods eaten there were fruits, meat, and fish. All around there were fountains where people could get free water. Alcohol was also consumed, but with moderation. In fact, at the entrance spectators were given a token equal to a single glass of wine to avoid troublesome drunks.
11. In the Colosseum, they ran naval battles
The diversity and the enthusiasm the Romans put into organizing their entertaining moments reveal how important leisure time was to them.
It would suffice to say that inside the Colosseum even representations of naval battles (naumachia in Latin) took place. Not many, but those few happenings were certainly spectacular, according to the witnesses who left written impressions about it. Not sure how they managed to organize these battles, but sources report that the Colosseum was filled with water and proper boats were brought in. All this, before underground cells and cages were dug.
12. The Colosseum was also the place for death sentences
Among historical Colosseum facts, we can’t forget that part from shows and fights, it was also the place for capital punishments. And apparently they were performed so brutally and humiliating, supposedly to work as a deterrent for future crimes, that many prisoners preferred to commit suicide before the execution. On the other hand, while common knowledge might suggest that in the Colosseum early Christians were martyrized, probably due to Hollywood movies such as Quo Vadis, there is no historical record to prove this.
Visiting the Roman Colosseum: Know Before You Go
The biggest holiday, the busiest summer season, the most tourist-crowded days are probably nothing compared to the excitement, the chattering, the noise at the time of the first shows, when the Colosseum, just built, stood in all its glory. Here are some things to know before visiting.
1. The Colosseum ticket is valid for two days
From the moment you purchase your Colosseum ticket, it’s valid for 24 hours and gives you also entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. The ticket costs
2. Get there by metro
The easiest way to reach the Colosseum is definitely by metro. The station Colosseo along metro line B is right in front of the main entrance. Even if you are staying close to a station of metro A, this is still the easiest option. You just need to change to metro B in Termini and do a couple of stops.
3. Book online
While by visiting early morning you have some chances to find a smaller queue, this is not always the case. Especially in high seasons like Christmas or summer, unless you start queueing at 5 am, you will likely find the line. Booking online is the best way to be sure you are skipping the queue.
4. Don’t bring large backpacks
They don’t have a cloakroom so any suitcase or large backpack will be confiscated. Don’t risk it if you want to enter, as there is no exception.
READ MORE: Check out more tips for visiting the Colosseum.
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