The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is a must-see monument that symbolizes the power and drama of ancient Rome. With its 50,000 seats, the amphitheater is an awe-inspiring sight, especially when imagining it filled with excited spectators watching armored gladiators battle in the arena. Inaugurated in 80 CE, the Colosseum has stood the test of time, remaining in remarkable condition, and continues to electrify visitors with its history and grandeur.
The Colosseum, a top tourist attraction in Italy, attracts over seven million visitors annually, even after two millennia. To experience the site without the crowds, consider visiting in the early morning or late afternoon. To speed up the entry process, it’s recommended to purchase tickets or passes online and enter through the designated line for pre-purchased tickets.
The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was initially commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE, located on the grounds of Nero’s expansive Domus Aurea complex. Vespasian did not live to see its completion, which was finished by his son and successor Titus a year after Vespasian’s death. To celebrate the amphitheater’s inauguration, Titus held 100-day games with the slaughter of 5000 animals. Emperor Trajan later exceeded this record with a 117-day killing spree featuring 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals.
The arena, originally called “Anfiteatro Flavio” after the Flavian family of Emperor Vespasian, was renowned as the most fearsome arena in Rome, though it was not the largest – the Circo Massimo could accommodate up to 250,000 people. The term “Colosseum” was introduced in the Middle Ages and referred not to the amphitheater’s size, but to the nearby Colosso di Nerone, a massive statue of Nero.
The outer walls of the Colosseum feature three levels of arches, framed by decorative columns with Ionic (bottom), Doric, and Corinthian (top) capitals. The walls were originally covered in travertine, and marble statues filled the niches on the second and third stories. The top level, with windows and slender Corinthian pilasters, supported the 240 masts that held an awning over the arena, protecting spectators from sun and rain. The 80 entrance arches, known as “vomitoria,” enabled quick and efficient seating of spectators.
The interior of the Colosseum was divided into three sections: the arena, cavea, and podium. The arena floor, covered in sand to prevent slipping and absorb blood, was made of wood. Underground chambers and passageways, known as the hypogeum, were accessible through trapdoors. Animals and sets for various battles were lifted up to the arena via 80 winch-operated lifts. The cavea was the spectator seating area, divided into three tiers – magistrates and senior officials sat in the lowest tier, wealthy citizens in the middle tier, and commoners in the highest tier. Women (excluding Vestal Virgins) occupied the least expensive sections at the top. The podium, a broad terrace in front of the seating tiers, was reserved for emperors, senators, and VIPs.
The Colosseum was abandoned with the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. In the Middle Ages, it was occupied as a fortress by the powerful Frangipani family. Over time, the precious travertine was plundered and the marble was removed and used to decorate notable buildings such as Palazzo Venezia, Palazzo Barberini, and Palazzo Cancelleria.
More recently, the Colosseum has been affected by pollution and vibrations from traffic and the metro. To help combat this, it underwent a major cleaning in 2014-2016, the first in its 2000-year history, as part of an ongoing restoration project costing €25 million ($30 million or more).
General admission tickets and tours can be bought online for €16 ($19.21) along with a €2 ($2.40) booking fee. Each ticket, valid for 24 hours, provides entrance to both the Colosseum and the Forum-Palatine area. If you purchase a ticket on Friday, it can be used on Monday. You may also consider the Roma Pass or SUPER ticket as an option.
If you prefer not to purchase a ticket online and the lines on-site are long, you can buy your ticket at the Palatino.
The top three levels, known as the “Terrazzo Belvedere” and the hypogeum, can only be accessed through a guided tour. These require pre-booking and there is an extra fee in addition to the regular Colosseum ticket. Guided tours of the Colosseum’s main area are also available for an additional cost.
Full-price admission tickets can be pre-printed, while others (reduced/free/tours) must be obtained on-site. It is recommended to print your ticket instead of relying on a saved version on your smartphone.
The Colosseum is open every day, except January 1st and December 25th, from 8:30am to 4:30pm. During spring and summer, the closing hours are later.
Visitors must pass through security screenings before entering. It is not allowed to bring glass containers, alcohol, spray cans, backpacks, large bags, or luggage. Medium and small backpacks will undergo inspection.