facts about the Colosseum

Fun & Fascinating Facts About the Colosseum in Rome

The Roman Colosseum is an iconic symbol of ancient Rome and one of the most impressive structures. Today, it stands as a testament to the engineering and architectural genius of the Roman Empire. With its imposing structure and rich history, the Colosseum continues to captivate millions of visitors each year. I always visit the Roman Forum and the Colosseum area whenever I visit Rome, so I understand the appeal.

But what exactly makes the Colosseum so fascinating? Here are some fun and fascinating Colosseum facts about this magnificent amphitheatre that highlight the brilliance of Roman engineering.

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15 Interesting facts about the Colosseum might surprise you

Today, the Colosseum is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world, drawing millions of visitors each year. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its cultural significance and historical value. Here are 15 facts about the Colosseum that you might not know about this fascinating structure. 

1. It wasn’t always called the Colosseum

While it is commonly known as the Colosseum today, its original name of the Colosseum was the Flavian Amphitheater (amphitheatrum flavium). The name “Colosseum” is believed to have originated from a colossal statue of Emperor Nero, known as the Colossus of Nero, which once stood nearby.

The Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty around AD 70-72 as a gift to the Roman people, hence the name. This grand gesture was intended to restore Rome to its former glory after the tumultuous reign of Nero.

2. It was the largest amphitheatre in the ancient world

The Colosseum is a marvel of ancient engineering. It measures approximately 620 by 513 feet (189 by 156 meters) and, in its glory, could accommodate up to 80,000 spectators. Its elliptical shape and tiered seating design allowed for optimal viewing of the events held within its walls. The fact that the construction of the Colosseum only took seven or eight years definitely adds to the wow factor.

3. It is a symbol of Roman engineering prowess

Roman engineers utilized advanced construction techniques during the construction of the Colosseum, which has made them famous for millennia. The structure comprises travertine limestone, tuff (a type of volcanic rock), and brick-faced concrete. Arches and vaults provided strength and flexibility, allowing the massive structure to withstand earthquakes and the test of time. The Colosseum had over 80 entrances and the exterior arches were adorned with 156 statues of various gods and heroes.

4. It was built on top of a former lake

One of the lesser-known facts about the Colosseum is that it was built over an artificial lake created by Emperor Nero for his lavish Domus Aurea complex. Draining the lake and repurposing the land for a public amphitheatre was part of Vespasian’s efforts to erase Nero’s tyrannical legacy and return the area to the people. Even back then, people could be distracted by flashy entertainment displays and indirect propaganda by their leaders.  

5. It had a massive retractable awning

The Colosseum was equipped with a retractable awning known as the velarium to protect spectators from the harsh sun. This massive canopy, operated by sailors from the Roman navy, covered two-thirds of the arena and could be adjusted to provide shade and ventilation. Having been in Rome during the summer, I definitely understand the need for this contraption.

6. It had a hidden underground complex

Beneath the wooden arena floor lay the hypogeum, a complex network of tunnels and chambers that housed gladiators, exotic animals and stage machinery. This is where the gladiators and wild beasts awaited their fate in the arena. Trap doors and elevators allowed for dramatic entrances during gladiator fights, adding an element of surprise to the spectacles above.

a colosseum and a walkway

7. It was built by slaves and materials looted from Jerusalem

Emperor Vespasian’s Colosseum construction was funded by the spoils of the Jewish War, including treasures looted from the Temple of Jerusalem. Additionally, thousands of Jewish slaves were brought to Rome to work on this monumental project.

8. It had an efficient drainage system

One of the Colosseum’s remarkable features is its efficient drainage system. The arena floor had an elaborate network of underground tunnels and channels that could be flooded for mock naval battles and drained quickly for other events. This system demonstrated the Romans’ sophisticated understanding of hydraulics.

a group of people in the Colosseum in rome

9. It hosted mock naval battles

No, you didn’t read it wrong. One of the most impressive spectacles held in the Colosseum was the naumachiae, or mock sea battles. For this, the arena was flooded with water from nearby aqueducts, allowing ships to sail and recreate famous sea battles. I can’t even imagine what that would have been like for your average Roman to witness, but just thinking of the logistics of creating such an event is unimaginable.

10. It was the ultimate entertainment venue

For the Roman citizens, the Colosseum was an entertainment venue, much of the sports and concert arenas we have today. Instead of watching your favourite sports team or a singer, the ancient Romans came to watch gladiatorial battles, wild animal hunts, public executions, and theatrical performances. These events were often sponsored by wealthy individuals and served as a way to gain favour with the public.

11. Where you sat mattered

The seating arrangement in the Colosseum reflected Roman society’s hierarchy. The best seats, closest to the arena, were reserved for the emperor, senators, and other VIPs. Wealthy Roman citizens and middle-class spectators sat in the middle tiers, while the uppermost level was reserved for women and the poor.

a group of people inside a former seating area in the colosseum

12. The Gladiators were both heroes and slaves

Gladiators were the stars of the Colosseum’s spectacles, and some were even compared in status to modern-day rock stars. These fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war, or condemned criminals, but some volunteered for the fame and potential rewards. Victorious gladiators could achieve celebrity status and win their freedom. That’s a high-risk job, but hey, many have dreams of the grandeur, so why not the ancients?

view of the inside of the colosseum and the outside facade of the colosseum in rome

13. It had incredible acoustics

The design of the Colosseum ensured that spectators, regardless of their seating position, could hear the sounds of the events clearly. The amphitheatre’s shape and the materials used in its construction contributed to its excellent acoustics, allowing the crowd roars and the clash of weapons to resonate throughout the structure. I bet it was loud and violent, just how they liked it.

14. It was looted and used as a source of building materials

One of the well-known facts about the Colosseum is that it was used as a quarry for building materials during the Middle Ages. Stones and other materials were removed to construct churches, palaces, and other buildings in Rome, including Vatican City. This contributed to the structure’s degradation and helped integrate its legacy into the city’s fabric.

15. It’s the only surviving wonder of the Ancient World

One of the fun facts about the Colosseum is that it’s the only surviving wonder of the Ancient World. There were Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Colosseum is the only one that remains largely intact. This distinction underscores its enduring legacy and Roman architecture’s remarkable resilience.

Bonus: Sybol of pagan empire and a Christian martyrdom

A popular belief is that the Colosseum was a site of widespread Christian martyrdom. While some Christians may have been executed there, there is little historical evidence to support the idea that it was a primary site for such events. The myth gained popularity during the medieval period and has persisted in popular culture. Eventually, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the site in the 18th century, effectively ending the looting of what was left of the Colosseum.

Damage and restoration efforts

Over the centuries, the Colosseum has suffered damage from natural disasters like earthquakes, fires and stone robbers who took its materials for other construction projects. Despite this, it has undergone numerous restoration efforts, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, to preserve its grandeur for future generations.

Ongoing preservation efforts are crucial to maintaining the Colosseum’s structural integrity and historical significance. Conservation projects try to address problems such as pollution, weathering and damage from tourism to ensure that this iconic monument remains a source of inspiration for future generations.

How to get to the Colosseum

The Colosseum is conveniently located in the heart of Rome and is easily accessible by public transportation:

  • By subway: Take Line B (the Blue Line) and get off at the Colosseo station. The Colosseum is across the station exit.
  • By bus: The 75, 81, 175, 204 or 673 bus lines stop by the Colosseum. Check the local bus schedules for the most convenient route.
  • By tram: Tram line 3 stops near the Colosseum.
  • On foot: If you are staying in central Rome, the Colosseum is within walking distance of many major attractions, such as the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill.

How to get tickets

  • Book online: I highly recommend you book your tickets in advance to avoid long lines. Tickets can be purchased online through the official Colosseum website or authorized ticket vendors. Booking ahead also ensures you can choose a specific time slot for your visit.
  • Get a combination ticket: Many tickets include entry to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, offering a comprehensive experience of ancient Rome.
  • Take a guided tour: For a more in-depth understanding of the Colosseum’s history and architecture, consider booking a guided tour. Knowledgeable guides can provide fascinating insights and access to areas not available with general admission tickets.
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Tips for visiting

  • Arrive early: The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular attractions, so arriving early in the morning can help you avoid the busiest crowds.
  • Wear comfortable shoes: The Colosseum’s grounds are uneven, and you’ll be walking a lot, so be sure to wear comfortable footwear.
  • Check the weather: The Colosseum is an open-air monument, so check the weather forecast and dress accordingly. Bring a hat and sunscreen, especially during the summer months.
  • Security checks: Be prepared for security checks at the entrance. Large bags and backpacks are not allowed inside, so travel light.

Final thoughts on facts about the Colosseum

The Colosseum is as fascinating as it is a gruesome reminder of the death and violence that happened here. But you don’t have to be a dark tourist or a history buff to appreciate it. Architecturally, it has no equal. Much like the Pantheon, it has inspired other buildings, including the entertainment arenas we use today.

It is a powerful reminder of the grandeur of an empire that ruled for centuries, and it’s an incredible feat of engineering that the Romans achieved. After all, it has continued to captivate and inspire for nearly two millennia—that’s not a small feat by any measure. I hope the facts about the Colosseum have inspired you to visit this incredible place.

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