As documented and indicated by ancient authors, was the Colosseum in Rome indeed a ‘death trap’? Did the ancient Romans construct an elaborate amphitheater to quench their blood thirst? An enormous structure in the center of the city holding 80,000 people really witnessed fights between humans and exotic animals? Or is it just Hollywood effects, depicted in the famous movie Gladiator? Now a popular tourist destination, we entered to experience the mythical structure and find our own clues to demystify some of the historical anecdotes.
Suggested Time Spent: 2-3 Hours | Admission: € 12 for Adults | Hours: 9AM – 7PM (More information here)
Before we jump into deciphering the mysteries, let’s paint the picture from the structural perspectives. A large amphitheater constructed by the Flavian dynasty (Vespasian, Titus and Dominitan) around 70-80 A.D., on land acquired by Nero after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. It is believed that it was financed by the spoils of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. While there are variations in opinions from historians, the arena (larger than two American Football fields) was used for staging Gladiator fights, animal fights, drama, and believe it or not, naval battles. Some artifacts suggest crucifixions, courthouse and public executions were also part of the usage.
Over the ages, through medieval and modern times, there have been evidences of this being used as a cemetery, church, even bull fight arena under various rulers. But even after deep dive investigations of the ruins, underground tunnel networks, re-engineered capstones by forensic scientists, archaeologists and engineers around the world, instances of blood-baths have not been proven as such. Most evidences of Gladiatorial fights with wild beasts and fights till death are merely anecdotal till date.
The columns and arches found in the Colosseum are signature Roman architecture along with underground tunnel network that show Greek influence. A perfect elliptical shape (188m x 150m) contrary to much easier circular construction is proof of engineering ingenuity of that time. 80 arches, three tiers to hold up to 80,000 spectators, 8 entrances and an exterior covered by travertine points to the design and planning repertoire of the ancient Romans. The design of a two story basement or hypogeum (now visible clearly from all levels inside) to hold Gladiators and animals along with the tunnels to transport water, food and the participants from outside the arena can compete even with modern day architectural feats.
Things to know before you go
- Like most of the other Roman sites, Colosseum does not have good signage and detailed history inside it. Consider revving up your history lessons from this blog or elsewhere in order to make your trip remarkable.
- There are smartphone apps (e.g. eTips) that have good commentary on Colosseum, that you can use as a companion.
- Guided tours are available, but since the place can get extremely crowded, it is hard to follow along. We do not recommend it.
- In summer, thousands of tourists flock this site, so long lines are inevitable. Consider buying a ticket online.
- Better yet, buy the combo ticket from Roman Forum (Fora Romano) across the street. Lines in Colosseum are much longer than at Roman Forum. Check updates on hours and tickets from the official site here.
- The Colosseum has several steep steps to get to the audience levels three stories up. But it is surprisingly accessible by an elevator for elderly or disabled.
Want to learn more on whether Colosseum was indeed a killing machine? Check out these articles/blogs (NYTimes, BBC Story) and YouTube documentaries (Ancient History, Gladiator Story) before you go. But regardless of your thought process, enjoy the grandeur and significance of this ancient engineering marvel while you are there.
Please leave a comment or ask questions if you are interested to learn more.
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