Everything You Need to Know About the Colosseum in Rome

Written by Rem Malloy, since 1995 Rem has been guiding and designing trips to Italy and all of Western Europe and is considered an expert in his field for over 30 years.

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The Colosseum is perhaps Rome’s most famous attraction, and is one of the best things to see in Italy. It represents a rich history, and is a show of architecture that impresses most. This marvelous structure is recognized by people around the world, and just looking at it allows the imagination to run wild with images of Roman soldiers, fierce battles, and Italy’s elite society from days gone. If you’re visiting Rome, the Colosseum is something that you can’t miss. So, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the city’s most-loved destination.

What is The Colosseum?

You’ve heard of it, learned about it in school, and have seen photos of this world wonder. But, do you really understand what it is? Here’s what to know before you go.

The Colosseum is a historic amphitheatre; the largest that was ever built. It dates back to AD 70 and is one of the best preserved ruins from the Roman Empire. Stories say that this sand and stone structure was capable of fitting 80,000 people at one time. On average though, crowds of 65,000 would enter the oval building to watch gladiators at work. The arena is 83 meters by 48 meters.

There’s also an underground portion called the hypogeum, which is visible today. According to historians, this was the area that held animals, prisoners, and gladiators.

Today, visitors can find the Colosseum just east of the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum.

The History of The Colosseum

Between 70-72 AD, the Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty. He wanted the structure to be a gift to the Roman people.

Funding for the building came from money taken from the Jewish Temple after The Great Jewish Revolt. Historians believe that much of the workforce was made up of Jewish prisoners who were taken to Rome. The Colosseum was also built using paid artists, builders, engineers, painters, and decorators.

Emperor Vespasian died before the Colosseum was finished, but his son, Titus finished the work his father had overseen. It wasn’t until AD 80 that Titus, opened the amphitheater to the public under the official name, Flavian Amphitheater. The opening went off with a bang as Titus arranged 100 days of games which included animal fights and gladiator combats.

It’s been said that 9,000 wild animals were killed during these games, and special coins were issued in order to remember the event. After Titus, the emperor, Domitian, continued to build the Colosseum by adding underground tunnels and a gallery.

The arena was used continuously for four centuries although the usage changed over the years. A small chapel was built within the structure during the 6th century, and the arena was converted into a cemetery. Much of the building was converted into housing and workshops that were rented out until the late 12th century. And, the Frangipani family apparently turned the structure into a castle by fortifying it.

During 1349, the building was damaged by an earthquake and as it fell apart, much of the building materials were used to construct other buildings.

At the beginning of the 18th century, different popes wanted to conserve the building as a Christian site. However, by the beginning of the 20th century, nearly two thirds of the Colosseum was destroyed from natural disasters and the removal of materials. It wasn’t until the 1990s that restorative efforts really began to turn the building around. This is also when it started to attract thousands of tourists worldwide.

Colosseum Facts

  • The Colosseum was the largest amphitheater, measuring 620 by 513 feet.
  • The building was unique as it was freestanding instead of being built into hillsides.
  • The exterior was three stories.
  • The building had 80 arched-entrances, which were supported by columns.
  • There were three styles of columns including: Corinthian Order, Doric Order, and Ionic Order.
  • The Arch of Constantine was built in AD 315 and is located near the Colosseum’s main entrance.
  • There was seating for around 50,000 spectators.
  • There were awnings to protect spectators from the sun.
  • Sometimes the arena was flooded with water so that performers could put on naval reenactments.
  • The gladiators who usually performed were often prisoners, criminals, or slaves.
  • The cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran were built using materials from the Colosseum.
  • It’s estimated that the outer wall required 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone.
  • These walls were held together by 300 tons worth of iron clamps.
  • The ground level had 80 entrances so that people could come and go quickly.
  • There was a special entrance used only for the Emperor and his close group of people.
  • It’s said that shards of pottery with numbers on them were used as tickets, and as a way for people to find their aisle and seats.
  • Seats were assigned based on societal position. Wealthier people sat in the lower section while the poor citizens sat closer to the top (which had less of a view.)
  • There were levels for senators and the noble class.
  • The underground tunnels connected to nearby stables so that animals could easily be brought into the arena.
  • There was a training school for gladiators which was also linked by tunnel to the Colosseum.
  • The animals for the shows were imported from the Middle East or Africa and included: Rhinos, elephants, panthers, giraffes, tigers, bears, hippos, crocodiles, and ostriches.

Visiting The Colosseum


The Colosseum can be found right in the center of Rome. It’s near the Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum. Only one minute from the site is the Colosseo metro station, line B. Visitors can take one of the buses that run through this area, or join a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Uber is available in Rome, but visitors can also hail a taxi to get to a from the site. On Sundays, many of streets are closed to vehicles so make sure to plan ahead. You may want to cycle or walk to the attractions.

Tickets to Visit The Colosseum

There are three main ways to get tickets to  the Colosseum; by tour group, at the ticket office, or by booking online. There are countless tour operators around Rome and all will offer different packages to see the attractions. While these tours can be limiting, they take care of all of the tickets and planning for you. So, you’ll get to see the Colosseum, hear about the history from your guide, and tickets will be included in the overall price.

If you want to purchase tickets at the ticket office, be prepared to wait in line. There is a desk right outside the Colosseum, but this isn’t the only place where you can get tickets. Instead of waiting in that long line, try other ticket windows such as: Via Sacre, Via di San Gregorio, and Largo Salara Vecchia. You may be in for a wait that is 45 minutes to an hour.

Lastly, you have the option to book online. This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to gain entry to the Colosseum. You won’t have to wait in long ticket lines and you can print out the tickets instead of waiting for them in the mail. But, even if you print the tickets ahead of time, you may have to wait in a small line to get them scanned.

What to See and Do When Visiting The Colosseum

See The Outer Wall

You can see the exterior of the Colosseum without even buying a ticket. However, if you want to get up close, you’ll need to gain entry to the area. Just walking around and viewing the arches is a great introduction, and you’ll be able to take plenty of photos to show friends and family back home.

See The Interior

This is probably the highlight of the attraction. You’re allowed to enter and view certain areas of the Colosseum. You’ll be able to see what it looked like, how people were seated, and where the underground tunnels went. Plus, the photo opportunities are incredible.

Arch of Constantine

Located next to the Colosseum, this arch honors the Emperor Constantine for winning the battle of the Milvian Bridge. It is both the largest and most well-preserved Roman arch that represents triumph.

Palatine Hill

This hill looks out over the Roman Forum and offers incredible views of the ancient ruins and the city itself. It’s said that this area was once the center of Rome and was home to temples, emperors, and other members of the Roman elite. This was a neighborhood that most people wanted to live in and even today it is covered in beautiful greenery. Visitors here can tour the ruins, learn about the local legends, and have a picnic near the shady gardens before leaving.

The Roman Forum

This must-visit attraction is right by the Colosseum and was an epicenter for local life and religion during the Roman Empire. Visitors can wander around the temple ruins and get a glimpse of the main street that was once bustling with people. There are grand columns, arches, and a basilica that all are fantastic points of interest.

Tips For Visiting The Colosseum

  • Arrive at the Colosseum before 8:30 am. This is when it opens, but if you get there earlier, you’ll be able to enter faster.
  • Use the metro for transportation since it is quite efficient and convenient.
  • Try to stay in the historic center as it is much easier to get around and visit each of the historic sites.
  • Wear sturdy shoes as you’ll be doing plenty of walking.
  • In the summer, make sure to carry a water bottle and sunscreen. It gets quite hot.
  • Wear a money belt or keep your backpack on your front. Pickpockets tend to wander around these crowded tourist destinations.
  • Try to dedicate an entire day to seeing the Colosseum and the associated sites. There is a lot going on here and you’ll want to take your time while soaking it all in.
  • Try hiring a guide. Even if you’re an independent traveler, a guide can make the experience better. They will be able to share their knowledge and point out things you may not have noticed on your own.
  • Visit more than once. Seeing this site both during the day and at night makes the visit so much better.

Where to Eat Near The Colosseum

  • Trattoria Luzzi: With locally sourced food and an authentic, Italian atmosphere, this restaurant is a top choice for visitors in Rome’s historic district. They are well-known for their wood-oven pizzas and assortment of pastas.
  • Divin Ostilia: This small eatery is a hidden gem near the Colosseum. It’s popular as a wine bar but it also serves up some fantastic antipasto plates and classic pasta dishes. The wine list and the craft beers are top notch and the staff will do their best to find you a table.


  • Taverna dei Quaranta: This authentic, Roman restaurant offers all of the Italian classics. It has checkered table clothes and high-ceilings which add to the antiquated atmosphere. The food is high-quality and the entire experience is charming.

Where to Stay Near the Colosseum

  • Eurostars Hotel St. John: It’s only a 15-minute walk from the Colosseum with access to the metro. Rooms have WIFI, LCD satellite T.V, and some have Jacuzzi bathtubs. There’s an onsite bar with international cocktails and a breakfast buffet that is included in the rate.
  • Best Western Hotel President: This 4-star hotel is only a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum and also has access to the metro. It has satellite T.V channels, WIFI, and a buffet breakfast. The onsite restaurant offers classic, Italian cuisine as well as a bar.
  • Mercure Hotel Colosseum Centre: This hotel is located in one of the liveliest neighborhoods in the historic district. It’s extremely close to the Colosseum and offers a roof terrace and a swimming pool. It has a bar, free WIFI and satellite T.V.

The Colosseum is not only Rome’s top attraction but is also one of the most visited places in the world. Learn about the history and significance of this architectural feat first-hand. Whether you spend a day or just a few hours exploring the grounds, it will surely be one of the most memorable parts of your visit to Rome. Get in touch with us today to find out more about arranging a tour of Rome with one of our excellent guides. 

About the Author

Rem Malloy started Italy4real back in 1995 with his mother, Deborah de Maio.

He specialises in Italian tours as well as customised tours to France, England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Spain. He was also featured in the Travel Channel show Mysteries at The Museum in 2016.

Rem has family in Italy and his mothers home town is Cava di Terrani, near the Amalfi Coast. The family has a street named after them in Sorrento, Via Luigi de Maio; a relative who was mayor of Sorrento.

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