Roman Colosseum : Where gore met glamour

Quick Facts:

Tick one of the seven Wonders of the World from your bucket list. Colosseum ticket is best bought at the entrance of Colosseum in a combo offer also including the Roman Forum and Palatine Hills. For summer heavy tourist traffic season try here at $18 pp. Also download audio tour by Rick Steves to guide yourself inside and make the most of informed travel.

The colosseum or “Flavian Amphitheatre”, as it was originally called after the Flavian dynasty of emperors, stands tall and proud in Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma, Italy, covering an area of almost 6 acres. The name ‘Colosseum’ is derived from the Latin word ‘colosseus’ meaning colossal. This was in reference to the gigantic statue of the Emperor Nero which had been previously erected near the site of the Colosseum. This was the place where valiant, death defying Russell Crowe-like handsome gladiators were pit against each other in a glamorous gorefest and the Roman audience cheered without any deliberation, reveling in their favorite pastime.
Inside the Flavian Amphitheatre

Entrance to the games was free. The massive amphitheater had a capacity estimated at between 50,000 and 80,000 Romans. The area beneath the Colosseum was called the Hypogeum (meaning underground). The hypogeum consisted of two-level subterranean network of tunnels and 32 animal pens. It had 80 vertical shafts which provided instant access to the arena for animals and scenery.The Emperor Domitian, the younger son of Vespasian added the hypogeum and also a gallery at the top of the Colosseum to increase its seating capacity.

Immersive experience

There were 36 trap doors in Arena allowing for elaborate special effects, like entry of wild and exotic animals which included lions, tigers, hyenas, hippos, rhino’s, crocodiles, ostriches, antelopes, bears and zebras. The animals displayed and killed at the theatre were transported from every corner of the Roman Empire reflecting the scale and scope of the Roman provinces. There were over 20 different types of Gladiators. The Roman Colosseum was used for staging various events including gladiator fights, wild animal displays, theatrical entertainment, executions, religious ceremonies, mock sea battles and re-playing famous Roman victories.

The Colosseum was built for several reasons:

  • As a gift to Roman Citizens, to keep them distracted from more pressing issues like unemployment and poverty (quite like politicians today)
  • Increasing the popularity of the Flavian dynasty.
  • To utilize and showcase the latest Roman engineering techniques demonstrating to the world the power of Rome.
Ornate Column heads

The emperor took up a prominent position in the imperial box was called the pulvinar which was located on the podium (meaning place of honor) which was like a terrace and about 15ft wide astride the centre of the minor axis of the arena on the north side.

The Flavian Amphitheatre was built of travertine on the outside and tufa and brick in the interior. The main pedestals were built of marble blocks. In the building of the Colosseum the slaves undertook the manual labor and teams of professional Roman builders, engineers and decorators undertook the skilled tasks.

The Colosseum consisted of four floors. The first three levels had high, arched entrances adorned with tiers of Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns. A Retractable Awning called the Velarium at the Roman Colosseum provided cover and shade. Brackets supported 240 wooden masts on which canvas awnings were hung.

a. The circular corridor to the south. b. The famous Equestrian statue.

There were 76 entrances which were numbered but there were an additional four grand entrances which were not numbered. Tickets were distributed for the shows, each one marked with a seat number, tier number and entrance number. The inaugural games at the Colosseum lasted more than 100 days. At the end of the day the gladiators who had been killed were dragged through the Porta Libitinensis (Gate of Death) to the Spoliarium where the body was stripped and the weapons and armor given to the dead gladiator’s lanista. The arena was 287 ft long and 180 ft wide. The arena was covered with 15cm of sand.

The eerie light and shade with roadside neons.

There were various entrances/ exits from the arena. The Porta Sanavivaria was the Gate of Life where those who had been defeated but spared would exit,  the Porta Libitina was the Gate of Death or Executions and the Porta Triumphalis where the victors would exit the arena. The bisellium was a richly ornamented seat of honor at the games. It was so called because there was room for two persons upon it, although only one sat there, usually the Emperor. 42 Roman Emperors witnessed the carnage at the amphitheater. An estimated 700,000 people died in the bloody arena. Executions of Christians or Criminals provided popular midday entertainment. As many as 5000 animals were slaughtered in one day. The place, with its shadowy hollowed corridors and eroded limestone surface, broken stairs and columns still reeks of the blood, sweat and roar of a mad Roman crowd.

For a moment get disconnected from the touristy vibe, close your eyes, stand with the lone gladiator waiting to charge into the arena and feel the adrenaline-mixed-fear in his beating heart…hear the deafening din of a ruthless crowd….because that is Colosseum, melting pot of all contradicting intense human emotion.