Colosseum (Rome)

Colosseum (Rome)

While stands the Coliseum, Romem shall stand

When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall, And when Rome falls- the world.


Location: Piazza del Colosseo

Tel. 06- 3006 7700

Bus: 75, 81, 85, 87, 117, 175, 673, 810

Subway: Colosseo

Open: 9am- 1 hour before sunset

Closed: Jan 1, May 1, Dec 25


The Colosseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater (in Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium) or simply Amphitheatrum (in Italian: Anfiteatro), located in the center of the city of Rome, is the largest Roman amphitheater in the world (capable of holding a number of spectators estimated between 50,000 and 87,000). It is the most important Roman amphitheater, as well as the most imposing monument of ancient Rome that has come down to us.

Inserted in 1980 in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites - together with the entire historic center of Rome, the extraterritorial areas of the Holy See in Italy and the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura - in 2007, the only European monument, it was also included among the New Seven Wonders of the World following a competition organized by New Open World Corporation (NOWC).

The amphitheater was built in the Flavian period on an area on the eastern edge of the Roman Forum. Its construction, begun by Vespasian in 70 AD, was completed by Titus, who inaugurated it on 21 April in 80 AD. Further changes were made during Domitian's empire, in 90. The building forms an ellipse of 527 m in perimeter, with axes measuring 187.5 and 156.5 m. The arena inside measures 86 × 54 m, with an area of ​​3 357 m². The current height reaches 48.5 m, but originally reached 52 m. The structure clearly expresses the Roman architectural and construction concepts of the early Imperial Age, based respectively on the curved and enveloping line offered by the elliptical plan and on the complexity of the construction systems. Arches and vaults are linked together in a close structural relationship.

The name "Colosseum" spread only in the Middle Ages, and derives from the popular deformation of the Latin adjective "colosseum" (which can be translated into "colossal", as it appeared in the early Middle Ages among the one or two-storey houses) or, more likely, from the proximity of the colossal acrolithic statue of Nero that stood nearby. Soon the building became a symbol of the imperial city, an expression of an ideology in which the will to celebrate comes to define models for the leisure and entertainment of the people.

In ancient times it was used for gladiator shows and other public events (hunting shows, naval battles, reenactments of famous battles and dramas based on classical mythology). The tradition that it is a place of martyrdom for Christians is unfounded. No longer in use after the sixth century, the huge structure was reused over the centuries, even as a quarry for material. Today it is a symbol of the city of Rome and one of the major tourist attractions in the form of an archaeological monument that can be visited regularly.

In 2012, the condition of the Colosseum structure caused concern, following studies that had identified over 3,000 lesions and an extensive state of fissures. In addition, an inclination of 40 cm of the structure was detected, probably due to a subsidence of the foundation slab on which it rested.

In 2018, the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill archaeological circuit received 7 650 519 visitors, making it the second most visited Italian state museum site (the first among the paid ones), behind the Pantheon.



«Silence the barbarian Memphis the prodigy of the pyramids, nor the work of the Assyrians exalt Babylon any more; nor should the effeminate Ionians be celebrated for the temple of Diana; the altar of multiple horns makes you forget Delos; nor do the Dear ones take the Mausoleum stretched out into the void any more to the stars with lavish praise. Each work yields in front of the Amphitheater of the Caesars, fame will now speak of a single work instead of all "
(Martial, Liber de spectaculis, 1-7-8)

Construction began between 70 and 72 under the Emperor Vespasian, of the Flavian dynasty. The works were financed, like other public works of the period, with the proceeds of provincial taxes and the spoils of the sacking of the temple in Jerusalem (70). In 1813 a block of marble reused in a late period was found, which still bore the holes of the bronze letters of the dedicatory inscription, originally placed above an entrance: the text has been reconstructed as follows:


"Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus had the new amphitheater built with the proceeds of the booty."



The chosen area was a valley between the Velia, the Oppio hill and the Celio, where there was an artificial lake (the stagnum mentioned by the poet Martial), which Nero had dug for his own Domus Aurea.

This body of water, fed by springs that flowed from the foundations of the Tempio del Divo Claudio sul Celio, was covered by Vespasian with a "reparative" gesture against the policy of the "tyrant" Nero, who had usurped the public land and had destined it for his own use, thus making the difference between the old and the new principality evident. Vespasian had the aqueduct hijacked for civil use, reclaimed the lake and had foundations cast there, more resistant where the cavea should have been built.

Vespasian saw the construction of the first two floors and was able to dedicate the building before he died in 79. The building was the first large stable amphitheater in Rome, after two minor or provisional structures from the Julio-Claudian period (the amphiteatrum Tauri and l'amphiteatrum Caligulae) and after 150 years from the first amphitheaters in Campania.

Tito added the third and fourth order of seats and inaugurated the amphitheater with a hundred days of games in 1980. Shortly after the second son of Vespasian, the emperor Domitian, made significant changes, completing the work ad clipea (probably decorative shields in gilded bronze), perhaps adding the maenianum summum in ligneis and creating the basement of the arena: after completion of the works it was no longer possible to keep the naumachias (representations of naval battles) in the amphitheater, which instead the sources report for the previous era.

At the same time as the amphitheater some service buildings were erected for the games: the ludi (barracks and training places for gladiators, among which the Magnus, the Gallicus, the Matutinus and the Dacicus are known), the barracks of the detachment of the sailors of the Classis Misenensis (the Roman fleet based in Miseno) used for the maneuver of the velarium (castra misenatium), the summum choragium and the armamentaria (depots of weapons and equipment), the sanatorium (place of treatment for the wounds of the fighting) and the spoliarum, a place where the remains of gladiators who died in combat were treated.

The imperial era
«The Colosseum, the most beautiful ruin in Rome, ends in the noble enclosure where the whole history is manifested. This magnificent building, of which only the bare stones of gold and marble exist, served as an arena for gladiators fighting against ferocious beasts. So they used to amuse and deceive the Roman people, with strong emotions, when natural feelings could no longer have momentum. "
(Madame de Staël)

Nerva and Traiano made some works, attested by some inscriptions, but the first restoration took place under Antonino Pio. In 217 a fire, presumably triggered by lightning, caused the upper structures to collapse; the restoration works closed the Colosseum for five years, from 217 to 222, and the games moved to the Circus Maximus. The restoration works were begun under Eliogabalo (218-222) and carried out by Alessandro Severo, who rebuilt the colonnade on the summa cavea. The building was reopened in 222, but only under Gordian III could the works be considered completed, as the coinage of these two emperors also seems to demonstrate. Another fire caused by lightning was at the origin of the repair works ordered by the emperor Decius in 250.

After the sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths of Alaric, an inscription in honor of the emperor Honorius was engraved on the podium surrounding the arena, perhaps following restorations. Honorius forbade gladiator games and since then it has been used for venationes. The inscription was later deleted and rewritten to commemorate major restoration works after an earthquake in 442, by the praefecti urbi Flavio Sinesio Gennadio Paolo and Rufio Cecina Felice Lampadio. Constantius II admired him greatly. Other restorations following earthquakes took place again in 470, by the consul Messio Febo Severo. The restorations continued even after the fall of the empire: after an earthquake in 484 or 508 the praefectus urbi Decio Mario Venanzio Basilio took care of the restorations at his own expense.

The venationes continued until the time of Theodoric. We have the names of the most important senatorial families of the time of Odoacer inscribed on the gradus: this custom is much older, but periodically the names were canceled and replaced with those of the new occupants (also depending on the different degree between clarissimi, spectabilis and illustres ), for which only those of the last drafting before the collapse of the empire remain.


From the Middle Ages to the modern era
After its abandonment it was used in the 6th century as a burial area and shortly afterwards used as a castle. Between the sixth and seventh centuries a chapel was founded inside the Colosseum today known as the church of Santa Maria della Pietà al Colosseo. Under Pope Leo IV it was severely damaged by an earthquake (about 847). The great earthquake of 1349 caused the collapse of the outer south side, built on unstable alluvial terrain. Long used as a source of building material, in the 13th century it was occupied by a Frangipane palace, which was subsequently demolished, but the Colosseum continued to be occupied by other houses. The travertine blocks were systematically removed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for new constructions, and blocks that fell to the ground were still used in 1634 for the construction of Palazzo Barberini and in 1703, after another earthquake, for the port of Ripetta.

Benvenuto Cellini, in his Autobiography, told of a ghostly night among demons evoked in the Colosseum, testifying to the sinister fame of the place.

During the Jubilee of 1675 it assumed the character of a sacred place in memory of the many Christian martyrs condemned to torture here. In 1744 Pope Benedict XIV ordered the end of the looting with an edict and had the fourteen aedicules of the Via Crucis built there, and in 1749 he declared the Colosseum a church consecrated to Christ and the Christian martyrs.

In 1787, during Goethe's stay in Rome, he left an emphatic description of the monument seen at night in the pages of his Journey to Italy:
«The view of the Colosseum, which is closed at night, is especially enchanting; inside, in a small chapel, a hermit lives and beggars take shelter under the ruined vaults. They had lit the fire on the ground at the bottom, and a breeze blew the smoke over the whole arena, covering the lower part of the ruins, while the gigantic walls towered gloomy above; we, standing in front of the grating, contemplated that miracle, and in the sky the moon shone high and serene. Gradually the smoke spread through the walls, the rooms, the openings, and in the moonlight it looked like fog. It was a spectacle without equal. So you should see illuminated the Pantheon and the Campidoglio, the colonnade of St. Peter and other large streets and squares. And so the sun and the moon, not unlike the human spirit, have a completely different function here than in other places: here, where their gaze is faced by enormous masses, yet formally perfect. "
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Journey to Italy)

Contemporary era: nineteenth-century restorations
Released in two major stages, with the excavations directed by Carlo Fea, Commissioner for Antiquities, in 1811 and 1812 and with those of Pietro Rosa (1874-1875), at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as well as being the subject of the most imaginative projects of reused until the mid-eighteenth century, the Colosseum was statically compromised, after having been inhabited for centuries, used as a place of Christian worship and used as a travertine quarry. One of the main and most evident problems was the abrupt interruption of the outermost ring on the sides in correspondence with the current via di San Giovanni in Laterano and via dei Fori Imperiali which were not by chance the subject of the most important restorations. The Fea also described the possible reasons for the presence of holes on the stones of the monument interpreting them as a system to remove the metal clamps that held the stones together.

The intervention of Raffaele Stern
After the institution of an extraordinary commission by Pope Pius VII, the first restorations began after 1806, the year in which a violent earthquake compromised the statics of the two free sides of the outermost ring. The earthquake had particularly aggravated the situation of the third ring on the western side where an emergency intervention was required due to collapsing ashlars.

After the shoring of the ashlars, the scaffolding was immediately mounted for the creation of a spur that acted as a buttress. Raffaele Stern devised two methods of intervention to be submitted to the scrutiny of the Academy of San Luca: "by way of removing", which consisted in eliminating the part of the attic and the third-rate arches that were damaged, a solution discarded, and "by way of d'addere ", then actually built with the addition of a brick spur.

The first two arches of each order were plugged in and the rustic spur was built without the architectural forms of the existing arches due to the emergency and the need to practice the intervention economically and quickly. Even the propped ashlars, subsequently loaded with romantic significance and described as blocked in the act of falling, are in reality nothing more than the result of an emergency intervention. Stern had initially thought of painting the spur, then ironically called "crutch", with a travertine-colored plaster to avoid excessive


The first two arches of each order were plugged in and the rustic spur was built without the architectural forms of the existing arches due to the emergency and the need to practice the intervention economically and quickly. Even the propped ashlars, subsequently loaded with romantic significance and described as blocked in the act of falling, are in reality nothing more than the result of an emergency intervention. Stern had initially thought of painting the spur, then ironically called "crutch", with a travertine-colored plaster to avoid excessive contrast with the authentic parts, but the painting was never carried out.

The intervention of Giuseppe Valadier
Giuseppe Valadier, who had already been interested in the Colosseum in 1815 with a project to decently close the Flavian Amphitheater by means of gates, in 1823 took care of the recovery of the perimeter ring on the side towards the holes. The substantial difference between Stern's and Valadier's approach to restoration is that, while the former was carried out under the danger of an imminent collapse, the other could be practiced in complete calm.

From a static point of view, the intervention consisted of a new spur, built with arches identical to the original ones. The addition, entirely in brick, was built using a different material than the original for economic reasons, and not for a desire to differentiate, with the exception of the bases and capitals in travertine, placed in an identical manner to the originals and with the same level of definition. Also in this case, in order not to aesthetically spoil the pre-existence, a travertine-colored whitewash was designed, never built.

Ten years after the beginning of the works, the work was celebrated by Giuseppe Valadier as a new architecture in Works of Architecture and Ornament, where he described and detailed the construction site from the construction of the scaffolding to the end of the restoration, exalting it as one of the his greatest accomplishments.

The works of Gaspare Salvi and Luigi Canina
From the 1930s to the end of the works in the middle of the century, the works passed under the direction of Gaspare Salvi and Luigi Canina.

Salvi's first intervention concerned the most severely damaged part of the entire building that remained standing: the third ring on the side of the current Via San Gregorio. On travertine bases Salvi built a completion with brick arches on travertine shutters; from the arches he started from the spurs to reconnect the newly built part to the old part, which was thus statically secured. The new arches are marked by bipedal bricks arranged radially. The fillings of the radial walls are made of travertine in the first order and brick in the upper orders, while the restoration pillars are entirely in brick. On Salvi's death, Canina took over the direction of the works, solving on the same side a problem of overhang towards the inside of the highest part of the building, which was secured with iron rods to the newly built brick buttresses.

The last major intervention was carried out on the north side, towards the current Via degli Annibaldi, the most preserved with the exception of the attic, which had an overhang of more than 60 centimeters off the axis. It was therefore necessary to build a support for the outermost overhanging part. A fourth-order sketch was thus built inwards in the second ring, into which coupled chains were sunk to ensure the attic part was no longer aligned.

The twentieth century and contemporary works
The remains of the Meta Sudans, the Flavian fountain, were definitively demolished between 1933 and 1936, together with the remains of the base of the Colossus of Nero during the works for the construction of via dell'Impero, now via dei Fori Imperiali, commissioned by Mussolini .

Between 1938 and 1939 the underground structures of the arena were completely excavated, partly altered by reconstructions.

Since 2002, the Colosseum has been featured on the reverse of the 5 cent euro coin minted by the Italian Republic.

In 2007 the complex was included among the "Seven Wonders of the Modern World". The Colosseum today is the major tourist source and is the symbol of Rome.


Origins of the current name

«I see a great circle of arches, and all around lie broken stones that were once part of a solid wall. In the cracks and over the vaults grows a forest of shrubs, wild olive trees, and myrtles, and tangled brambles, and confused weeds ... The stones are massive, immense, and protrude one over the other. There are terrible cracks in the walls, and wide openings from which you can see the blue sky ... "
(Percy Bysshe Shelley)
The building rests on a travertine platform raised above the surrounding area. The foundations consist of a large tuff plateau about 13 m thick, lined on the outside by a brick wall.

The supporting structure is made up of pillars in travertine blocks, connected by pins: after the abandonment of the building these metal elements were sought to melt and reuse them, digging the blocks at the joints: this activity was responsible for the numerous well visible on the external facade. The pillars were connected by partitions in tuff blocks in the lower order and brick above. The cavea was supported by trapezoidal barrel vaults and cross vaults and arches that rested on travertine pillars and on the radial partitions of tuff or bricks. Travertine is used on the outside, as in the series of concentric rings supporting the cavea. In these annular walls there are various arches, decorated with pilasters that frame them. The cross vaults (among the oldest in the Roman world) are in opus caementicium and are often ribbed through crossed brick arches, also used in the vestments. The radial walls, beyond the two external ambulatories, are reinforced with tuff blocks.

A complex system of water supply and disposal allowed the maintenance of the building and fed the fountains placed in the auditorium for the spectators.

External facade
The external façade (up to 48.50 m high) is in travertine and is divided into four orders, according to a pattern typical of all the spectacle buildings of the Roman world: the three lower registers with 80 numbered arches, supported by pillars to which semi-columns lean against them, while the fourth level (attic) consists of a solid wall, marked by pilasters in correspondence with the pillars of the arches. The orders for each floor are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The top floor is also defined in the Corinthian style.

In the sections of the wall between the pilasters there are 40 small quadrangular windows, one for every two squares (the bronze clypei must have been in the full squares), and immediately above the level of the windows there are three protruding shelves for each square, in which they were housed the wooden poles that were used to open and close the velarium, probably anchored to the ground to the series of inclined stone stones that are still partially visible externally, at the edge of the travertine platform on which the Colosseum rests (visible those on the side towards the Celio). In the first order there are 80 entrances, 4 of which are particular, located on the axes of the ellipse.

On the short axis there were the entrances to the stands of honor (the entrance for the emperor); on the axis along the entrances that led directly to the arena. Furthermore, the different floors were reserved for each social class.

The emperor sat in the morning on the podium towards the Arch of Constantine and in the afternoon on the one towards today's Metro.

On the second and third level the arches are bordered by a continuous parapet, in correspondence with which the half-columns have a nut as a base.

The semi-columns and pilasters of the four orders have Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian and Corinthian smooth-leaf capitals starting from the bottom. The first three orders repeat the same sequence visible on the external facade of the theater of Marcellus.

The monetary representations tell us the presence of four arches at the ends of the axes of the oval of the plant, decorated with a small marble porch.

The velarium
The Colosseum had a fabric cover (velarium in Latin) made up of many sheets that covered the stands of the spectators but left the central arena uncovered. The velarium was used to protect people from the sun and was operated by a detachment of sailors from the fleet of Miseno, stationed next to the Colosseum. The sheets were fixed with a complex system of ropes and guided by pulleys and at the same time the entire structure was fixed to the ground with ropes tied to stone blocks placed outside the Colosseum, and in part still visible today.


Cavea and public access
Inside there is the auditorium with the steps for the seats of the spectators; it was entirely in marble and divided, through praecinctiones or baltea (masonry dividing bands), into five horizontal sectors (maeniana), reserved for different categories of public, whose degree decreased with increasing height. The lower sector, reserved for senators and their families, had wide and low steps that housed wooden seats (subsellia); on the balustrade of the podium the names of the senators to whom the lower seats were reserved were inscribed.

Followed by the maenianum primum, with about twenty marble steps, the maenianum secundum, divided into imum (lower) and summum (upper), again with about sixteen marble steps, and finally the maenianum summum, with about eleven wooden steps at the interior of the colonnaded portico that crowned the cavea (porticus in summa cavea): the architectural remains of the latter belong to the remakes of the Severian or Gordian III period. On the steps under the colonnade women took their places, who, from Augustus onwards, were always forbidden to mix with other spectators. The worst place was on the terrace above the colonnade, with standing room only, intended for the lower classes of the plebs.

Vertically the sectors were marked by ladders and by the accesses to the cavea (vomitoria), and were protected by marble barriers (dating back to the 2nd century restorations).

At the two ends in correspondence with the minor axis, preceded externally by a forepart, there were two boxes reserved for the tall characters housed in the two boxes that have now disappeared. One, in the shape of an "S", was intended for the emperor, the consuls and vestals; the other to praefectus urbi and other dignitaries.

The spectators reached their seats by entering from the arches reserved for them. The emperors and the authorities reached their seats enjoying the privilege of entering through reserved entrances, placed on the minor axis of the oval, while the entrances located in the center of the major axis were reserved for the actors and protagonists of the shows. But the rest of the audience had to queue under the archway showing the number corresponding to the assigned card. Each of the arches for the public was therefore distinguished by a numeral, engraved on the keystone, to allow spectators to quickly and neatly reach their place. The numbers engraved on the arches of the Colosseum were colored red to be visible even from a distance. This was revealed by the restorations sponsored by the Tod's group and during which, by acting with the spray of water to remove the dirt and smog deposited on the façade of the building, small but unmistakable traces of color came to light. Crossing stairways led from here to a symmetrical series of vaulted annular corridors. They each enter a large sector comprising three wedges, divided by pillars. The path had the walls covered in marble and presented a stucco decoration on the vault, still the original one from the Flavian era. The southern stage, which housed the emperor, also had another more direct access, through a cryptoporticus that gave directly to the outside.

Twelve arches were reserved for the senators and led into corridors that reached the innermost ring: from here, a short staircase led to the lower sector of the auditorium. These passages were also lined with marble.

The other arches gave access to the numerous stairways with one or two flights that led to the upper sectors. The walls here were covered with plaster, even on the vaults.

Arena and service areas below
The elliptical arena (86 × 54 m) had a flooring partly in masonry and partly in wooden plank, and was covered with sand, constantly cleaned, to absorb the blood of the killings. It was separated from the auditorium by a high podium of about 4 m, decorated with niches and marble and protected by a bronze balustrade, beyond which the rank seats were located. The arena had various traps and hoists that communicated with the dungeons and could be used during the show.

Service areas (hypogeum) were built under the arena, divided into a large central passage along the major axis and twelve curvilinear corridors, arranged symmetrically on both sides. Here were the freight elevators that allowed the machinery or animals used in the games to go up into the arena and which, in number of 80, were distributed over four of the corridors: the preserved remains refer to a reconstruction of the third or fourth century. However, it is still possible to make a comparison with the undergrounds of the Flavian Amphitheater of Pozzuoli, built by the same architects of the Colosseum, in order to have an idea of ​​how the undergrounds of the Colosseum could have been in Roman times: in Pozzuoli, in fact, the gears that the Romans used to lift the cages containing wild beasts on the arena. The roof of the basement is no longer preserved, so the rooms below the arena are now visible outdoors.

The service facilities below the arena were equipped with separate entrances:

underground tunnels at the end of the main axis gave access to the central passage under the arena, and were used for the entry of animals and machinery;
two monumental entrances with arches on the major axis gave directly into the arena and were intended for the entrance of the protagonists of the games (the pomp), gladiators and animals too heavy to be lifted from the basement;
the arena was also accessible for the attendants from open passages in the service gallery that ran around it under the podium in the lower sector of the cavea. The gallery was reached from the innermost ring, the same one used by the senators to reach their seats.

Church of Santa Maria della Pietà at the Colosseum
Inside the Colosseum there is the church of Santa Maria della Pietà al Colosseo, a place of Catholic worship. The small church is inserted in one of the arches of the Flavian amphitheater. It was probably founded between the sixth and seventh centuries, although the first certain information about its existence dates back to the fourteenth century.

The church has always been a place of worship in memory of the Christian martyrs who lost their lives inside the Colosseum, and was frequented by numerous saints including San Ignazio di Loyola, San Filippo Neri and San Camillo de Lellis. The Roman archaeologist Mariano Armellini says that the chapel: "... was originally intended as a wardrobe for the company that used to represent the great drama of the Passion of Jesus Christ in the arena of the amphitheater, a use that continued until the time of Paul IV" . Later, in 1622, the aedicule was purchased by the Confraternity of the Gonfalone who transformed it into an oratory, and entrusted it to a monk as guardian of the place.

In 1936 the Vicariate of Rome entrusted the Circolo San Pietro with the task of providing for the office of the church.

The Colosseum hosted the amphitheater games, which included: fights between animals (venationes), the killing of condemned by ferocious animals or other types of executions (noxii) and gladiator fights (munera). The activities followed a codified program: in the morning there were fights between animals or between a gladiator and an animal, at lunchtime death sentences were carried out and gladiator fights took place only in the afternoon.

For the inauguration of the building, the emperor Titus gave games that lasted three months, during which about 2,000 gladiators and 9,000 animals died. To celebrate Trajan's triumph over the Dacians, 10,000 gladiators fought there.

The last fights between gladiators are recorded in 437, but the amphitheater was still used for venationes (killing of animals) until the reign of Theodoric the Great: the last were organized in 519, on the occasion of the consulate of Eutaric (son-in-law of Theodoric ), and in 523, for the consulate of Anicio Massimo.

The excavations of the Colosseum sewer collectors have returned the remains of skeletons of numerous domestic and wild animals, including bears, lions, horses, ostriches.


The Colosseum is an asset delivered to the Colosseum Archaeological Park and is directly managed and protected by it. In 2016 the circuit of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill was visited by 6 408 852 people, confirming itself as the most visited site in Italy. In 2018 it was visited by over 7.6 million visitors.

Rome Metro B It can be reached from the Colosseum station.
Rome Metro C It will be reachable, at the end of the works, from the Fori Imperiali station.
It can be reached from the Colosseo stop of tram 3