Why is the Colosseum the first stop on our Rome Guided Tours? Because it is the symbol of Rome, the city most visited archaeological site, and the monument that makes us famous all over the world.
The Colosseum's ancient name was the Flavian Amphitheater; the term 'Colosseum' originated later. The word "Colosseum" came from the presence of a colossal bronze statue of the unhinged emperor Nero (the "Colossus"). But this was no normal statue; being the megalomaniac that he was, Nero decided to model himself on (and portray himself as) the strongest god of all - the Sun.
The Colosseum was built by the emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, in the 70s AD. Because Vespasian was the first of the Flavian family to become emperor, the Colosseum took the Latin name: Amphitheatrum Flavium. The Colosseum's construction was funded out of the spoils of war taken from the sack of another eternal city - Jerusalem. It was built on the site of Nero's artificial lake.
Vespasian chose to build the amphitheater on the emperor Nero's private land was important. Nero had been a tyrant, obsessed with personal vanity projects. He had built an enormous palace for himself, the "Golden House" which occupied much of the space between the hill beside the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Vespasian's decision to build a public monument on Nero's former estate was a strong symbolic gesture: while Nero had been for himself, Vespasian would be for the people.
The Colosseum's main spectacles were gladiatoral battles and wild animal hunts. But this wasn't not all. Sometimes, the Romans would flood the Colosseum so they could reenact famous naval battles. Later, with the rise of Christianity, the Colosseum became the site of executions and - consequenly - martyrdoms.
When the Colosseum first opened to the public in 80 AD, the spectacle the emperor Titus put on was mind-blowing. Titus arranged 100 days of games. They included wild animal hunts, criminal executions, and recreations of famous mythical and historical events (mainly battles). We're even told that the emperor procurred no less than 5,000 animals from across the emperor to be slaughtered for the crowd's entertainment.
Ah yes, the gladiators. In antiquity the Colosseum was most famous for the armored warriors who battled there. These men were excellent fighters - very expensive and unfalteringly brave. But they were actually also prisoners, who had been sold (and in some cases had even voluntarily sold themselves) into slavery.
They fought to gain their freedom, and attended Gladiator School to help them do so, learning the requisite skills to help lengthen their life expectancy. But away from the blood and sand, their lifestyle wasn't so bad. Gladiators were in fact celebrities, the A-listers of their day. Lusted after by noblewomen, and by noblemen as well.
One myth, perpetuated in no small part by Ridley Scott's Gladiator, is that Rome's gladiators were always dying. While it's macarbely intriguing to imagine such daily slaughter, the truth is that gladiators were commodities. Just like the slaves who made up much of Roman society, gladiators were valued on the basis of the monetary return they could bring their masters. Considering how much it cost to train gladiators up, their masters thought twice about getting them killed. Or about earning the fury of a rival by killing their gladiators.
The Colosseum's exterior consists of eight arches and engaged columns. Its fourth order is divided into panels interspersed with windows, which once housed magnificent statues. What few people know is that there was initially a masonry and wooden structure capable of supporting a huge roof or awning. The Romans used this retractable roof to protect spectators from the rain and sun. Wandering around the Colosseum some days in summer, you sometimes can't help but feel this would still be welcomed.
With our Ancient Rome with Colosseum Tour, you can see the whole interior of the Colosseum. The stands were made up of marble steps and the arena made from wood and sand. It was, in fact, the Latin word for 'sand' (harena) that gives us the word "arena".
In the basement, there were cellars and tunnels of the Colosseum Underground. It was here where the Romans housed wild beasts and props for the shows. With our exclusive Colosseum Underground Tour, you can visit this fascinating part as well.
The Colosseum is now made up of two levels which provide sweeping panoramas over the amphitheater's interior. On the top, you can visit the temporary exhibitions. These tell the stories of the lives of the gladiators, recounting the tales of those who fought and died there. There's also the souvenir shop, where you can pick up a lasting memento - though not a memento mori which are generally best avoided!
The Colosseum's macabre beauty shines even stronger at night. There's no better time to explore this global icon and learn about its stories than under the moonlight, when the city is at rest. That's why we run a Colosseum by Night Tour - so you can experience its monumental magnificence in the absence of its admirers.
As an enduring symbol of the might of the Roman Empire, the Colosseum needs no introduction. But as well known as it is, the Colosseum still has its secrets. Only by visiting it with a professional guide can you unlock them and really get to know the most famous building in the world.
- Walks Inside Rome