One of the world’s best-known tourist attractions, the Colosseum is a bucket list destination. Even if you’re like me and not a history buff, it is a pretty amazing place to visit. I couldn’t keep my eyes (or camera) off of the Colosseum. I enjoyed stepping back in time more than I thought despite the crowds.
Challenge yourself and let me know how many of these you knew before reading in the comment section!
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Our first sighting of the magnificent architecture was jaw-dropping until I saw the army of selfie-takers all doing the same poses that you see on Instagram all the time. Just take a deep breath and get ready to jump in when you see an opportunity – but watch to see if there is an unofficial line – you still want to be respectful. I couldn’t help but laugh at the selfie-obsession, but then I smiled as I took my own. Pick your battles.
I highly recommend using Rick Steve’s Guide to Europe app! It was a self-paced walking tour with a lot of information. We used it to save a few dollars, but honestly, I do regret not using a tour. I didn’t think I’d be that into the Colosseum, but once I got there I was captivated!
Colosseum Fun Facts: Building the Colosseum
- Its original name was the Amphitheater Flavium which is still on the outside. Since that name doesn’t roll off the tongue, eventually it became known as the Colosseum.
- The word coliseum refers to any large amphitheater used for entertainment. The one in Rome is spelled differently and capitalized.
- 60,000 slaves (mostly Jewish) built the Colosseum. They were promised their freedom so they worked quickly – finishing it under 9 years. Their story is on the Arch of Titus near the Colosseum.
- Construction started in 72 AD and the first gladiator fight was held in 80 AD!
- The Colosseum measure 620 feet (189m) long, 511 feet (156m) wide, and 164 feet (50m) tall. 50,000-80,000 people could fit at any given time.
- The Colosseum was built on a man-made lake. Emperor Nero made a huge villa. Upon his suicide in 68 CE, the senate wanted all traces of him gone. Emperor Vespasian decided to drain the lake and put an arena on the land. It helped people forget Emperor Nero. Emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian helped build it.
Colosseum Fun Facts: The Design
- There were moveable shades that covered the entire Colosseum to provide relief from the sun. You can see how it works in the youtube video below.
- Seating in the Colosseum was separated by sections for class segregation.
- There is a “Hypogeum” under the Colosseum – it consists of an elaborate network of tunnels. You can explore these tunnels in this Colosseum Underground Tour.
- The arena was covered in sand to absorb the bloodshed by the gladiators, animals, and criminals sentenced to execution. If you want to walk in the arena, check out this tour.
- When St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Vatican City, they used some parts of the Colosseum and marble facade.
- The Colosseum could be flooded (and was a few times). The wooden floor was removed and filled it with water to “perform” naval battles. The emperor stopped doing this because they weren’t as popular as the gladiator battles (shocking!).
- The west exit was called the Gate of Death because this was the exit dead gladiators were carried through.
- The outside of the Colosseum has holes in it because the iron clamps were pilfered in the middle ages and primarily used for weapons. (See examples below)
Colosseum Fun Facts: Glory Days
- When the Colosseum opened, Emperor Titus celebrated with 100 days of games. In the morning there was animal hunting and punishment by exposure to animals. During the breaks there were executions. The gladiator games were in the afternoon.
- Entrance was FREE for all residents. The Emperor used this as a way to get favor with his subjects. If the event lasted a few days, weeks, or even months, he sometimes provided free food. He gave out pottery shards with numbers for attendees to get their food.
- The emperor would ask the audience whether or not a gladiator would live. Thumbs down meant to put the swords down and spare the gladiator’s life.
- Exotic animals were often imported to partake in fights and hunts in the Colosseum. This includes lions, tigers, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and panthers.
- Over 3,000 gladiator fights took place between 80 and 435 AD.
- There were 36 trap doors that could raise animals up or drop gladiators down.
Colosseum Fun Facts: The End of an Era
- The last gladiator games were held in 435 CE, the last animal hunts stopped in 523 CE.
- It is estimated that over 1 million animals and half a million people died in the Colosseum.
- Once the games ended, the Romans filled the underground and used it as a place to live, grow gardens, conduct business, run workshops, and more!
- In 847, the southern side of the Colosseum collapsed in a massive earthquake.
- During the late 16th century, Pope Sixtus V tried to turn the Colosseum into a wool factory for prostitutes to do other work.
- A catalog was compiled of the flora in the Colosseum in 1643- over 300 different species were found.
- In 2007, the Colosseum was added to the New Wonders of the World.
Colosseum Fun Facts: Hollywood
- After going through all of the red tape to film in the arena, director Ridley Scott decided that the Colosseum just wasn’t big enough.
- A replica of the Colosseum was built in Malta for filming. It cost an affordable $1 million.
- The replica was only 52 feet (16m) high and house 2,000 people. The rest of the Colosseum and crowds were computer-generated.
- Gladiators often had product endorsements in the arenta. This was left out of the film since the directors didn’t think anyone would believe that. (and let’s be honest, who would?)