World Travel GuidesColosseum, Italy

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The Colosseum, also written Coliseum, is the most famous monument to Ancient Rome. It is a giant amphitheatre in the heart of Rome, Italy. It was built to accommodate 50,000 spectators and was used for public spectacles and gladiatorial contests. The Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre, or in the Latin, Amphitheatrum Flavium and in Italian, Anfiteatro Flavio.

The Colosseum got the name Colosseum from the colossus of Emperor Nero, a gigantic statue that once stood nearby. The area on which the Colosseum stands was already densely inhabited by the 2nd century BC. The Great Fire of Rome of 64AD devastated it. Following the fire, Emperor Nero (official title Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus), who ruled Rome from 54-68AD, took possession of much of the area for his own pleasure. Here he built his villa, the Domus Aurea (lit. Golden House) and surrounded it with pavillions, porticoes and landscaped garden. At its entrance he put up a colossus of himself.

After Nero had died (he was forced to commit suicide), there was a year of instability from 68-69AD, when a succession of four short-lived emperors sat on the throne. The next Roman emperor was Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, or in English, Emperor Vespasian, who ruled from 69-79AD. Vespasian was not fond of Nero, so he had much of Domus Aurea torn down. He was the emperor to build the Colosseum. Work on it began around 70-72AD. As founder of the Flavian Dynasty, Vespasian called his structure the Flavian Amphitheatre. As for Nero's statue, he had it remodelled, adding a solar crown to it, and made it Helios, the sun god. The colossal statue continued to stand until medieval time, and the people of Rome credited it with magical powers. A corruption of the noun colossus, in Latin coliseus makes it Colosseum, and was applied to the Flavian Amphitheatre.

The Colosseum measures 48 m (157 ft / 165 Roman ft) high, 189 m (615ft) long, and 165 m (510 ft) wide. It is oval is shape, and covers an area of 6 acres. Unlike amphitheatres before it, the Colosseum is not built into an existing hillside or natural slope, but instead is free standing. It originally consisted of 100,000 cubic metres of travertine stones held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. Much of the Colosseum has since collapsed. Of the outer wall, only the northern half remains standing. This outer wall consists of three stories of arcades with arches, and a fourth level with small windows at regular intervals. The arches on the second and third level framed statues from Classical mythology.

To allow the crowd to quickly enter and exit it, the Colosseum is ringed with eighty entrances on the ground level. Four of these were for VIPs. Of these, the northern main entrance was reserved for the Emperor and his aides. All the entrances were numbered, and this can still be seen over the entrance arch of Entrances XXIII to LIV. During ancient Rome, tickets were in the form of numbered pottery shards. Spectators reach their seats through passageways from below or behind the tier of seats, allowing the Colosseum to be filled and emptied quickly. These passageways are called vomitoria, meaning "rapid discharge", and from it came the English word "vomit".

The area in which performances took place was a wooden floor covered with sand. The Latin word for sand is harena, and this gave us the word "arena". It measures 83 m by 48 m. Below the arena is a maze of underground passageways called hypogeum (Latin for "underground"). It has two levels of subterranean tunnels and cages for the performers and beasts to wait before entering the arena. An underground passage leads to the Ludus Magnus, the training school for gladiators, which also has an arena for training the gladiators.


Getting there

Admission fee is €11 (€9 if you're under 25). The queue is long and so is the waiting time to enter. You can bypass the queue if you bought a tour package. Alternatively, you can cross the street to the Roman Forum, where you can buy a day-long pass for €10, a standard Colosseum+Palatine ticket for €11, or a 7-day pass for €22. The pass gives you access to the Colosseum (Colosseo), Palatine Hill (Palatino Hill), the Baths of Caracalla (Terme di Caracalla), and the catacombs as well as the Terme di Diocleziano, Palazza Massimo alle Terme, Crypta Balbi, Palazzo Altemps, Villa dei Quintili, Tomba di Cecilia Metella.

To space all these sites out, get the 7-day pass. The bonus is a slice of pizza to eat in the gardens of Palatine Hill. As an independent traveller, you can get English-speaking tour guides just outside the Colosseum. You can also get it inside, for an additional fee of €3.50 per person. The tours are conducted by knowledgeable archaeologists, but expect the same places covered as you would have explored on your own.

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