The Colosseum stands as a living testament to the magnificence of ancient Rome. An architectural masterpiece, the Colosseum has captivated the world for thousands of years with its intricate design, unique features, and essential role in showcasing Roman entertainment.
Below, we’ll introduce you to some of the more unique and interesting facts about the Colosseum.
1. The Roman Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheater found in the heart of Rome, to the east of the iconic Roman Forum. Built in AD 70-80, the Colosseum is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.
2. The Colosseum was originally called “Amphitheatrum Flavium”. It was named after the dynasty that commissioned and built it – the Flavian Dynasty. Some believe it is now called the Colosseum because of its colossal size, while others believe it’s named after the Colossus of Nero – a tall statue that once stood alongside it.
3. The Colosseum was built to impress. It was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian as a symbol of imperial strength. It was designed to foster support and loyalty from the Roman population.
4. There used to be a human-made lake where the Colosseum now sits. The structure was built on the site of an artificial lake that was part of Emperor Nero’s extensive palace complex, the Domus Aurea. The land was repurposed to construct the amphitheater.
5. More than 1.1 million tons of stone, bricks, and concrete were needed to finish the Colosseum. The exterior was faced with travertine limestone, while the interior seating area was covered with marble.
6. The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world. It stands about 50 meters (164 feet) tall, with a base area of 6 acres. It could accommodate an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators. The second-largest Roman amphitheater was the Faleria, built in 43 AD.
8. The Colosseum’s inauguration saw 100 days of games. These included battles between gladiators and wild animals, showcasing the scale of entertainment that the amphitheater would be able to offer.
9. More than 400,000 slaves, prisoners, gladiators, and other entertainers died in the Colosseum during a 350-year period. That’s almost the entire population of Vermont!
10. By the 6th century AD, an end was put to gladiatorial games. In the centuries that followed, the Colosseum was abandoned. For some time, it was even used as a limestone quarry for building projects. These projects included the Palazzo Venezia, St. John Lateran Cathedral, and St. Peter Basilica in Vatican City.
11. Many Romans have lived in the Colosseum. For more than 500 years after the games finished, local Romans filled the underground area of the Colosseum, using it as a place to live. They would also run businesses and workshops, and grow gardens underneath the arena.
12. The Colosseum is located within the historic center of Rome, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is recognized for its historical significance and architectural splendor. The amphitheater is also one of the Seven Wonders of The Modern World (the others are Petra in Jordan, the Great Wall of China, the Jesus statue in Brazil, and Chichén Itzá in Mexico, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Taj Mahal in India.
13. The Colosseum has at least 60 ancient lifts under its main structure. The amphitheater’s innovative architecture included a complex system of ramps, tunnels, and chambers, facilitating the swift movement of gladiators, animals, and scenery changes.
14. The arena could be flooded to stage mock sea battles, or “naumachiae,” featuring full-scale ships and recreations of historic naval encounters. It is believed aqueducts were used to fill the Colosseum with water. It could be filled in less than an hour.
15. The Colosseum had a massive retractable canopy system called the “velarium,” which shielded spectators from the sun during events. This was the largest velarium ever made and it covered the entire structure.
16. In 217 AD, a fire caused by a lightning strike caused the first serious damage to the Colosseum. The damage was so great that the Colosseum was shut for almost 20 years for repairs.
17. The Colosseum has weathered numerous earthquakes and natural disasters, with significant portions of its outer walls destroyed and subsequently restored over the centuries. In 1349, a 6.7 to 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused one of the Colosseum’s outer rings to collapse. The damage can still be seen today.
18. A huge variety of animals were used and sadly put to death in the Colosseum. Animals such as lions, tigers, bears, wolves, wild boar, elephants, and even hippopotamus were used. The estimated number of animals that died in the Colosseum sits at more than 1,000,000.
19. As early as the 1640s, botanists began compiling catalogs of the flora found in the Colosseum. In 1855, Richard Deakin revealed that more than 400 species of plant used to grow in the Colosseum. This included over 50 species of grass.
20. The Colosseum is still home to species of flowers from North Africa. The seeds of these flowers were brought to Rome thanks to the fur of lions and other exotic animals.
21. The Colosseum only became a tourist attraction in the 1920s when Benito Mussolini took charge of Italy. His primary aim was to make Italy more popular with foreign tourists.
22. Approximately 6 to 7 million people visit the Colosseum every year. That’s three times as many as CN Tower in Toronto. To manage crowds, the Colosseum implemented timed entry tickets, allowing visitors to enter at specific intervals. Only 3,000 people can be in the arena at a time.
23. Guided tours led by experts are a popular choice for tourists. Some tours offer the unique experience of visiting the Colosseum at night, under illuminated lights.
24. Occasionally, the Colosseum hosts cultural events, such as concerts and performances, blending modern entertainment with its ancient setting. In 2006, Billy Joel and Bryan Adams performed to over 500,000 fans in the Colosseum.
25. Gladiatorial battles, executions, and naval reenactments weren’t the only thing tourists and locals would head to the Colosseum to watch. They would also watch elaborate stage productions, chariot races, and animal agility demonstrations.
26. The Colosseum has seen some of the fiercest battles in Gladiator sports history. These included Priscus versus Verus, Titus’ Naval Battle, and Flamma’s Final Bout.
27. In 2016, tourists were criticized for climbing the Colosseum. They snuck into the arena at night and scaled the wall. They did so completely unchallenged, raising potential security issues.
28. In 2023, A tourist was seen defacing the Colosseum. A man from the UK was spotted carving his name into the 2,000+ old wall of the arena. He faced up to 5 years in jail and a $16,000 fine for doing so.
29. Various Roman emperors and leaders, including Vespasian and his successors, attended events at the Colosseum. Commodus, a notorious emperor, was known to participate in gladiatorial contests himself.
30. More recently, the Colosseum has been visited by a huge range of celebrities, politicians, actors, actresses, and sports stars. These include US President Jefferson, novelist Charles Dickens, singer Elton John, and superstar Kim Kardashian.
31. The Colosseum has been featured in a range of popular movies. One popular example is “Gladiator” (2000). Other less popular movies filmed at the Colosseum include “The Core” (2003) and “Jumper” (2008).
32. The Colosseum has also been featured in an array of different television shows. These include “The Amazing Race” (multiple seasons), “Rome” (2005-2007), and “Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire” (2006).