Ultimate bible-guide to visit the Colosseum:
practical tips and history
-you probably never heard about-
Included among the new Seven Wonders of the World and deemed as the symbol of the Eternal Rome, the Colosseum is a classic must for everyone coming to Rome. Therefore, are you really sure to know all the right information to experience an unforgettable visit as the monument deserves? This ultimate guide is what you were looking for: it will explain in the most complete way all the visit tips and tricks (nobody probably told you) to know and “conquer” the Colosseum, boosting this one among the most legendary memories of your trip to Italy. Also, a comprehensive and lesser-known story of the most celebrated Roman amphitheater will contribute to enrich your exploration of the archaeological site, showing how it has become the most iconic monument of Rome in centuries of glorious history.
Colosseum practical info
Where is the Colosseum located and how to get there?
The Colosseum address corresponds to the piazza named after it, “piazza del Colosseo”, whose location is in the ancient heart of Rome, a valley surrounded by Caelian, Palatine, Velia and Oppian hills. To get there, the easiest and fastest way is to take the blue line B of the urban subway and to get off at “Colosseo” stop, so that you’ll find the monument just in front of you once you get out from the subway station. Another easy and pleasant way to reach the amphitheater is to take one of the several bus whose lines end at piazza Venezia. From there, you have only to take via dei Fori Imperiali on foot, crossing the astonishing setting of the Roman Forum on your right and the Imperial Fora on your left. The piazza Venezia isn’t in fact so much far from the Colosseum, since you’ll reach it in about 10 minutes.
The Colosseum always opens at 8.30 am every day, including Sunday and Monday. The only three days in the whole year you can’t visit the Colosseum are 25 December, 1st January and 1st May. The closing hours can change instead, depending on the season and its consequent duration of day lighting. For instance, between January and February as well as between October and December the Colosseum closes earlier at 4.30 pm, while between March and August it closes later at 7.15 pm. See below the complete record of openings and closings and always check the official timetable to be updated on unexpected and temporary changes.
When to visit the Colosseum?
The best time of day to visit the Colosseum is early in the morning, when tour guides and visitors haven’t reached the monument yet or in the evening hours, taking advantage of the night openings of the Colosseum. One way to skip the line at the Colosseum is to purchase the tickets in advance through the official channels (website or telephone) or to book the guided tour. In those cases, you arrive at the amphitheater and pass directly through the reserved entrances, that are often very busy as well, without waiting in line in order to buy the tickets in place. And please, remember that you can’t buy the super ticket the same day you’re going to visit the monument, so organize yourself in advance.
The two main points of reference for visitors among the most busy locations inside the Colosseum: the entrance arch dedicated to private group tours (right image), and the ticket office located along the ambulacrum just behind the entrance arches (left image with the box office highlighted by an orange circle), where you can get in line and independently buy your ticket if you haven’t already purchased a Colosseum reservation in advance.
Understanding visit categories
Which options do you really have to enjoy the Colosseum at its best and how to reserve a guided tour being sure of not falling in any tourist traps?
aSelf-guided itinerary: you can visit the Colosseum on your own and make the most of your independent visit letting you accompany by our super cultured self-guided itinerary. Take your time and linger on what can interest you the most without any constraints, while you can have all the information at your handle along the way.
bStandard visit: You can book a visit with a default guide provided by the official managing organization COOP Culture and enjoy a tour for 75 minutes to explore the Colosseum relevant places. This is a basic, not in-depth service for the visitor. Groups limit is 25 people.
cWider and more in-depth guided tour: You can enrich your visit taking advantage of authorized and specialized tour guides, who can book tickets for you and will give all the in-depth information you’ll need to experience in a richer way your visit to the Colosseum. You won’t be limited to a short overview of the monument as in the default visit, but you’ll be involved in a wider and accurate experience, reserved to single individuals or small groups, at your choice.
Tickets and fees
Which Colosseum tickets to buy? You can choose between five main kinds of tickets:
1 Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Ordinary Admission: this ticket allows a regular entrance to the Colosseum besides one entrance to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
2 Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Ordinary Admission + Arena: it differs from the previous one because it let the visitors to directly access to the arena and it is reserved for groups and visitors with an authorized tour guide.
3 Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Ordinary Admission + Underground And Panoramic View: it includes the access to the underground which is possible only with an authorized tour guide.
4 Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine S.U.P.E.R.: it includes a special entrance to seven additional places in the same area usually closed to the public (Criptoportico, Museo Palatino, Aula Isiaca and Loggia Mattei, Casa di Augusto, Casa di Livia, Tempio di Romolo and Santa Maria Antiqua; Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri and Rampa Domizianea).
5 Colosseum By Night: it can be acquired only for the spring, summer and fall evenings. It includes the access to the arena, the underground and the Belvedere Valadier and it is reserved for groups and visitors with an authorized tour guide.
Where to buy Colosseum tickets? You can book your tickets online, through a phone call or directly buy them at the Colosseum box office.
Which is the entry fee to the Colosseum? The costs can vary depending on the kind of tickets you choose: from 12 up to 20 euro. If you’ll book them online or via phone before arriving at the monument, you’ll pay an extra cost of 2 euro, even if this will prevent you from losing too much time waiting in long queues at the Colosseum box office.
Please note that you need to buy the Colosseum tickets only if you’re going to take a self-guided itinerary or to join a standard guided visit inside the monument. If you prefer an in-depth guided tour of the Colosseum, either a private or a group one, the purchase of the tickets is usually a service offered by the guide or the tour agency you choose to entrust yourself, which will also allow you to skip the lines.
- 1. ORDINARY
- 2. ARENA
- 3. UNDERG + PAN
- 4. S.U.P.E.R.
- 5. BY NIGHT
What to choose? The best visits
There are four different visit declinations of the monument you can experience. Discover them with us!
Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill: This is the standard visit of the Colosseum,
which includes the access to the adjacent Roman Forum
and Palatine Hill and it can be carried out in two days.
The ticket sold for this kind of visit is the standard ticket,
which is valid for two consecutive days and its full price is 12 euro.
The ways you can do it :
- self-guided itinerary
- standar visit
- in-depth guided tour
Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill including seven special places (same area): From the 21 April 2018 you have a unique opportunity to enjoy a new itinerary that encompasses the Colosseum, the Forum and the Palatine Hill, alongside with seven additional places in the same archaeological area that are mostly open only upon this special entrance. The ticket sold for this kind of visit is the S.U.P.E.R. ticket (with S.U.P.E.R. which stands for “Seven Unique Places to Experience in Rome”), which is valid for two consecutive days and it allows visitors to discover seven additional sites that are mostly open only upon this special entrance (Criptoportico, Museo Palatino, Aula Isiaca and Loggia Mattei, Casa di Augusto, Casa di Livia, Tempio di Romolo and Santa Maria Antiqua; Oratorio dei Quaranta Martiri and Rampa Domizianea) and, until now, were only accessible thanks to guided tours or on the occasion of temporary exhibitions, as Santa Maria Antiqua and Romulus’s temple, whereas others, as the Loggia Mattei and the Aula Isiaca, have been opened to the public for the very first time. Augustus’s and Livia’s houses have reopened featuring new multimedia devices which reveal the secrets of the extraordinary decorations and ancient wall paintings. The visitors are immersed in the Roman world thanks to new technologies such as light-mapping, projections, virtual narration and broadcasting devices that illustrate the story of Ancient Roman painting and sculpture, as well as the architecture of imperial palaces and public or private buildings, following the vicissitudes of subsequent interventions occurred over the centuries, especially during the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance. You can do this visit on your own, with the default guide or within the specialized guided tour. Further info to book the visit on your own or with the Coopculture standard guide: Please be aware that not all these seven places are open on the same day, because the access to certain areas is limited for preservation reasons due to the fragility of paintings and sculptures that doesn’t allow these sites to absorb high numbers of visitors. Therefore, you’ll have to visit the whole Roman Forum and some of the seven special places on one day and the Colosseum with the rest of them on the other day.
The ways you can do it :
- self-guided itinerary
- standar visit
- in-depth guided tour
Colosseum underground and panoramic view: This visit allows you to descend underneath the Colosseum exploring the fascinating hypogeum area, as well as to visit the arena level and the first floor where you can eventually attend the exhibition if scheduled. Thereafter, you are lead to climb to the top rings to benefit from the view on the arena and on the valley of the Colosseum from the Valadier Terrace, also known as Belvedere Valadier.
You can do this visit with the standard guide (further info here) or within the in-depth guided tour. The costs for a visit including Colosseum underground spaces can vary depending on which of these you’ll choose.
The ways you can do it :
- self-guided itinerary
- standar visit
- in-depth guided tour
Experience our in-depth Colosseum private tour
Colosseum by night : In spring, summer and fall time, there is the invaluable opportunity to discover the Colosseum in the silent and dark evening hours. The exploration of the Colosseum includes a walk on the little portion of the re-built arena on the eastern side at the first level and it continues with the access to the so-called hypogeum and the explorations of the corridors. You’ll climb up to the second level of the amphitheater and walk around its perimeter, from where you can admire the whole cavea. Finally, you will experience the panorama from a different perspective ascending on the Belvedere Valadier where you can embrace with your eyes the scenery presented by the Palatine Hill at night.
Please, note that you can’t do this visit on your own, you can only book a guided visit to explore the Colosseum by night.
You can do this visit with the default guide (further info here) or within the specialized guided tour. Colosseum by night tickets can vary depending on the kind of visit you’ll choose.
The ways you can do it :
- self-guided itinerary
- standar visit
- in-depth guided tour
Dream with our romantic Colosseum by night VIP tour
Transparency about the Colosseum guided tours
According to our experience, the traveler is not always aware that inside the Colosseum either the private or group tour guides are always accompanied by the default guide provided by COOP Culture, the Colosseum official organization appointed to manage the visits of the monument at present. This sometimes could lead the group to a temporary switch from the specialized tour guide to the default guide.
Colosseum History and Art
What is the Colosseum?
The Colosseum is considered the most magnificent and harmonious expression of a Roman amphitheater, that was a public venue for entertaining performances. The name “amphitheater” derives from the ancient Greek word ἀμφιθέατρον (amphitheatron), that stands for “place for viewing from both sides”, composed of ἀμφί (amphi), meaning "both sides", and θέατρον (théātron), meaning "place for viewing", because it indicates a theater characterized by circular or oval plan with a central ground stage surrounded by the imposing cavea, provided with copious seating rows arranged all around in perimetral levels. You can find the official information page about the Colosseum by Rome Special Superintendence Colosseum by Rome Special Superintendence.
How was the Colosseum built?
Observing the structure of the Colosseum it is possible to retrace and understand the building system adopted, which allowed to quickly complete the works. The artificial water lagoon built by order of emperor Nero was emptied from the water, easing in this way the excavation works to set the foundations, which took a depth corresponding to a fifth level underground and were constituted by travertine pilasters leaning on a wide ring-shaped slab made of concrete. At a first stage, a load-bearing cage was built, constituted by the travertine pilasters connected to masonry arches, corresponding to the several floors, and rampant vaults which served also to support the cavea. The radial walls, made of tuff blocks at the ground level and of bricks at the first level, run without interruption from the ground to the cavea base. It was possible in this way to work at the same time from the top and from the bottom of the building, taking the advantage of being able to work at the lower section of the construction site even on bad weather days. It has been also speculated that four different building sites were active on the four quarters the edifice was divided through the two main axis.
The building of the Colosseum of elliptical form and made of travertine doesn’t actually represent an architectural innovation, but the imposing dimensions of 187.5 meter in its longest diameter and e 156.5 meters in its shortest one, which could approximately host 50k people, entailed unprecedented technical problems like the materials resistance and the managing of the shows as well as the impressive streaming of the public in and out of the edifice. It has been calculated that more than 100.000 m3 of travertine and 300 tons of iron were used to build the edifice. The Colosseum was usually uncovered but in case of rain or during the heat wave it was protected by a wide velarium in order to provide some shelter to the spectators. The velarium was a mobile awning made of fabric in connected slices and it was fixed by two squads of sailors coming from the fleets of Ravenna and Cape Misenum and permanently resident in a specific barrack near the amphitheater, called “Castra Misenatium”, to participate also in the naval battles.
The exterior of the Colosseum
Notwithstanding only two-fifths of the exterior circumference has been survived, the exterior aspect of the Colosseum appears still elegant and severe. Measuring 48.5 meters high, the monument exterior is characterized by three architectural orders composed of 80 overlapping arches, articulated with pilasters ornated by engaged columns.
More about all the exterior surface details in our self-guided itinerary
Inside the Colosseum
Inside the Colosseum, the central stage where the shows were performed consisted of a wooden floor which was handily covered with sand, hence the Latin denomination “arena”. A high podium adorned with niches which divided the arena floor from the marble cavea, where the spectators were located.
More about the re-built arena at present in our self-guided itinerary
The underground spaces, which constituted the so-called hypogeum, were organized in several cellars along fifteen corridors, parallel to the main gallery running along the major axis of the amphitheater ellipse. The cellars served to the practical arrangement of the shows, also storing the necessary equipment and housing the cages for the animals.
More about the hypogeum in our self-guided itinerary
The origin of the name Colosseum
The iconic monument, more properly called “Flavian amphitheater”, was named after the gens Flavia, the noble family whose emperors commissioned its building. The popular “nickname” of Colosseum instead probably derived from the close presence of emperor Nero’s colossus, which was at that time still in the nearby as a remain of the past emperor’s massive intervention in that area.
Find out where Nero's Colossus was actually located in our self-guided itinerary
Colosseum gladiators and games
Destined to host astonishing performances and gladiatorial fights, the new monument was very much appreciated by the public, because it allowed to follow the imperial policies as “panem et circenses”, literally “bread and circus games”, that was the expression used by the Roman poet Juvenal to concisely describe the desires of the plebs.
Reaching sometimes the status of people’s “celebrities”, the professional gladiators were trained fighters whose name derives from “gladio”, a short sword frequently used in the violent combats they were engaged in. Their origin is linked to the institution of “munus”, that was a munificence privately financed and offered by wealthy individuals on some festivities or special occasions as a commitment towards the community, differently from the ludi that were shows patronized by the state.
Besides munera gladiatoria (gladiatorial fights) and ludi meridiani, involving the execution of condemned criminals, at the Colosseum excited Romans attended various popular bloody performances on different themes, usually re-enactments of Greek or Roman myths or famous battles even including mock maritime ones called naumachiae, when the arena was probably filled with water, canalized through a complex water system that is still visible underground.
Wild animals had also a great importance; the bestiarii (beast fighters) were involved in fact in two kind of performances: they could face the animals during the venationes (either wild or exotic animal hunts), or they could simply be condemned to death because of the beasts (damnatio ad bestias). According to Dion Cassius, 9000 wild animals were killed during the hundred days of festivity organized to celebrate the dedication of the Colosseum building.
More about the working system used for the shows in our self-guided itinerary
History of the Colosseum
Before the Colosseum even existed, the Amphitheater of Statilius Taurus was actually Rome’s first permanent amphitheater. Nevertheless, this building was destructed because of the fire of 64 AD and provisionally substituted by emperor Nero with a wooden building located in the Campus Martius.
In order to give a proper amphitheater to the city of Rome, a new one was financed by the booty gained from the conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The building of the ancient Colosseum took between 5 and 10 years to be accomplished. It was started in the Flavian era by emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, who dedicated it before dying. According to a late 4th century chronicle, in fact, the building works in that moment had only lead to the third order of bleachers, which corresponds to the second exterior level.
Vespasian’s son Titus continued the works and ordered a second, majestic inauguration of the amphitheater, which lasted 100 days in the year 80 AD. On the occasion of this inauguration, about 5000 wild beasts were killed.
The amphitheater was definitely completed by Domitian in its peak. In a coin dating back to Titus, in fact, the Colosseum seems already completed, but in a later relief dating to Domitian’s era the building appears still incomplete. According to the previously cited 4th century chronicle, Domitian lead the works up to the shields decorating the last exterior order. The underground stone-built spaces under the arena were likely created only in this period, preventing the naumachiae, staged during Vespasian’s and Titus’ eras, to be continued.
The architect of the Colosseum is still unknown, the name of the prominent Rabirio who built the sumptuous “Domus Flavia” on the Palatine, the Domitian’s palace rich of grandiose marble halls, has been made but according to some scholars like Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli this attribution should be ruled out for several reason.
The building was hit by fires and earthquakes and therefore it was restored several times. For instance, we know about the emperors Nerva, Antoninus Pius, Elagabalus and maybe Gordian interventions. During the 3rd century, with emperor Severus Alexander, the restoration of the amphitheater consisting in the re-building of the colonnade at the “summa cavea” was carried out after the terrible fire of 217 AD, that originated from the wooden floor of the arena. Another serious fire happened in 250 AD.
Later restoration interventions between the 4th and the 5th centuries are better documented thanks to the inscriptions: at the time of Constantine in 320 AD a lightning caused some damages and a restoration work was carried out by the city prefect Anicius Acilius Glabrio Faustus probably after the earthquake of 429 AD, even if after another earthquake in 443 AD a new intervention was necessary again. These disasters wove together with various shows suspensions and restrictions, following the intervention of Christian emperors. At the beginning of the 5th century, Honorius emperor abolished the gladiatorial games, then rehabilitated at the beginning of Valentinian III principate. The same emperor definitely abolished the games soon after 438 AD. Since then, only the venationes continued to be performed. Even if small restoration works were carried out, the Colosseum suspended all the entertainment of the Romans in the 6th century and changed its function and aspect several times. The last known notice of performances held at the Colosseum dates back to the year 523 AD, as reported in a letter by Theoderic addressed to the consul Maximus, who asked for celebrating the assumption of the appointment as consul for that year with a venatio.
The Flavian amphitheater became the icon of Rome very soon. Between the 7th and the 8th centuries the first known use of the name “Colosseum” appeared in a quote by Bede the Venerable, which linked the destiny of the Eternal city to that one of the monument: "When the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall. And when Rome falls, the world will end".
Since the Middle Ages, after several earthquakes damaged it, the Colosseum was abandoned for many years and especially after the sacking of the Normans in 1084 it was reused as a huge quarry for building materials. The families Frangipane and Annibaldi transformed it in a fortress until it become property of the Senate and the People of Rome in 1312.
In the 16th century, the belief that the Colosseum was the location of the early Christians’ martyrdom started to gain ground according to a tradition that it has been never proved so far.
The sacred feature of the edifice was confirmed on the occasion of the Jubilee of 1750, when pope Benedetto XIV (1740-1758) consecrated the monument to Christ’s Passion and to the martyrs who were believed to have died there, raising a cross at the center of the ground and 14 aedicules of the “Via Crucis”. This decision also prevented the building to be completely destroyed because of the sacking of its materials.
At the end of the 17th century, the artist Carlo Fontana achieved around 1696 the idea of formulating some projects, left on paper, featuring the building of a church inside the Colosseum, in order to convert the Colosseum to a frame for the church, thus symbol of the “Ecclesia Triumphans”, a “triumphant church”.
This project was however left on paper and the church never executed.
In the late 19th century, the minister Guido Baccelli fostered the restoration of the Colosseum, promoting the insulation of the monument exterior and the excavations of the underground structures.
Through the centuries of history, the Colosseum has never lost its landmark importance as the iconic monument of Rome, continuing to represent the highest reference for Renaissance and even Baroque architecture onwards. Since 1980 the Colosseum is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and it’s the most visited monument in Rome, welcoming millions of visitors every year like more than 6.5 million of them in 2015.
Nowadays, the Colosseum has been returned to its original function of marvelous location for cultural and entertaining events. In 2000, on a venture by the MIBAC Ministry (Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali) in collaboration with the Municipality of Rome, Amnesty International, the Comunità di Sant’Egidio and the association “Nessuno tocchi Caino”, the Colosseum was chosen as the emblem of the battle against the death penalty. Every time in the world a capital execution is suspended or a country decides to abolish the death penalty, the Colosseum is lightened up with a special light.
Recently, the edifice underwent renewal works including the reversible re-building of part of the arena and lastly an intervention of cleaning and stabilization of the surfaces.
Quotes about the Colosseum
- "In the evening we came upon the Coliseum,
when it was already twilight. When one looks at
it, all else seems little. The edifice is so vast,
that one cannot hold the image of it in one's soul:
in memory we think it smaller, and then return to it
again to find it every time greater than before."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- "If the weather be fine, and the moon in or
about its second quarter, Travellers ... should drive to the Colosseo,
and contemplate that edifice by moonlight."
- "Around us there darkened and yawned / The immobile chaos of the Colosseum. /
The timeless eyes of destiny / Peered from the primal twilight..."
Vjačeslav Ivanovič Ivanov
- "But the horizon expanded towards the southeast,
and beyond the arches of Titus and Constantine he perceived the Colosseum. Ah! That colossus, only one-half or so of which
has been destroyed by time as with the stroke of a mighty schythe [...]."
- "More vividly than all the written histories, the Coliseum
tells the story of Rome's grandeur and Rome's decay."