Inside the Coliseum
Carlotta, a native Italian and well-versed archaeologist, is one of What a Life Tours’ top-rated guides! With a charming Italian accent and an obvious passion for Roma, she guides you through with welcoming warmth. Not only that, but she knows her stuff, too! She’s loaded with info, history, and interesting Latin translations, and she’s always happy to answer questions in order to keep the tour interactive and fun! Even in mid-December, the tour was absolutely delightful – proving that Rome is extraordinary at any time of the year!
15 amazing facts that I learned on the Colosseum Underground Tour with Carlotta
1. The Colosseum was built in JUST 8 YEARS!!! Construction began in 72 AD and, upon its completion, it was certainly the largest arena in the world. It did look a bit different, though. In its heyday, life-sized sculptures adorned the arches of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd For its inauguration, the opening ceremonies lasted for 80 days and 80 nights! Talk about a celebration!
2. The Colosseum was funded by treasures stolen from Judea and was built by the hands of slaves brought from the same city. The Arch of Titus, located nearby in the Roman Forum, was built to commemorate this victory and its inner wall depicts the return of the Romans on a chariot full of treasures, including a menorah.
3. The “velarium” was an advanced “retractable roof” of its day. It was made of posts with veils that could be hoisted open or closed for each event. In fact, publicity for the events would include a description like “munus cum valerium”, games with veil in extremely hot or cold weather, or “munus sin valerium”, games without veil when the fresh air could be enjoyed.
Inside the Colosseum
4. Only 1/3 of the Colosseum remains today (and its foundation has sunk 40 cm since its construction). Bits and pieces of it were stolen and recycled over the years and the amphitheater was used much like a quarry. Bits of metal were taken to make weapons while the travertine stone was used to build other monuments, such as St Peter’s Basilica – of which 80% of the façade is made of Colosseum travertine.
5. The modern word “arena” comes from the latin term for “sand”, with which the stage floor was always covered.
Inside the Colosseum
6. If you look closely, you can see Roman numerals above the ground level arches of the Colosseum (for example, XLV for 40). These Roman numerals were something like “gate numbers” and guests would have received a ticket with numbers that corresponded to their appropriate entrance. The one exception, however, faces Via dei Fori Imperiali. This gate is NOT numbered, as it was the VIP entrance for Emperors and elites. Instead, it was marked with large columns and a portico that boasted a sculpture of 4 horses and a chariot, which symbolized victory.
7. The original stadium seats were made of marble and, for important lower level guests, had names etched into them to indicate assigned seating. Throughout the centuries, most of them crumbled or materials were taken to make other things. Near the arena floor, however, a section of the original seating has been restored (pictured above)– a project that was put into play by 20th century Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
8. Attendees of the games were assigned to tiers based on wealth and class. Emperors, senators, Vestal Virgins, and other elitists had low-level seats (like VIP quart-side for modern day basketball). From there upwards were the upper class, the middle class and the poor – while the top level was reserved for women and slaves.
Inside the Colosseum
9. Surprisingly, entrance to the games was completely FREE as leaders used them as a form of imperial propaganda. In fact, they even offered the guests bread. After all, if you keep the people full and entertained, they are less likely to complain.
10. Even in ancient times, souvenirs were sought after. Guests cherished tiny statues of gladiators or bottles of gladiator blood, which was believed to be an aphrodisiac.
11. A 200-metre-long underground tunnel lead from the underground hypogeum to LUDUS MAGNUS, or in Latin “big gym”: the main gladiator school. It was set up with a central arena like a miniature Colosseum where they could train and practice. In the mornings, spectators would watch the hunting games and, in the afternoons, gladiators would enter inconspicuously via the underground tunnel.
12. In ancient times, there were 62 functioning elevators in the underground hypogeum that were used as “trap doors” to the stage. They worked mostly on lever and pulley systems enabled by the manpower of slaves and are a truly stunning example of how technologically advanced the Ancient Romans were!
13. Prostitutes, which were referred to as “lupe” or “she-wolves”, were welcome guests at the Colosseum. In fact, they could often be found in the lower level arches, called “fornix” or “forniche”, which is how we came to the modern word for “fornicate”.
14. As legend has it, the “vomitoria” were places were guests would go to vomit – but this isn’t true! It’s actually a name that refers to the entrances and exits of the Colosseum. The idea is this: when the games were finished and it was time to go, the masses would purge from the exits. So, instead, it’s like the theatre itself was vomiting! Although, the guests might have done a bit of it themselves…
Inside the Colosseum
15. While one might wonder about the morale of those involved in the Colosseum games – what with the slaughter of animals, the exploitation of slaves, and the executions of men and women – we cannot deny that it had a certain allure. Men travelled the world rounding up exotic animals and beasts, while a studio, 200m south of the amphitheater, specialized in building extraordinary sets and scenery. So, a Colosseum spectator would not only witness beasts and battles, but they would also have the chance to “see” the rest of the world– and that is something any traveller can relate to.
April is an American writer and photographer who has lived in Rome since 2013. She enjoys exploring the museums of the city, as well as indulging in authentic Italian cuisine!