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The History of the Colosseum

A testament to human ingenuity, the Colosseum has stood for centuries, bearing witness to the rise and fall of empires and the complex trajectory of European history. In the following guide, we’re going to explore its fascinating history, and discover the secrets that lay within its walls. While this guide can’t compete with a real Colosseum tour, we’re sure it’ll make you hungry to learn more about this historic Roman site. Let’s get started!

What is the Colosseum? 

The Colosseum, originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, is an elliptical structure located in the heart of Rome, Italy. It was built by the Flavian emperors, who wanted to create a symbol of their power and authority, and spans 189 meters in length and 156 meters in width, with a seating capacity for over 50,000 spectators. To this day, it remains the largest amphitheater ever built, and stands as an enduring symbol of the might and splendor of ancient Rome. 

How was the Colosseum built?

Construction of the Colosseum began under Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was completed by his son, Titus, in 80 AD. The construction of the Colosseum was – and continues to be – an incredible feat of engineering, with an estimated 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone being used for the outer walls alone. Skilled Roman builders employed an innovative system of pulleys, cranes, and other tools to transport and assemble these massive stones, resulting in a structure that has withstood the test of time. Despite earthquakes, fires, and other catastrophes that have damaged the structure over time, the Colosseum remains largely intact and is 100% safe for visitors.

Why is the Colosseum so important?

The Colosseum holds great historical significance, not only for its role as a venue for spectacular events and entertainments, but also for the architectural innovations it introduced: the iconic structure is an early example of the use of concrete in construction, and its ingenious design – which includes a complex system of tunnels and passageways –  continues to inspire architects and engineers to this day. 

Plus, the Colosseum serves as a poignant reminder of the extraordinary cultural and artistic achievements of ancient Rome, as well as the darker aspects of its history, such as the brutal spectacles that took place within its walls.

What was the Colosseum used for?

Gladiatorial combats

Among the most famous and thrilling spectacles held within the Colosseum were the gladiatorial combats; these brutal and bloody contests pitted highly trained warriors, known as gladiators, against one another in fierce battles to the death. Gladiatorial games were an integral part of ancient Roman culture, serving both as a form of public entertainment but also as a means of reinforcing social hierarchy; victors earned not only fame and fortune but also the admiration of the Roman spectators. 

Wild animal fights 

Another popular form of entertainment held in the Colosseum were the wild animal hunts, known as venationes: these events showcased the prowess and skill of specially trained hunters, who faced off against exotic wild animals imported from all corners of the empire. Lions, elephants, and even wild bears were brought to Rome and released into the arena, where they engaged in to-the-death battles with the brave hunters; these spectacles allowed the Romans to demonstrate their mastery over the natural world, as well as to flaunt the vast reach and wealth of their empire. 

Reenactments

The Colosseum was also a stage for elaborate reenactments of famous battles and historical events; these performances were meticulously staged, with intricate sets and costumes, and often involved thousands of participants. In addition to these dramatic recreations, the Colosseum was occasionally filled with water to stage mock naval battles, known as naumachia; these events showcased Rome’s naval prowess and offered yet another form of thrilling entertainment for the masses. 

How to visit the Colosseum?

So, if that little slice of history sounds enticing, why not visit the Colosseum yourself and explore the historic site? A tour of the Colosseum is sure to be a truly unforgettable experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the rich history and captivating stories that surround this ancient wonder. But it’s not the same without a guided tour, led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic experts, who can offer invaluable insights into the architecture, history, and cultural significance of the Colosseum. At What a Life Tours, we offer some of the best Colosseum tours in the capital, where we’ll show you some of the ancient tunnels underneath the Colosseum itself, and other areas closed off to the general public. Alongside this, we offer intimate, private tours (up to 6 people) and even nighttime tours, which offer a unique and enchanting perspective of the Colosseum under the stars! Either way, no matter which option you choose, a tour of the Colosseum is a must-see experience for any traveler to Rome.

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