Things not to miss at the Colosseum

Rome: Italy’s “Eternal City” and home of the ancient and famed Colosseum.

Built of little more than sand and concrete, this iconic amphitheater is the largest of its kind ever constructed. A massive undertaking, construction began in 72 AD and took eight years to complete. Today the structure stands in partial ruins thanks in large part to the many earthquakes to have rocked the region over the centuries. 

Part of what drives the interest in this large-scale building is the fact that it has played host to so many vastly different activities. From executions and animal hunts to housing, and a Christian shrine, the Colosseum has truly, “done it all.” Today the Colosseum serves primarily as a tourist attraction, though the Roman Catholic Church does host ceremonies there from time to time.

The estimated seated capacity is up to 80,000 guests, but a more realistic estimate puts capacity closer to 50,000. Either number is massive and would be considered a gargantuan capacity for its day. It is no surprise that so many otherworldly structures have been modeled after the Colosseum. For example, the exterior of the Vancouver Public Library, the Los Angeles Memorial Colosseum (used in the 1932 and the 1984 summer Olympic games as well as to host professional sporting events), and the Palazzo Della Civilta Italiana in Italy.

In honest terms, the Colosseum is an attraction that is meant to be admired for its grandeur. Apart from simply taking in the scale and architecture, there are a few gems hidden in the rubble. Here’s a look at the top six things you should make time for during your trip to Rome’s Colosseum.


The Hypogeum- This part of the Colosseum featured a floor originally built of wood and covered with sand, but the original structure has long since been destroyed. The result is that visitors are now able to see that labyrinth of tunnels that once existed below the floor. These tunnels, as mentioned, were originally used to escort the gladiators and wild animals around before a hunt. Later, accounts say that intricate machines were used to hoist the beasts to the floor. Some accounts even say that the hypogeum was occasionally flooded with water to set the stage for mock sea battles.

Palatine Hill- Located just across from the Colosseum, you can find the centermost of the Seven Hills of Rome. This location is also considered one of the most ancient parts of all of Rome. Many of the original Romans are believed to have lived on Palatine Hill, and in fact, the city itself is believed to have been named for one of the original residents; Romulus. According to Roman mythology, this is the site where Romulus killed not only his great uncle but also his twin brother Remus. There are several structures on the site, but many remain not fully excavated and unavailable for public tours.

The Flora- Don’t overlook the plant life around the Colosseum as you take in the grandeur of the structure and bloody history of her past. In fact, life is growing here in abundance. The plant life that grows within the structure is not there simply for beautification, it’s there by its own choosing. There have been more than 684 species of plant identified here since the first cataloging in 1643. In the 1800s scientists attempted to remove all of the vegetation, concerned that the roots would damage the deteriorating stone structures. Today there are roughly 200 active plant species that call the stone walls of the Colosseum home.

Visit the Subterranean Passageways- While visitors can look down onto these areas from the Hypogeum level of the Colosseum, new tour options also allow guests to get down into the maze of passageways that only Gladiators and wild beats once had access to. Walk the same that these brave men took centuries ago and experience the anxiety, excitement, and terror they must have felt! Available to guests since 2011, this tour is still something of a treat. It’s available only by special reservation, and typically needs to be booked many months in advance. The good news is, once you’ve secured your spot, you’re also likely to be guided to the third level of the Colosseum during the tours. This level has previously remained closed to guests for centuries. From here you can gain sweeping vistas of ancient Rome that are unlike anything else you’re likely to experience elsewhere in the city.

Eros Museum- Located on the upper level of the outer wall of the Colosseum, you can find a museum dedicated to Eros, the Greek god of love. The museum is an interesting stop because it contains a multitude of artifacts, including a large collection of busts, collected directly from the excavation of the Colosseum.

Arch of Constantine- Located outside of the Colosseum itself, this towering archway stands more than 60 feet tall and pays homage to Emperor Constantine. The tribute, hailing his 312 victory at Milivan Bridge, is the largest and best preserved Roman triumphal arch remaining. Showcasing a total of three archways, the structure plays a little trick on unsuspecting guests. You see, it is actually composed of relief items taken from other fallen structures. That means that not all the symbolism and pictures on the arch have much to do with this victory, or even with Constantine. While viewing the arch, try to find images of a boar hunt and a sacrifice to Apollo.

Make the most of your visit by getting smart about tickets, and skipping those super long admissions lines. You can pre-purchase your admission from one of the several nearby vendors (we recommend the Roman Forum or the Via de San Gregio). The ticket is good for 24 hours, and will also get you into nearby Palatine Hill. Or, go for more value with a combination ticket at other popular hotspots. These tickets often include entry to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, The Museum of Baths, the Baths of Caracalla and more. It’s surely worth the upgrade price if you have the free time to explore.

In addition to physical things that can be seen at the Colosseum, you can also plan to see events at, or near, the Colosseum. Over the years many popular musicians, including Elton John, have played near the structure, though not inside. The Italian government announced plans in 2014 to reconstruct the wooden floor in order to begin hosting live events once more. The scale is initially limited to theatrical and classical music performances though, in an effort to keep the crowd controlled and the potential damage to the structure manageable.

In addition, to live performance, you can also attend religious ceremonies, if the timing of your trip allows for it. The Roman Catholic Church, headquartered in nearby Vatican City, hosts events here a couple of times a year. The most popular event, “The Way of the Cross Procession” is held on Good Friday (the Friday preceding Easter). In this event, the Pope oversees, or sometimes directly participates in, the procession of a life-sized crucifix being carried from station to station in the way Christ would have carried it on his way to Calvary where he was ultimately crucified. There may also be meditations ready by the faithful as part of the procession.