The icon of imperial Rome
The Colosseum is an enduring symbol of the power, prowess and bloodlust of the Roman Empire. Although damaged over the years by earthquakes, pollution and stone-robbers, it remains a truly spectacular structure.
Visitors tend to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Colosseum: it stands 48 metres tall at its highest point and boasts a perimeter over half a kilometre long, making it the largest amphitheatre in the world. To this day, the building dwarfs the majority of the Rome's more modern architecture. Remarkably, the Colosseum was completed in only 8 years (72-80 AD), thanks to the liberal use of slaves in its construction. Dio Cassius recounts that over 9,000 wild animals were killed in the inaugural celebrations.
A crowd of over 60,000 came regularly to watch the entertainments on offer. These included dramatic productions, vast battle reenactments and, of course, gladiator fights. The Colosseum's groundbreaking engineering extended to a complex system of passages, ramps, lifts and pulleys that operated beneath its sand-filled arena
; these contraptions were used to ensure a dramatic entrance for the gladiators, who would fight to the death against wild animals and each other. Evidence suggests the arena was even periodically flooded for sham naval battles called naumachiae
The building hasn’t been used for entertainment since the early medieval era; in the following centuries it was employed variously as a fortress, Christian shrine, and housing for a religious order. Today, in limited numbers, visitors are now able to take a tour of the Colosseum underground and also the highest tier of the walls. Access to these parts provides a new perspective on the ancient building. Suffice to say, any visitors sightseeing in Rome should make the Colosseum a top priority.