What we do in life echoes in eternity.
Yeah, that was a Gladiator quote… and probably not the only one I’ll use in this post. Because I’m a nerd. And because it’s one of my favorite movies.
It’s one of those movies that gives you a glimpse at what life would have been like way back when & maybe it isn’t 100% factual, but after doing some research and visiting the site, I can say that the Colosseum is one of the most impressive monuments I’ve ever seen, and the movie Gladiator doesn’t seem to be too far from the mark.
So let’s talk about the structure before we get into the good stuff 😉
The Colosseum was built between 70-80 AD and it is estimated that over 50,000 people could sit in the stands to watch the action below & where you were seated was a direct reflection of your position in society. The first tier, closest to the arena was saved for Senators. The next level was for Equestrians (noble class or knights), and the levels above those were for ordinary citizens – again, the richest were closest and the poor were further away. Later, an addition was added to the top to allow for slaves and women to watch the games as well.
The Colosseum did have special box seating for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, as well as sections for special groups who were in attendance.
Under the floor of the Arena is an area called the Hypogeum. This is where all of the animals, prisoners and gladiators would be kept, ready to enter the arena at a moment’s notice. This was definitely the coolest thing I learned. The Colosseum is almost 2000 years old and the ancient Romans had the technology to move props and people and ELEPHANTS from under the floor to arena fairly seamlessly. Elevators and shafts operated by pulleys and manpower. But still… pretty cool.
Now for the good stuff, the Gladiatorial Games. I’m not going to go into super detail, because there are a lot of technicalities and exceptions, but I’ll summarize a basic day of the Games.
During the Games, the mornings were reserved for animal entertainment. This consisted of animals hunting animals or people combating animals. It is said that during the inaugural games at the Colosseum, over 9000 animals were killed. Various animals used: elephants, lions, leopards, tigers, hares, pigs, bulls, bears, boars, rhinos, buffalos, etc…
Executions took place in the afternoon as an interlude between animal entertainment and Gladiatorial combat. Executions were typically crucifixions or Damnatio ad bestias (Condemnation to Beasts – it is exactly what you think it is… and so much worse than you can imagine…)
The afternoons were filled with mock battles, concerts, Gladiator combat and races.
The Gladiator combat was essentially like MMA… except with swords and shields and whips and other weapons. Most matches lasted between 10-20 minutes and were not always fought to the death (training a gladiator was fairly expensive so it would be wasteful for one to die every match). A referee known as the Editor would ultimately decide the fate of the gladiator with a turned thumb, so if a gladiator conceded defeat, the Editor would gauge the crowd and decide if the man would live or die. It is said that gladiators who fought well were likely to be spared.
Fifty thousand Romans… watching every movement of your sword… willing you to make that killer blow. The silence before you strike and the noise afterwards. It rises. It rises up like a storm. As if you were the thunder god himself.
I feel like this quote is exactly what it would have been like to watch the Gladiators fight.
& as you walk up to the enormous monument, it’s hard not to be impressed.
I came to the Colosseum in 2015 in the middle of the day and it was packed. So this time, I wanted to try to get there as early as possible. We had planned to leave before sunrise, but with 4 jet lagged people trying to coordinate at 6 am, it didn’t quite happen. But we were on our way by 7 and got to the monument by 7:30.
I had mapped the monument to find where to get the best vantage of the monument as the sun was rising and we headed straight there. Fortunately, it was still quiet. So we got some great pictures.
& then we sat and had breakfast – I would suggest stopping for food away from the Colosseum…Our breakfast was overpriced and not the best – but we did have a great view.
Anyways, the line starts to form really early and if you want to be one of the first people in, you need to be in the line. So I suggested to our party that we make our way to the line.
As soon as we were near the Colosseum, we were bombarded by tour companies offering for us to skip the line, or to do an afternoon tour, or do the morning tour, do the underground tour, etc. Because I had been here in 2015, I was expecting this and had told my friends to expect it too.
We had previously discussed the pros and cons of doing a tour and had ultimately decided to pay the 13 Euro for general admission which would allow us to visit Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Save a little money and we would have the rest of our day to do as we pleased.
One of my friends got sucked in. She decided we HAD to do the underground tour.
Honestly, we were a little frustrated because the tour was 4 hours later and we wouldn’t be able to leave. And we had already talked about it. And if we were going to do the tour, we could have booked online to save some money.
Anyways, she wanted to do it and while the group was split on the decision, we ultimately decided to give in.
I mean – how often are you going to be at the Colosseum?!
So a little later, we toured the Roman Forum with an awesome guide and then waited for 12:30 so we could go on the tour.
& it was interesting… But if you read the beginning of this post, you won’t learn anything new.
I’m not trying to say that I’m a Colosseum Expert or anything, but a little Google search gives you all the same information that you would get on this tour.
& the additional access you get for booking the tour? They allow you to go on the wooden stage briefly, but you can’t walk around. You have to stay with your group on one side of the platform. And then you go underground… Everything is roped off. There’s a small path you take to view the Hypogeum and what a lift would have looked like. But that’s pretty much it. And you are down there for less than 10 minutes.
Was it worth it? In my opinion – No.
I would have preferred to walk the top of the Colosseum with my general admission when it was much less busy (and less HOT) and see the Forum unguided because by the time we entered the General area of the Colosseum, it was packed. Lineups for water were easily 20+ minutes long and there’s nowhere to hide from the heat. So we all wanted to leave almost as soon as the tour was over.
And it was too late to do any of the other activities I had planned to do on that side of town which was a little upsetting. I will likely still post about them as they’re still great options for anyone travelling to Rome. I only wish I could have seen them as well 🙁
My advice for anyone travelling to Rome would be to wake up early and head to Via Nicola Salvi (Google Oppio Caffe).. This is where you will be able to take pictures like the ones you see on Pinterest!
Then get in line to go into the Colosseum first thing, all you need is general admission. Once you are done walking through the ancient structure, make your way to the Forum and enjoy the sights offered in the area.
In my opinion, the structure is the most impressive from the outside. Here are a few pictures we took while the sun was rising:
I hope you guys enjoyed my post! I can’t wait to share more of my travels with you!
Here’s a few more pictures from our day at the Colosseum ♥ and even a couple from 2015!