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Rome Fun Facts: The Colosseum

The Colosseum is without question Rome’s most iconic monument.  Its fame is so great that you could show a photo of the Colosseum to virtually anyone in any country across the globe and it’s almost a sure bet they will recognize it.

The Colosseum, whose true name is the Flavian amphitheatre, was inaugurated in 80 CE after about 10 years of construction.  The gigantic sports arena is best known for the games that took place there, featuring gladiators and exotic beasts from far-flung corners of the ancient world.

Of course nothing compares to standing there in person when it comes to appreciating the magnitude and engineering marvel that is the Colosseum, but if you are an armchair tourist, no worries; you can still be awed by reading our list of fun facts!  Well, many of them aren’t very fun when you think about it, so for purposes of this post we’ll break our theme of “fun” and call them “fascinating.”


The Structure and Construction of the Colosseum

  • The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built in the ancient world, and even today is the largest still standing.
  • The foundation of the Colosseum is more than 12 meters thick.  That's almost 40 feet, about the height of a telephone pole!  This brilliant base is a principal reason the arena is still standing.
  • The back-breaking work of construction was carried out by tens of thousands of slaves, most of them Hebrew prisoners of war brought to Rome after the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
  • The super-heavy lifting was accomplished with wooden cranes, capable of lifting blocks of stone weighing more than 6 tons, roughly the weight of an RV or a male African bush elephant.
  • Even though the cranes could lift incredible masses they could be operated by only two men, who were the equivalent of human hamsters in a giant hamster wheel.
  • The subterranean area under the floor of the arena was a complex backstage area for the spectacles that entertained the citizens of Rome.  The underground labyrinth included 32 animal pens, 36 trap doors, 80 vertical shafts, and elevators operated by ropes and pulleys.  (Yes, those scenes in Gladiator where animals come bounding out of nowhere are a historically accurate representation!)

The Colosseum’s Use and Features

  • Entry to the games was free but you had to have a ticket, which indicated your seat number as well as which of the 80 entry arches to enter through.
  • Free refreshments were provided to the the Colosseum crowd.  Instead of popcorn laced with butter the Roman spectators were fed meat, fish, and seafood topped with a fish sauce called “garum.”  Diluted wine would have been the ancient equivalent of a Coke or Pepsi (or even Dr. Pepper, seeing as there really was no choice.)
  • There were over 100 drinking fountains inside the Colosseum, as well as public bathrooms.  Knowing how brilliant the Romans were when it came to water and engineering, is it really any surprise?
  • Spectators were shielded from the sun by a “velarium” — a retractable awning operated by 100 sailors from the Imperial fleet.

The Games at the Colosseum

  • The word “arena” in latin does not refer to the amphitheatre itself — it actually means sand!  The floor of the Colosseum was covered with sand to soak up the blood spilled in the games.
  • Not all of the gladiators were gladiators!  There were several classifications of warriors, and each had a specific name.  Gladiators were named for the small sword that they carried — a “gladius.”

Ecco!  A few fascinating facts, even though the Colosseum is fascinating without knowing anything.

Do you dream of seeing the Colosseum with your own eyes?  DriverInRome would be pleased to chauffeur you around Rome with a private car and driver, or arrange a licensed guide just for your group.  Please contact us regarding popular or custom itineraries.

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