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roman colosseum on a sunny day in rome italy
Travel tips

5 Fun facts about the Colosseum

Mar 30, 2021 by Emily Houston

Weathered historic monuments, winding cobblestone streets, sleepy corner cafes—we can see why visiting Italy is a dream trip for most travel lovers. And of all the cities in Italy, Rome is a fan favorite. Want to hear some interesting facts about the Colosseum to get yourself ready for your future trip to Rome? Well, for starters it’s made out of travertine, it’s located on Palatine Hill (where Romulus and Remus founded Rome!), and ancient Romans received free entry to the events held here. Read on for five more fun Roman Colosseum facts.

the arches from the interior of the Colosseum

1. The Colosseum is over 1,900 years old

When you’re on a tour of Rome and set your eyes on the Colosseum for the first time, it’s only natural to ask yourself, “How old is the Roman Colosseum?” This marvel of ancient Roman engineering is over 1,900 years old. Construction began in 72 A.D. and finished in 80 A.D. That means it only took eight years to build.

This Colosseum is inextricably tied to Rome’s cityscape, and traveler Simonette perfectly captured the feeling of experiencing all that history. “Seeing the city’s architecture, walls, arches, wells… and more that are thousands of years old? B.C. and A.D., it was awesome and surreal!! I still have chills just thinking about it.”

Ready for more interesting facts about the Colosseum that may surprise you? The Great Pyramid of Giza is more than 2,600 years older than the famous Italian arena, and the Acropolis is more than 500 years older! But that doesn’t mean this iconic Roman site is the new historic site on the block. The amphitheater is more than 1,500 years older than the Taj Mahal and more than 500 years older than the Great Wall of China.

Find out 5 fun facts about the Pyramids of Giza >

the arena and Hypogeum inside of the Colosseum

2. Gladiatorial shows took place at the Colosseum

One of the most common questions travelers ask is, “What was the Colosseum used for?” Gladiators fought one another at the Colosseum and people came to watch these fights. This was the ancient Roman equivalent of watching a major sporting event, and spectators saw these fights as a form of entertainment.

One of the more well-known facts about the Roman Colosseum is that many of the gladiators were slaves. Most people think gladiatorial fights always ended in death, but we’re here to debunk that myth. Contrary to popular belief, the fights usually ended when one gladiator was too injured to continue. Gladiators received special training—and if that sounds expensive, it’s because it was! Those who trained the fighters and promoted the events didn’t like to see their gladiators needlessly die.

See the Colosseum in person on a tour of Rome

an aerial view of the Colosseum

3. The Colosseum is famous for being the world’s largest amphitheater

Ready for a Colosseum history fact that will blow your mind? The site is twice as long a football field. Next time your friend asks you, “What is the Colosseum famous for?”—besides the gladiatorial shows and rich history, of course—you can tell them that this ancient amphitheater is the largest in the world.

At its tallest point, the Colosseum stands 157 feet high. That’s around the same height as the Washington Monument. There are four levels to the Colosseum and in ancient Rome, over 50,000 spectators could enter through the 80 entrances.

When you’re there, look for the diagonal break down the side of the amphitheater. An earthquake rocked the site in 1349 and split the facade. How, you might ask? Unlike other amphitheaters of the time, the Colosseum was built on soft sediment, so the ground shook more during the earthquake.

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The Beginner’s Travel Guide to Rome

underneath the Hypogeum, where slaves, prisoners, animals and gladiators were kept

4. You can see a section of the arena that was once underground

When you’re on a guided tour of Rome, you don’t want to just see the Colosseum—you want to enter it, too! Traveler Lori put it perfectly, “Who wants to waste precious vacation time figuring out how to get to the Colosseum, anyway?” Lucky for you, you’ll get to skip the lines and enter the Colosseum with your expert local guide and Tour Director. Once you’re inside, you’ll be in awe of the ruins at the center of the amphitheater.

One of the most interesting facts about the Colosseum is that Emperor Domitian added this underground section, called the hypogeum. He ruled after his brother Titus, who oversaw the completion of the Colosseum. Before the addition of the hypogeum, the arena was often flooded to recreate naval battles. After the addition, gladiators and wild animals stayed in this bi-level, underground section of the arena before fights.

Just like the main stage of the Colosseum, the hypogeum featured sand-covered wood floors. The many underground tunnels connected this part of the arena with the outside world. The gladiators and animals entered through the tunnels and emerged in front of the crowd thanks to an intricate rope-and-pulley system controlling 80 vertical passageways. Today, the hypogeum is easily viewable and your Tour Director will paint an even more vivid picture of the sites (and show off all the Roman Colosseum facts they know!) when you join them on any of our Rome tours.

Find out why you should travel to Rome in the spring >

The Colosseum lit up at dusk

5. It’s one of the New 7 Wonders of the World

Visiting Rome, and specifically the Colosseum, feels like flipping back through the pages of history. “We visited all of the staple places [like] the Colosseum… and it was all amazing, amazing, amazing,” said traveler Paige. “I loved walking down the cobblestone paved roads, touching places that you’d only heard about in your old High School European History class.”

This history and international admiration earned the Colosseum a place on the list of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Thousands of people voted for the Colosseum to make the list, and the honor was announced on July 7, 2007 (we see what they did there!). Petra and Machu Picchu also pop up on the list, so the Colosseum is certainly in great company.

Learn more about Colosseum history on a guided tour of Rome!

Know before you go
About the author | Emily Houston
Emily loves the simple travel moments—like watching hours pass by in minutes while sharing a meal and a laugh (or many) with her friends and family. Outside the office, you'll find Emily listening to anything and everything John Mayer, attempting to cook a New York Times recipe, or dreaming up her next trip.

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