Rome! Day 2: The Colosseum

Hello to my fellow travelers, would-be travelers, and other wonderfuls who follow my blog–which isn’t always about travels.

My travel posts have been coming a bit farther apart than they normally do, and I can blame this adorable person for filling my time while my son and his wife are at work. (She is so worth it!)

I’m sitting here with music playing on the TV, a dog sleeping at my feet and a cat lounging lazily at my side. Hubby and son are busy, so I have some time to tell you all about Rome! Day 2!

This was our day for ancient Rome. Wait. Most everything about Rome is ancient, especially by North American standards. But let’s go with that title anyway. Because there is so much to cover, I’m going to focus this post on one aspect of ancient Rome: The Colosseum. Next time I’ll write about the rest of the day.

Because of Travel Italian Style, the whole day was pre-arranged. This is not our normal way of travel, but it did make us feel pampered and catered to.

The morning started with a quick cup of coffee and a pastry at a corner shop. Let me tell you a bit about Italian coffee shops. The locals order their coffee and pastry (the preferred breakfast is sweet, not savory) then stand at the counter to eat and drink, visiting with other regulars. If you take your food and drink to a table, then you pay almost double for table service. So there. Here’s a picture of the four of us (well, guess one is taking the picture) semi-ignorant Americans, paying extra by sitting in our accustomed fashion. 

Waiting for our coffee and pastry

Don’t worry. We wizened up and joined the locals at the counter after this.

Following our small breakfast, our guide for the day, Ulisse Rotondo, (if you ever decide to use Travel Italian Style, ask for him! He is very knowledgeable and a delight to be with) met us at the hotel and we were driven to the heart of Rome where the Colosseum dominates the vista. 

We stood there, staring up at the broken façade and felt the ghost of history and its peoples from the past 2000 years who came to this place. Some came for business, some for entertainment, some to die. I am sure that most were filled with a sense of wonder on viewing this magnificent structure.

Doug and I have been through the Colosseum three times now, twice with a guide. While each guide tells the same basics of history, each one adds a bit of something unique. I learned quite a bit on this trek.

We had Skip-the-line tickets, which are more expensive but worth it. We arrived at 9 am and already the line wrapped halfway around the front of the building. We got to walk right in.

Did you know the Colosseum was finished in 80 AD, took 8 years to build, has 80 entries and had seating for 80,000 people? Cool bit of trivia for those number fans out there.

The oval shaped building has four above ground layers, accessed by these eighty arched entryways, each one lined by columns that are both decorative and help support the level above. The first level has Doric columns, the second Ionic, the third Corinthian. At the top you can see the holes and supports where they placed poles for the vela, huge cloth awnings drawn over the Colosseum roof by sailors from the Roman navy.

Model made to scale

The hardest work on the construction was done by slaves, donkeys, and elephants.

Inside, arched ceilings were covered in carvings and mosaics, with arches seeming to be a favored means of support throughout—especially on corners where the extra weight could be spread over wider spaces.

Some original stucco carvings on the ceiling and archway. Can you imagine the whole ceiling done like this?
Stairs leading to upper levels, the higher up the steeper and narrower they get.
floor mosaics
arched support near a corner

Each entrance had a number marked above it, and the people would get assigned an entrance, a level and an area to sit. This made for efficient movement of the masses. Also, like today, the “expensive seats” (or in this case, since entrance was free, the wealthier people) were assigned to the lower levels where they could have a clearer view of what was going on on the arena floor. The poorest people were assigned the nosebleed section. 

A typical game began with a procession, and once everyone deemed important was seated, they began with hunting games. The arena floor was quite elaborate, similar to many high-end theater stages today with trap doors and lifts, metal mechanisms and pulleys and props that could quickly and easily change the set. Cages of animals could be lifted from the basement to the arena floor and released.

On a previous trip we were able to buy tickets to see the lower level. It’s worth the price, but the tickets were sold out by the time we got around to buying. A word to the wise–buy early.

Below the arena floor where machinery, cages and people working “below the scenes” maneuvered. Platform at far end shows where the floor was.

While the Romans didn’t keep record of how many people died on the arena’s sands, they kept excellent account of the animals. For the inaugural games put on by Emperor Titus in 80 AD, 9,000 animals were slaughtered. The list of animals included elephants, bears, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, and elk as well as the large cats—lions, tigers and leopards. 

Inside, can be found samples of graffiti that were carved into the walls depicting gladiators, including female gladiators.


Floors and seats were covered in white marble, which must have made for a dazzling spectacle when the sun shone at its brightest.

White marble floor

Food and drink were abundant, so bathroom facilities were a must!

Let’s not forget the restrooms!

By mid-day, the criminals, barbarians and other damnati or condemned persons were brought in, Christians among them. They were then forced to fight each other to the death or reenact some historical or mythological story that ended in their execution. Fierce beasts were released to attack and devour other of the damnati while spectators cheered.

The Colosseum fell into disuse after the Emperor Honorarius decreed an end to the gladiatorial games. An earthquake felled part of the structure, and the Romans used parts of the building to construct other buildings, including homes that now line the street adjacent to the Colosseum itself. At one point, the Colosseum was used as a horse stable as well as living spaces, and even ended up being privately owned for a while. Can you imagine? “Hey, yes, I live in that big round building over there…”

model of area used for stables

In the 1600’s the church came in and stopped the removal of material from the Colosseum, dedicating the structure to the Martyrs who died there. For years it was a site with the stations of the cross set up on the arena floor along with a small chapel and became a popular pilgrim destination.

Copy of a painting depicting arena floor and pilgrims come to pray as it was in the 17th century.

During WWII, Pope Pius XII negotiated with Hitler and the Allied forces to keep bombing away from the Colosseum and Roman Forum to preserve these treasures. Thankfully, they all agreed and complied.

The mandatory pose in front of this iconic site.

The rest of the day we took off to explore the Roman forum and the Vatican. More on that next time!

Thanks for following. Don’t forget to sign up if you want to get future posts sent directly to your email. Until next time, keep smiling.

Brenda Gates

If interested in purchasing my Civil War era historical romance, it’s on sale!

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