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Intesting Facts about the Roman Colosseum

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The Roman Colosseum is Italy’s most iconic structure.  It draws around four million visitors yearly to the city of Rome.  It is not just a colossal arena but a testament to the architectural and engineering prowess of ancient Rome.  It has become a symbol of Rome, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the seven Wonders of the World. Restoration efforts have preserved its grandeur, allowing visitors to step back in time and marvel at the architectural genius of ancient Rome. These are some interesting facts about the Roman Colosseum that make it a truly remarkable wonder of the ancient world

Exterior photo of the Roman Colosseum
Exterior photo of the Roman Colosseum

photo from National Geographic

1. Architectural Ingenuity:

The Colosseum is a masterpiece of Roman engineering. The Colosseum is over 1,900 years old, constructed between 72 AD and 80 AD, and it stands as a testament to the advanced architectural techniques of the time. The amphitheater could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, with a complex system of ramps, staircases, and tunnels to facilitate crowd movement. The use of concrete, arches, and vaults in its construction was groundbreaking and has influenced architecture for centuries. 

2.  Built Over a Lake:

The Colosseum was built over a manmade lake.  The emperor Nero built a massive palace for himself called the Domus Aurea or golden house.  As part of his place, he built a gigantic manmade lake surrounded by colonnades.  After Nero committed suicide and Vespian took over, he decided to drain the lake and build a huge amphitheater on top. 

Roman Colosseum mock sea battle

photo from

Roman Colosseum mock sea battle

photo from

3.  Mock Sea Battles:

The first naval battle at the Colosseum was held in 80 AD during the inauguration of the Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum’s original name).  These battles would often use scaled-down versions of real warships. The last recorded naval battle occurred in 107 AD.  These mock sea battles stopped after the construction of the hypogeum (fast network of tunnels and storage rooms under the floor).

aerial view of Roman Colosseum

photo from

aerial view of the Roman Colosseum

photo from

4.  Shape of the Colosseum:

The popular belief is that the Colosseum is round, but, in fact, it is oval in shape.

Exterior of the Roman Colosseum

photo from

5.  Outer Construction:

The outer construction of the Colosseum was constructed of massive blocks of stone up to 20 tons each that were placed on top of each other then held in place with iron pins to keep the rock together.  This is why when you look at the Colosseum today, it has holes on the outer surface.  The holes you see are where the iron was removed in the Middle Ages.

Model of Roman Colosseum with marble exterior

model with marble exterior photo from

Roman Colosseum split photo then and now

photo from

6.  Marble Façade:

The Colosseum was originally covered in marble, but much of it was removed over the centuries and used in other buildings such as for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.  However, some of the marble still remains on the Colosseum’s top tier.

Interior wall with arches Roman Colosseum
Roman Colosseum arches

7.  Arches:

The Colosseum has a total of 240 exterior arches.  The first three tiers each contain 80 arches each.  The fourth and top tier contains around 30 small rectangular windows.  These arched passageways throughout the structure allowed it to be filled/emptied in approximately 15 minutes.  Of these arches, 76 are numbered with Roman numerals which are still visible above them in some places. These numbers served as guides so citizens knew where to find their seats. Of the 80 arches that made up the external wall at the ground level, only 31 remain intact.  These are what visitors see today when they visit.  

8.  Material Used to Construct the Colosseum.

Travertine stone was used to build the Colosseum.  The travertine stone was mined 20 miles away at Tivoli.  It is estimated that 100,000 cubic meters of travertine were required to construct this massive amphitheater.

9.  Arena Trap Doors:

The arena had 36 trap doors for special effects, as well as many underground passages and rooms to hold wild animals and gladiators before the games began.

Roman Colosseum replica of underground pulley system

10.  Colosseum “Elevators”:

The Colosseum had “elevators” that were under the arena floor that they used to transport animals and gladiators up to the main arena.  These “elevators” were an intricate rope-and-pulley system.  This would make the animals or gladiators appear to come out of nowhere.

11.  Free Entry and Food:

In order to gain popularity and support  from the public, emperors organized and paid for events in the Colosseum themselves.  Entry was free for all ancient Romans and they sometimes had free food throughout the spectacles too.

Replica of the "elevators" in the underground

View of the Roman Colosseum underground from above

View of the underground from above

Roman Colosseum underground


12. Remarkable Engineering:

The Colosseum's underground chambers were a marvel of engineering. The hypogeum, a network of tunnels and rooms beneath the arena floor, housed the gladiators, animals, and props needed for the spectacles. Trapdoors and “elevators” allowed for dramatic and surprise entrances during the games.  These underground tunnels connected the arena with the outside world. 

13. Spectator Comfort:

The Romans prioritized the comfort of the spectators. The Colosseum had a sophisticated system of seating arrangements. The seating tiers were divided into different social classes, with the higher classes enjoying the best views. Additionally, a retractable awning called the "velarium" protected spectators from the sun and rain.

replica of Roman Colosseum velariums

replica of velariums photo from

14. Ancient Retractable Roof:

The velarium was a technological marvel of its time. Made of massive pieces of cloth attached to a system of ropes and pulleys, it could be extended or retracted to shield the audience from the elements.  These were positioned and carried out by very experienced sailors.  This innovation demonstrated the Romans' advanced understanding of engineering principles.  The photo above is an example of what it would have looked like.

15.  Duration of the Games:

Some of the games in the Colosseum lasted up to 100 days.  However, gladiator contests stopped in 435 AD and the last animal hunts were in 532 CE.  This was partly due to the cost of obtaining animals and gladiators, alongside the expense of maintaining the arena.

16.  Structural Damage:

Two-thirds of the Colosseum was destroyed due to natural disasters and vandalism.  Most of the damage that you can see today were caused by the 847 AD and 1231 AD earthquakes.

17. Pop Culture Icon:

The Colosseum has left a mark on popular culture. It has appeared in numerous movies, cementing its status as an iconic symbol of Rome in the minds of people worldwide.

The Roman Colosseum is much more than just a historic relic; it is a testament to human ingenuity, engineering skill, and the enduring legacy of ancient Rome. Its significance in the world of architecture, entertainment, and culture is undeniable, and it will continue to inspire awe and wonder for generations to come. If you ever find yourself in Rome, don't miss the opportunity to stand in the shadow of this iconic wonder and soak in its rich history and architectural magnificence.

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