The attraction: Originally known as the “Flavian Amphitheatre,” the Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheatre in Rome’s city center and was the largest amphitheater ever built in the Roman Empire. Construction began in 72 AD and was completed in 80 AD under the Roman Emperor Titus. Built to accommodate 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on classical mythology. It stopped being an entertainment venue in the early medieval era and today is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions.
Pros to visiting: It is the most recognized symbol of the Roman Empire. If a visit to Rome could only include touring one attraction it should be the Colosseum. The first time I walked down the Piazza del Colosseo I was awestruck over the ancient and yet still striking edifice before me. Its famed and gloried history is unimaginable, its architecture, unbeatable. The 2000 Ridley Scott film Gladiator, the role which Russell Crowe won an Academy Award, is one of my favorites. If there was ever a movie to get you excited about visiting an attraction, Gladiator would be it (even if in the film, the Colosseum was recreated via computer-generated imagery). It’s a place one can’t imagine such spectacles taking place and yet they did. One can stand in the same spot gladiators stood before a crowd of thousands, awaiting a fight that would either bring them victory or death. There aren’t organized tours of the Colosseum and while some people may dislike this, it gives others a chance to appreciate a quiet sanctum to reflect upon and imagine the past; the Colosseum is large enough to provide this. It is more than easy to seek out an area and not worry about anyone else intruding upon one’s thoughts. Although little remains of the original arena floor, visitors can still walk on a modern reconstructed walkway to view the hypogeum (literally meaning “underground” in Latin), which was a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Colosseum, including separate ones for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins so they could enter and exit the Colosseum without needing to pass through the crowds. The predecessors to modern celebrity entrances…
Cons to visiting: I feel that the Colosseum is a bit disappointing on the inside. Although I don’t fault the Colosseum for its partially ruined interior (it is after all an almost 2000 year old structure), the inside is just a letdown when compared to the still striking exterior facade. This should not at all deter you from visiting (come on, it is the Colosseum we’re speaking about). However, just don’t visit the Colosseum with preconceived notions that the interior is going to look like it did in Gladiator. It’s best equated to visiting Mesoamerican ruins that have been partially destroyed; incredible knowing what they were at one time, slightly disappointing when viewing their modern day remains.
Conclusion: I’ve only been to Italy once, but when I return, my first stop in Rome will be to visit the Colosseum. Rome is a lot of things, but first and foremost it was the glory, the piece de resistance of the Roman Empire. It’s an ancient building just like thousands of others in the city, but it is the Colosseum, an iconic name known throughout the world that sets it apart from the rest.