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The iconic Coliseum

The most famous and perhaps most impressive structure in Rome is the Coliseum. This concrete, peat and brick amphitheatre from the Roman era accommodated over 50,000 spectators and was built by slaves for Emperor Vespasian. The total building process of the 50-metre ‘il Colosseo’ took around eight years, from 72 to 80 AD.

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Within the stunning elliptic curves of the Coliseum, gladiators fought animals or each other to the death, or took part in chariot races, boxing matches or archery tournaments. The theatre performances in which convicted criminals played the role of victims were often very bloody as they were actually killed during the show. Harsh or not, the ancient Romans loved this type of entertainment. Below the arena is a complex cage and passageway system constructed for the animals and gladiators alike. These cages were hoisted from below ground to allow the people or animals inside to enter the arena.


In the fifth century AD, the theatre, like the rest of Rome, fell into disrepair. The Coliseum was looted by barbarians and damaged by natural disasters. During the Middle Ages, the Coliseum was unintentionally downgraded to a stone quarry. Everyone who wanted to build something collected stone from there, including those who constructed St. Peter’s Basilica.  


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Not many people are aware that in its early days the Coliseum could be covered with a giant tarpaulin. Tied to large poles that rose above the Coliseum and anchored to the ground with ropes, this so-called ‘velarium’ protected theatregoers from the hot sun. Putting the tarpaulin in place required as many as 1,000 men.

World wonder

The impressive Coliseum is now one of the most popular attractions in Rome and one of the seven wonders of the world. Although it no longer hosts theatre shows or other major events, it is open to the public for guided tours. Over recent years the Coliseum has been undergoing extensive renovations to remedy its dilapidated state.

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