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The Colosseum

6 little known facts about the Colosseum


In Forged In Fire: Gladiators of the Forge the forge is transformed into a Gladiator's arena for an epic competition unlike anything before. Throughout the 5-part series, we see two blade-smiths face challenges to forge anything from a fierce Roman Era Falx to the intricate Acinaces sword. Let the battles begin. Thursdays from 16th February at 22:00

Every year visitors flock to Rome to see many of its finest sights, including the ancient Colosseum. The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre as it was known is one of Rome’s most famous attractions but how much do you know about its history and usage? Here we’re exploring some of those key questions and discovering little-known facts.

1. What is the Colosseum and why was it built?

Construction of the Colosseum began around 70 and 72 CE under the emperor Vespasian. It is just east of Palatine Hill and was built on the grounds of Nero’s Golden House. It first opened around 80 CE and was modified several times to expand and improve it.

The huge size of the Colosseum was like no other structure ever built. It measured around 186 x 156 metres and rose four storeys into the sky. It had 80 separate entrances, including two exclusively for the use of the emperor. At maximum capacity, it could hold over 50,000 spectators.

It was built to provide the Roman people with somewhere to watch sports and theatre. On its grand opening, emperor Titus celebrated with 100 days of gladiatorial games and it also hosted dramatic performances, re-enactments and even public executions.

2. What is the Colosseum famous for?

The Colosseum attracted thousands of spectators to every event it held. While there was space for thousands, records suggest it wasn’t a great deal of space, and many spectators were packed tightly together. It became most famous for gladiatorial combat and wild animal fights. Some even suggest there may have been even larger combat shows such as mock naval battles. The Colosseum’s gladiatorial fights remain the most famous, which saw slaves of the Roman Empire, condemned criminals or prisoners of war fighting each other to the death.

Forged In Fire - Gladiators of the Forge
Forged In Fire: Gladiators of the Forge (S1 E4)

3. Exploring underground elements of the Colosseum

Modern-day visitors to the Colosseum can see much more than was on display in its heyday. Visitors can explore the centre of the arena and explore its ruins. More than this, you can even visit the underground section commissioned by Emperor Domitian. The underground area, known as the hypogeum, was where animals and gladiators were held until their moment came.

4. The impact of earthquakes and decay

The Colosseum today lies in ruins, but this is to be expected considering its age. However, much of the damage was caused by natural disasters throughout the years. Storms and fire damage have taken their toll on its structure, but a huge earthquake is to blame for the full collapse of the southern side of the arena. Records suggest the Colosseum bore the brunt of earthquakes in the 5th century but remained mainly intact. However, further earthquakes in 847 and 1231 lead to the complete collapse of the southern side. Despite the damage, the Colosseum remains an iconic structure and something that attracts many people to Rome every year.

5. When was the Colosseum last used?

Written records from the time suggest the Colosseum was in regular use for over four centuries. However, once the struggles of the Western Roman Empire began and as people’s tastes changed and adapted, gladiatorial combats became much less popular. By the 6th century, the Colosseum was no longer in use for public entertainment either and while the damage from previous earthquakes had not destroyed it, it had impacted its usage.

In the coming centuries, the Colosseum was used for many other purposes. For periods, it was abandoned completely but it was also used as a central quarry for many important building projects including the Palazzo Venezia, the cathedrals of St Peter and St John Lateran and the construction of fortifications along the Tiber River.

By the 18th century, various popes looked to conserve the area as a sacred Christian site. While many argue that many Christian martyrs met their fate in a public execution and gladiatorial battles in Roman times, the evidence to prove this is still not verifiable.

The Colosseum alone is not considered a World Heritage Site, but it forms part of the Historic Centre of Rome, the Properties of the Holy See in that City Enjoying Extraterritorial Rights and San Paolo Fuori le Mura World Heritage Site. Since 1980 this whole area has been recognised for its historical significance and visitors to Rome can explore the many ancient sites.

6. The New Seven Wonders of the World

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are well-known, but the Colosseum is included in a modernised version and listed amongst the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ alongside, The Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Chichen Itza, Petra, Machu Picchu, and Christ the Redeemer. The New 7 Wonders of the World was a campaign started in 2000 to choose Wonders of the World from a selection of 200 existing monuments and the final selection was chosen by voters via the internet and telephone. The Colosseum’s position in this list highlights both its historical significance and importance in human history.