Heading to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum and not sure what are the top things to see? This post is for you!
Follow our suggested itinerary and you’ll know the top things to see at the Colosseum.
Pro Tip: If you are researching for your trip and considering a solo-journey to the area, definitely bookmark this post on your internet browser. This way you can circle back to it in Rome! Also, check out our Colosseum tours which include admission for the entire area including the Palatine Hill.
These three articles are intended to be used together and are in chronological order. If you start with our Colosseum article, the icon below, and move through the posts you’ll be able to see everything in order.
Outside of the Colosseum
12. The Base of the Colossal Statue of Nero
Right across from the Colosseum metro station and in front of the Colosseum is the base of the Colossal Statue of Nero. It isn’t much to look at today, but an important element to pass by on your way in. You’ll see a plaque reading “Area Del Basamento del Colosseo di Nerone.”
The Colossal Statue of Nero was a massive structure that measured, including the base, 106.5 Roman feet according to Pliny the Elder. That means about 99 feet (30.3m) in today’s measurements. They built the statue in the likeness of Nero, at least his face, until after his death when they modified it to the likeness of the sun god Sol.
You have to imagine that this statue was almost the size of the Statue of Liberty; only 10 or so feet shorter. Built and constructed without any of the machinery our Lady Liberty had during the late industrial revolution.
For example when they moved the statue after Nero’s death to right outside the Colosseum and ancient writers said 40 elephants transported the structure. The last mention of it in history was in the late 4th century before it vanished in thin air. Today, all we have is a portion of the base with trees growing out of it. A great place to take a load off and enjoy the shade and definitely one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
11. The Arch of Constantine
Flavius Valerius Constantinus or Constantine the Great to most of us was the first Christian Emperor of Rome. The Senate built a triumphant arch and dedicated to him for his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. It is an epic arch right in front of the Colosseum.
The arch sits in Piazza del Colosseo adjacent to the massive amphitheater. The arch took about two years to construct which is record speed. The architect took some creative liberties by borrowing some of the statues from other nearby arches, temples, and structures to adorn to Constantine’s arch.
It is the largest Roman arch and 1 of 3 arches remaining in Rome. There were 36 triumphant arches by the 4th century AD, three of which have survived. It is one of the top things to see at the Colosseum for sure.
10. The Outer Ring
The first thing you’ll notice when you get closer to the Colosseum is the multiple rings that support the seating. The remaining portion of the outer ring will be facing you as you walk out of the metro station and definitely puts this building into perspective. Three sets of arches stand on top of one another to form the 159-foot tall outer ring.
When they completed the Colosseum, this ring circled the entire structure, but after a thousand years without repairs or attention it fell down in an earthquake in 1349. There were 80 archways that made up the outer ring. They numbered each archway and assigned spectators an archway with their seats.
It was an extremely efficient process that allowed the building to completely fill up and empty in 15 or so minutes. 76 of the entrances were for public use and had numbers. The extra four gates were without numbers and had different uses.
There were two entrances for gladiators to come in and out. The Libitinarian Gate, between 57 and 58, was for dead gladiators. Between 19 and 20 was were gladiators would enter the structure sometimes called the Gate of Life. Roman Magistrates entered between gate 38 and 39 which can still be seen today. The Emperor, Vestal Virgins and Senators would enter between gate 76 and 1, obviously. This gate is now the exit of the Colosseum.
9. Flavian Amphitheater Plaque
An important thing to note is that the Colosseum is only a nickname for the structure. The real name of the building is the Flavian Amphitheatre after the dynasty that built it. See the plaque attached to the middle ring of the Colosseum directly facing the Temple of Venus.
The plaque reads the name of the structure, Amphitheater Flavium, and a few Popes names who were essential in preserving the building.
8. Ludus Magnus
Just across from the Colosseum on Via di San Giovanni in Laterano are the remains of the Ludus Magnus which was the closest and greatest gladiator training school in the empire. It has many cells for slaves and even an underground tunnel directly connected to the Colosseum.
Under Emperor Domitian
Emperor Domitian built the Ludus. Domitian’s father Vespasian and his brother Titus built the Colosseum between 72 AD to 82 AD, with a soft opening in 80 AD. Just after it was finished they must have realized there were some supply chain issues with great fighters so Domitian decided to take it upon himself.
The school underwent renovations and improvements but it was more or less used for over 200 years. Gladiators came from across the empire to train, as free persons or slaves, and the Ludus Magnus was the Harvard of gladiator schools.
The word ludi could refer to the games and training all the same. Once you entered a ludus, your trainer chose your primary skillset and a lanista trained you. . The word gladiator was one specific type of fighter that fought with a short sword known as the gladius. The movie Gladiator with Russel Crow popularized this idea and stands as one of the best movies ever. Once you see it, you will understand why it is one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
Inside of the Colosseum
7. The Cross
In the year 2000, the Colosseum placed a cross in memory of all the Christian martyrs that the Romans killed inside the Colosseum. While it is almost definite that Christians died inside the Colosseum, it is dubious they died because they were Christian. The Romans didn’t really care about the Christians nor persecute them heavily.
6. The Gate of Death
No visit the Colosseum is complete without walking through the Gate of Death. As mentioned above, it was named the Libitinarian Gate and it was where the dead, beat-up, and bloody were carted out of the Colosseum. The word stems from libitinarius which translates to “undertaker” in Latin.
This is another one of those exclusive areas so be sure to check out one of our Colosseum restricted access tours. If the description says it includes the Arena Floor you’ll definitely walk through this legendary gate! Now you understand why this is one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
5. The Arena Floor (Special Access)
The word arena means sand and the Colosseum is apparently where the use of the word derives. They’d say “down on the arena” which referred to the sand that covered the stage. Now we use the word when referring to stadiums as a whole, “the basketball arena.”
A framework of tunnels supported the arena floor of the Colosseum whose stone walls supported the wooden floor. There were as many as 36 trap doors that would literally unleash hell-like features on any person standing on the stage.
Today we have zoos and online images which makes it easy to recognize almost any animal. In the 1st century AD, you really could only recognize an animal that you’ve seen in person. All types of tigers and exotic animals would be starved, beaten, and unleashed on a trained fighter. This is in my opinion one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
You cannot access this area with general admission but we have a guided tour that takes you onto the arena floor!
4. The Underground (Hypogeum – Special Access)
Yes, underneath the Colosseum there is a complex labyrinth of tunnels where Gladiators and event organizers prepared for the games. This is by far the most popular subject that visitors want to hear about and that extends even before they opened the area for floors.
It is really one of the defining features of the Colosseum. What other stadium or arena has trap doors that allow fighters or animals to elevate or pop out of? The underground or hypogeum was a very complex area. As stated. above, as many as 36 trap doors and areas to store an entire show’s worth of entertainment.
It is without a doubt the most exclusive area of the Colosseum. General admission won’t get you there, but we have a Colosseum Underground tour that takes you there. This is for sure one of the top things to see at the Colosseum.
3. Food Vendor Artifacts (2nd Floor)
Find the elevator inside the Colosseum on the 2nd floor. There you will find some very cool artifacts including cups and spoons used inside the building.
Many are surprised that ancient people were so advanced but this is part of human nature. You have to feed the crowds and it was probably a great way to make money if you were a vendor.
We can mostly speculate what they ate or trust ancient Roman writers. Archeological digs found things like oyster shells or the shells of nuts near the site. Typically Romans ate a lot of fruit like plums, figs, grapes, pears, almonds and of course chestnuts.
Romans often drank different types of alcoholic beverages mostly derived from grapes as a form of wine. Calda was popular in the winter which was a warm watered-down wine with spices. Very similar to mulled wine. Posca was a vinegar type beverage that peasants drank. Patricians drank regular wine mixed with water.
You could most likely find any type of meat at stands as well including chicken, lamb, boar or various fish including catfish taken from the Tiber River.
2. 2nd Floor Balcony
Once out of the concession stand area, look down at the center of the Colosseum and head clock-wise. When you get to the apex of the ellipse you’ll find an awesome balcony to snap a pick. Look down to your right and you’ll see a reconstruction of some of the original seats of the Colosseum.
The levels of the Colosseum were organized by class and social standing which was an entitlement by birth. The Emperor sat in the first tier obviously and he had his own podium much like in Gladiator. On the same level sat Vestal Virgins, Senators, and Magistrates.
The Equites or knights sat in the second tier. They were of a similar social class as senators, but military in nature. These were the people who sat around the second-floor balcony where you find yourself now.
Popular Tours from Rome
1. The 3rd, 4th & 5th Floors (currently closed)
Plebians populated the third and largest tier. This class was commoners without noble bloodlines. They could also be wealthy so they separated these seats into two tiers. The lower, better seats for the wealthy plebeians and the upper seats for the true commoners.
They made the fourth and final tier of wooden rows and all other tiers were marble. It was in this area where the common woman sat.
They often close these areas today, but if they are open during your visit, try to secure access to the top tiers of the Colosseum. You’ll find yourself at a far higher altitude than expected. We have a tour that covers the area. If you see departure times that means it is open. It also includes the Underground and Arena Floor.