Not only is the Coliseum one of Rome’s most iconic landmarks and silhouettes, but it is also stamped on the back of Italy’s five-cent coin. Although most of us know the vague history of the Coliseum – yes, we’re aware that it was used for gladiator fights and was built around 70AD – we’ve found five fun facts we bet you didn’t know (and trivia that will be a sure-fire savior on a pub quiz).
So when you visit Rome and have devoured a travel guidebook in preparation, you can visit the Coliseum knowing that little bit extra.
1. Spectator Sports
We know the Coliseum was used for gladiator fights, but did you know the Coliseum was also used for miniature naval boat battles? The lower wooden floor of the amphitheater was removed to fill the cells with water to hold these events, which understandably weren’t quite as nail-biting as the prisoner executions.
Due to popular demand, fight-to-the-death entertainment was a firm favorite among the adrenaline-seeking Romans and consequently, it pushed the small boating tradition out to another venue and the wooden floor was secured down permanently.
2. It all turned to ruin
The Coliseum is an impressive structure and it has stood the test of time for nearly 2000 years – with the help of restorative facelifts. The first damage to the building was caused by a fire when it was struck by lightning in the year 217 which put the amphitheater out of use for nearly 20 years.
Later, four separate earthquakes in 442, 508, 847 and 1231 led to irreparable destruction over the years. The one in 847 specifically caused the Coliseum’s southern side to collapse.
Saying this, the Coliseum as we see it today is impressively still standing, supported by much of its original structure and architecture.
Did you know that the word ‘colosseum’ is now used as a generic term for any large amphitheatre used for sports and entertainment? It was coined by the Romans after they named their very own Coliseum after a colossus (giant statue) of Nero which stood nearby. Now, the one in Rome is obviously the most recognised ‘colosseum’ in the world and is in fact the only one to be capitalised and recognised as The Coliseum.
Before this though, it was christened the Amphitheatrum Flavium, after the dynasty of Flavius emperors, and you can still see its original name etched into an engraving on the wall. Talking of aliases, did you know the West Exit as we call it today used to be called ‘death exit’ because that was the exit through which the unlucky gladiators were disposed of if they had lost their fight.
4. Marble masterpieces
Whether it was because they were short of resource or whether they wanted to recycle a bit of history (most probably the former) a lot of the costly marble in the Coliseum was stolen by architects during the construction of several big builds throughout the Renaissance.
Most notably St Peter’s Basilica where the marble was used to construct the façade of the grand cathedral. Not only this, but it’s believed that the marble was also used for private purposes and to furnish the builds of the 'palazzi' for the Roman rich and famous.
5. What lies beneath
If you’ve ever wandered around the Coliseum you’ll notice that on the ground a spread of greenery covers the walkways like a thin carpet. This is a diverse flora, as documented since 1643, where nearly 350 different species of plant and vegetation have taken root among the old stonework.
Due to the mild climate and good summers, the flora has thrived, and clearly the thousands of feet that have trodden them down over the years must have had little effect. So if you’re a botanist or keen on your horticulture, there’s another reason to visit.
With the Omnia Rome and Vatican Pass, entry is included to the Coliseum, St Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel, as well as entry into over 30 extra attractions at a discounted rate. Not to mention travel Rome’s transport system with a free travel card. That's right, you can use it on all buses, trams and metro trains in the municipality of Rome. Find out more, here.