The Best Way to Visit the Colosseum
Planning to visit the Colosseum? Here are the best spots you can't miss out on.
The Colosseum is the most famous monument in the world. It took only 8 years to build, but it takes hours to visit, so let’s start by finding the best way to get in.
1. Should I buy tickets in advance?
2. Should I buy a Roma Pass?
3. What is the best way to skip the line for the Colosseum?
4. How long does it take to visit the Colosseum?
5. What time is best to see the Roman Forum?
6. Do Palatine Hill tickets skip the line for the Colosseum?
7. Which tickets should I book to tour the Colosseum Underground?
8. Which tickets will let me see the Colosseum and the Arena?
9. How can I tour the Colosseum at night?
10. How early can I book a tour for the Colosseum?
We highly recommend visiting the Colosseum early in the morning, at 8:30 am. That way, you get to see it empty and have time to take photos and videos of this amazing monument. If you haven't booked your tickets yet, don't worry about it. Check out Eden Walks tours in Rome, which has tickets available every hour. You have the option to buy only tickets or book a guided tour, which will let you skip 2 hours in line. With this tour, you gain access to the arena underground as well as the upper level. Our guide is an archaeologist and will show you all the highlights of the Colosseum’s story, from the ancient Roman period to the Renaissance.
If you choose to explore the Colosseum on your own, it’s best to use an audio guide so you don't get lost. You will be able to visit 3 locations on the same ticket – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. These tickets cost 18£ for adults and you can get them at the Colosseum entrance or a booth near the Arch of Tito. You’ll see long lines there later in the day, so it’s best to arrive at 8 am, when there will be a lot less people.
Let’s start our tour from the Arch of Tito on the Sacred Way. This structure is a triumphal arch which marks the victorious end of the Judean War, the first rebellion of an entire province against the Roman Empire. It took three years to defeat the revolt and the treasure that was brought back from Jerusalem was so vast that it actually paid for the Colosseum and most of the rebelling in Rome and the late first century. This marks the first dispersion of the Jewish people.
Next is Carcere Mamertino, which was the only prison facility in the entire Roman Forum. Its original name was Tuljanum, probably named after King Sergio Tuljo, though it could also have been because the underground cell was shaped like a flask. “Flask” in Etruscan is Tulla, or Tullum in Latin. According to tradition, the apostle Peter was imprisoned here before he was executed. This was the facility for the
judicial branch of the Roman republic, so prisoners awaiting execution or those on trial for serious crimes were incarcerated here.
What is there to see in the Roman Forum? This was the centre of Roman life and the heart of the Republic. Behind the Forum is the Arch of Settimio Severo of the Severian dynasty, a triumphal arch commemorating his victories. Next to this we have the Roman Senate, the seat of legislative power in Rome and the body that decided and interpreted the laws of the Republic. This is the Senate – any other senates in the world are named after it. Senatus comes from the Latin word senes, which means “having white hair,” because it was a council of elders among the first kings during the kingly age of Rome, before Rome became a republic and a senate state. According to tradition, the Senate was invented and established by the first king of Rome, Romulus. This is where all the laws of the ancient Romans were made, and where the famous speeches that are now studied as classics were given by Cato and Cicero, the great orator, once a friend of Caesar and later his enemy. All of them were here.
Here was the centre of Western civilisation, where victorious generals used to parade in triumph on their chariots, leading their troops and their litters, their war chests and captured trophies before the Senate, next to the Temple of Saturn which was their state treasury. Here, on the Sacred Way, all the public life of the Roman Forum was present – the seats of power, the judicial courts, the legislative branch, the stock exchange, and the silver market. Further towards the river were the vegetable and cattle markets. The Roman Forum eventually became the essence of being Roman. No Roman city would ever be built without a forum at its centre.
Next to the Roman Forum you will find the Trajan Column, a monumental sculpture commemorating the victory of Emperor Trajan in a new year campaign against the Dacian people in modern-day Romania. This column is an incredible feat of engineering and was one the first columns erected to proclaim the strength of Rome, during a period of warfare in central Europe where the Romans were defending their northern frontier by expanding beyond the river Danube and trying to control the Dacian population there. The Dacians were a fierce people, called “barbarians” by the Romans simply because didn't speak Latin or Greek.
The Column of Trajan is a hollow column made of 17 gigantic marble cylinders, stacked one on top of the other. It has a spiral stairway inside, carved out of pure marble, which goes all the way to the top where the statue of the emperor was from all the way to the bottom where the entrance for service and maintenance as required. If you look at the column’s reliefs, you can see a total of 20,000 sculpted figures of Roman legionnaires, engineers, raider cavalrymen, river patrol boats, pontoon bridges, and supply trains. These figures are shown clearing forests, building roads and fortified towns, and performing incursions. This is the Roman military machine at work, all sculpted in a scroll-like manner that winds itself up the column. The entire scroll, which depicts the actions of the Roman army over 3 years of work and warfare under the guidance of the emperor Trajan, is actually 200 yards long. It has to be viewed like a scrolling movie – an epic saga of the incredible civic, military, logistical, political, and engineering machine that Rome truly was. Its roads and aqueducts, its army and institutions, the Senate, the magistrates, colleges of priests, governors and provinces, lines of communication… everything that made up Rome would one day become the matrix of modern Western society worldwide.
Palatine Hill is where Rome was founded in 753 BC, and where the king Romulus ruled. Imperial palaces were built here starting with Augustus, and even before imperial times, the area was occupied by the rich. It was the home of powerful people: first Rome’s important patrician families and later on, senators. They had beautiful houses with frescoes, mosaics, and gardens. This was where the most important of Rome’s inhabitants lived, from Cicero to Cato to Marc Antony. Emperor Augustus was born at Palatine Hill, and later, he also came to live there. His house is right next to the foundation of Rome and is still visible today; you can visit it on a guided tour with Eden Walks. The house of his wife Olivia is also there. After many centuries, you can still see their beautiful decorations, but what draws attention the most is the room of Augustus. Called a cubiculum, it was just a simple room; the most powerful man in the world was not surrounded by luxury, despite what everyone might think.
However, Augustus’s successors didn't follow his example. Palatine Hill was transformed and enlarged after his death. The imperator Domiziano had his huge palace here, with a small but lavish stadium for shows like Greek tragedies and an arena for gladiators, built by the architect Rabirio. The basilica here is where he had meetings with his ambassadors and where people would salute him, but the most spectacular view was from his house, where you could see the Circus Massimo. This is where he must have felt like the king of the world, among the statues that were once made from coloured marble, and the beautiful frescos and mosaics that are not here anymore.
Palatine Hill was one of the symbols and the heart of Rome. So what really happened there? The first huts where Romulus and Remus lived in the Iron Age were discovered at Palatine Hill, so it is known that someone lived there from 8 BC onward, and probably even before Romulus. The hilltop was a strategic place from which to defend the city, so the Romans saw it as a good place to start a whole empire. In fact, the term “palace” comes from the name of Palatine Hill. The area underwent major excavation in 1907 and 1948, and archaeologists discovered that Emperor Tiberius lived here, as did Domiziano from the line of Flavian.
Palatine Hill is also where you will find the most beautiful views of the city. From one side you can see the Roman Forum, and from the other side, the Capitoline Hill and the Circus Massimo. You must climb Palatine Hill to take in the vista where the first king of Rome lived, and how Rome was transformed by the Renaissance. From here, you can see the beautiful gardens of the Farnese family built on top of the Domus Tiberiana, as well as Saint Peter’s Basilica, the monument of the king Vittorio Emanuele, and the Column of Trajan.
10 reasons why you should visit the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill:
1. Because it has more historic ruins than anywhere else in the world.
2. To explore the most important centre of Western civilisation.
3. To visit the first sante in the world at the Roman Forum.
4. To see the first example of a basilica, the Basilica of Massenzio and Costantino.
5. To visit the tomb of Julius Caesar.
6. To tour the best-preserved monument in the world, the Colosseum itself.
7. To see the Temple of the Vestal Virgins.
8. To view the only place in Rome where you can see 3 layers of the city, from the Etruscan period to the Republic and into the Middle Ages.
9. To see how the beautiful churches from the 1500s are built on top of the temples of ancient Rome.
10. To stand where Roman laws were invented.
There are many things to explore on a visit to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, so don’t miss out!
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