Seeing the huge Colosseum in Rome during my 70-day solo backpacking trip in Europe was one of the highlights of my trip.
I have read so much about this iconic landmark through the years that I almost couldn’t believe it that I was already standing there. What was more, I got to go inside too, thanks to the generosity of a random stranger!
Originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum is one of the most popular attractions in Rome and in Italy in general—if not the most visited—so when you come here during the summer season, expect loads of people outside.
It was early spring when I was there, though, so there weren’t too many tourists, comparatively speaking. I could still take pictures without some photobomber ruining my shots.
I arrived at the Colosseum after several hours of walking around Rome. Located east of the Roman Forum, I was afraid at first that I would find it overrated, that I would think it’s “just another ruin.”
Fortunately, the iconic amphitheater held its own. I could see it as I was walking along Via dei Fori Imperiali, and even from afar, I was already amazed not only at the size of it (it was built to accommodate more than 50,000 people!), but also at its design as well. This structure has been standing for over 2,000 years!
I didn’t immediately go inside the Colosseum; in fact I had no plans to. I just walked around it, sat down on the ground in the small hill near the Arch of Constantine, and people-watched for a while. I just wanted some quiet time to savor that moment.
Unfortunately, a group of young travelers came and started roughhousing so I decided to just go inside the Colosseum, expecting the ticket to be around 5 euros or so.
When I was at the head of the queue, though, I learned that the ticket actually cost a whopping 16 euros! It’s good not only for the Colosseum, but for the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum as well.
A bit disappointed that it was out of my budget, I left the line, consoling myself that I had already been there; there was no need to go inside. Luck was with me that day, though, for a woman immediately approached me, telling me that she was giving me her ticket.
I was like “what’s her scam?” I immediately felt ashamed at assuming the worst, though. It turned out that she had used it already; she had gone inside, as well as to the Palatine and the Roman Forum, but it was still good until the next day. I gratefully accepted it, berating myself for my negativity.
As I went inside the amphitheater, I couldn’t help thinking of the hundreds (or thousands) of men who had died there. The gladiators, who were either criminals, slaves, or prisoners of war, were made to fight for their lives on the arena for the entertainment of the Romans.
The floor of the arena was covered with sand; when the ground became soaked with too much blood, the emperor just had the slaves remove the sand and replace it so that the games could continue. There was no escaping the arena once you were brought there to fight!
Inside the Colosseum, as I went around it, there was nothing to remind people of the horror that regularly occurred there thousands of years ago. What I and the other tourists saw were the ruins of a once mighty structure.
It is beautiful and horrifying at the same time, a standing testament of an empire’s extravagance, pride, and cruelty.
Despite that—maybe even because of that—the Colosseum should be in everyone’s bucket list. It can be depressing to be here, to think that there was one time in our history that men and women were treated like cattle.
However, there’s a lot of history here, and a lot of lessons to be learned too, about culture and humanity.
If you want to read more about this, here’s a good piece on Gladiators, Chariots, and Roman Games.