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There are many different ways to get the most out of your visit of the Colosseum. We offer different Colosseum tours which include a visit of Ancient Rome itself, because only by comprehending the original backdrop of Roman society, can you truly appreciate what the gladiator games were and make sense of their popularity. Between them all, our Colosseum at Night Tour has an added value: you will experience its imposing structure in the magical atmosphere of the night, a totally different experience to seeing it during the daytime. During these exclusive evening openings, you will be among an intimate number of visitors that witness how the Colosseum reveals its nostalgic dimension, the sense of its past glory. The great artists of the Renaissance, such as Brunelleschi and Michelangelo, were fascinated by the cultural legacy of Imperial Rome. Percy Shelley summed up his visit to the Colosseum writing about impressive huge walls, topped by a forest of shrubs with wild olive and myrtle trees. It was often at night that travellers would discover the Colosseum, some of which were famous and for them it was a sort of pilgrimage of classical art. It’s no coincidence that Henry James used a night-time Colosseum walk for an episode of his novella "Daisy Miller".
Our night tour of the Colosseum is a thrilling journey into the surviving stories of this fascinating arena of Imperial Rome. We recount the life of the largest ancient metropolis that was home to over one million inhabitants at the end of the first century A.D. Our guide, with compelling and detailed accounts, will walk you through the very crowd of Romans who themselves made the gladiator fights so popular. You will learn about just how organized the spectacles were, despite being orchestrated violence as entertainment, framed by spectacular scenery and sophisticated machinery that totally captivated its audiences.
We begin from the first level where you can take in the original structure of the building, created from the work of hundreds of slaves who laboured with travertine brought from quarries at nearby Tivoli. Enter the minds of the remarkable architects who gave birth to the project and somehow made the construction possible in just ten years. What they built was the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire, which at the time was home to 200 of them. The area where the Colosseum now stands was once the site of the inland lake which existed within the property of emperor Nero and his Golden House. Emperor Flavio Vespasiano wanted to return the area to the Roman people, so the lake was removed and after Nero’s death, the giant statue of his likeness in the adapted appearance of the sun god was placed near the arena’s entrance. The statue stood at over 30m in height and in fact its ‘colossal’ size is how the Colosseum gradually took its name. To learn more about the statue of Nero and his controversial life, we recommend our Domus Aurea Tour.
The ellipse of the Colosseum had eighty numbered arches along the perimeter to facilitate the flow of spectators and this number was printed on the free ticket that the Romans were given. The various entrances led the Romans through separate paths at different levels of the structure, sorted according to their social status. Along the minor axis of the ellipse were the portals for the authorities and between the underground passages, the so-called "passage of Commodus," where the Emperor reached its stage, located near the present cross. Along the major axis was the Triumphalis entrance, where the procession of gladiators entered the arena accompanied by musicians. The Libitinensis instead was where the gladiators would exit the arena, dead or alive. There was also a series of underground tunnels linking the Colosseum to support buildings of the shows, such as the Ludus Magnus, the accommodation and training area of the gladiators which you will also have the opportunity to visit.
From Porta Libitinensis you will access the arena, today a wooden platform covering the underlying underground structures of the Colosseum. In the past it was covered with layers of sand. The arena was enormous, and served as a stage recreating distant lands and exotic locations. The public was proud and grateful to their emperor for this treat. The gladiatorial games were a careful form of propaganda, reaffirming the absolute power of the emperor and at the same time demonstrating his generosity towards the people and Rome itself.
The night descent to the underground is evocative to say the least. There are a series of highly technological tunnels that were remarkable for the era. You will learn about the series of coordinated pulleys and gears that served the lifts for the arena area. Through access hatches, caged animals were brought up and down like cargo in a modern elevator. There is a wealth of archaeological evidence of the apparatus used that our guide will tell you about, as well as beautiful engravings and mosaics of the time found inside. You will see how gladiators and animals were placed side by side in special cages. Just think, they would have stared into one another’s eyes for the last time before the fateful ascent into the arena. You'll also see that the impressive underground area below the arena of the Colosseum which was almost totally dark, illuminated only by hundreds of lanterns, many of which were found during archaeological excavations.
Here our guide will also reveal the facts behind one the mysteries that has puzzled enthusiasts and historians for years. Did they really recreate naval battles in the Colosseum? And if so, how was it possible to remove the underlying structures of the arena in order to make room for the ships' hulls? The answer is actually simple. Historians of the time speak of recreated naval battles as forms of entertainment but in reality they do not clearly state where these spectacles occurred. We know that when the Colosseum was inaugurated in 80 A.D., it hosted 100 consecutive days of shows. We also know that during this time the underground areas were still under construction and were probably just wooden structures, certainly not the mighty travertine structures that were built after. So it is possible that in this “beta phase” the Colosseum hosted some of these sea battles.
As for the epic performances, first and foremost, you will discover just how varied they were. The most important were ‘Munera’, fights between pairs of gladiators, and ‘Venationes’ which were animal hunts that took place mainly in the morning. The hunts were followed by tragic simulations of Greek myths, such as the story of Icarus, in which men who had been sentenced to death were brutally massacred. The afternoon shows were dedicated to the Munera, the most eagerly anticipated of all by the public. They involved exotic animals that were captured and brought to Rome from the most remote provinces of the empire. These shows represented an open window into the heart of the empire and its wonders, despite being from such distant lands, and provided a place where narratives and legends were created. The animals selected were of course usually fierce and fatal - tigers, lions and leopards for example. But milder beasts like giraffes, camels and elephants also made appearances.
Aside from the animals, the famous gladiatorial figures themselves provided a very effective form of propaganda. Many of the men came from very distant lands and from Italy's isolated hinterlands. They showed the public archaic forms of fighting with strange vehicles and combat techniques that the Romans would never have seen before. These would have been very curious and even bizarre sights for the public, making them very popular. We know all this from hundreds of representations that have survived in the form of mosaics, funerary inscriptions, and engravings on helmets and lamps. The word "gladiator" incidentally comes from "gladius," which meant sword in latin.
A walk, or ‘passeggiata’ as the Italians say, on the Via dei Fori Imperiali is a truly wonderful experience. Imagine that you are in the midst of an outdoor museum, a time capsule under the stars and moonlight. On one side you have the majestic ruins of the Forum of Augustus and the striking concave architecture of Trajan's Market, preceded by enormous columns of the Basilica Ulpia. On the other side of the Roman Forum you will walk up to the back of the Campidoglio and see the stunning ruins of the Roman Forum from an elevated viewpoint - the Temple of Saturn, the Temple of the Vestal Virgins and other spectacular buildings are all wondrously illuminated by a recently installed lighting system. Our guide will remain on hand throughout to help you understand the importance of these buildings in the context of imperial Rome and the rituals that were held amidst the daily life that unfolded around them.
Our Colosseum tour at night ends in Piazza del Campidoglio, amidst the mastery of the square built by Michelangelo, a symbol of elegance and the typical beauty of the Renaissance period. This square is an ideal point to conclude your tour as it represents the journey Rome has taken through the centuries, from oblivion to re-birth and is redolent of the artistic nostalgia that created the incredible works of the Renaissance that characterize the city even today. This beautiful piazza is also home to the fascinating Capitoline museums, one of the world’s greatest collections of ancient art. If you are interested in getting to grips with this collection, be sure to check out our private tours of the Capitoline museums.
Nearby the Colosseum entrance. You will receive full details, including a map and photo on booking.
This tour takes you in the Colosseum, which has steps and uneven surfaces. Please wear comfortable shoes and bring water.
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Our guides are fluent in English and have a contagious passion for Rome's inspiring cultural heritage. Experts in their fields, they will immerse you in the hidden histories and intriguing lives of history's great protagonists. So much to see, so easy to miss out: with the help of our guides, visit the most absorbing sites and uncover the stories that have changed the world. Don't miss this fascinating journey!