The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill
Visiting the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are must-do activities for first-time travelers to Rome. The outdoor ruins are packed with spectacular temples, stately government halls, emperors' palaces, and the cruelest of entertainment venues - the gladiator's arena. Our guide provides information and recommendations on what to see at the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill.
Hosting some 6-million visitors a year the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are hugely popular Rome attractions. The archeological museums are in close proximity, and one ticket is used to gain entry to all three venues. Collectively, the sites a provide a glimpse of what life was like 2000 years ago at the height of the Roman empire.
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WHAT IS THE COLOSSEUM
The Roman Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheater in the center of Rome, Italy. During the Flavian dynasty (AD 70-72), the Emperor Vespasian commissioned construction the structure. The building of the arena was overseen by Roman engineers, but Jewish slaves completed the physical labor.
When finished the Colosseum was the largest amphitheater ever built. (It remains the largest amphitheater in world). The structure has 5-levels and was designed to hold 50,000 spectators. Seating was based on social class; people of higher rank were placed closer to the arena.
The Roman Colosseum was built to entertain the citizens of Rome. Attendance was free. In the arena, gladiators combatted fellow slaves, prisoners, and an array of animals – often to the death. To celebrate the opening of the Colosseum, 100 days of brutal and barbaric games were held in which 9000 animals were said to have been slain.
After the fall of Rome, the Colosseum was raided for building materials and fell into disrepair. Through the ages, it has served as a storehouse, cemetery, and church. Today, the Colosseum is recognized an important cultural treasure. The structure is designated as one of the 7 wonders of the Modern World. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
THINGS TO SEE AT THE COLOSSEUM
The Arch of Constantine: The largest of 3 remaining triumphant arches in Rome.
The Cross: In memory of the Christian martyrs killed in the arena.
The Arena Floor (Special Access): Floor with 36-trap doors above a system of tunnels.
The Underground (Special Access): An underground maze of tunnels used as a gladiator staging area. Animals and fighters would elevate up through the 36-trap doors to the arena floor.
Food Vendor Artifacts: On the second floor, find a display of food and cutlery artifacts.
Second Floor Balcony: a balcony with views of original Colosseum seats and the arena.
WHAT IS THE ROMAN FORUM
At the height the Roman Empire, the Roman Forum was the center of public life. The Roman “city center” was a gathering space that bustled with public meetings, open markets, and ceremonial processions. The Forum was located on low ground between Palatine and Capitoline Hills.
Around the Forum’s open avenues was an arrangement of graceful colonnades and buildings that were filled with courthouses, shops, banks, and temples. From this area, the Romans conducted their business, political, and religious lives.
As the empire faded, subsequent governments utilized the Forum as a quarry and its buildings were re-purposed (many as churches). It was eventually abandoned and buried under layers of earth. Today, trekking the streets where Julius Caesar once tread, it is easy to imagine the grandeur of the past in the existing ruins.
THINGS TO SEE AT THE ROMAN FORUM
The Arch of Titus and Septimius Severus: The Titus arch links the Forum to the Colosseum. The Septimius arch sits in the heart of the forum.
Via Sacra: The ancient Roman road passes under the Arch of Titus and leads into the city.
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina: Now the Church of San Lorenzo, this rebuilt temple has its original portico and marble columns.
Temple of Romulus: This ancient temple (and later church) has its original bronze doors.
Basilica of Constantine: Three arches remain from the ancient courthouse.
Temple of Saturn: All that remains of the temple are 8 colossal granite and marble columns.
WHAT IS PALATINE HILL
According to folklore, Palatine Hill is site of the Lupercal Cave. Legend has it, the cave is where the abandoned twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, were rescued by a she-wolf. The wolf then suckled the brothers before they were found by a shepherd. Romulus later killed his brother, and founded Rome.
During Roman times, it was believed that the air on higher elevations was cleaner than that on the ground. As the city developed, Palatine Hill became a residential district for the nobility. In time, the neighborhood was taken over by emperors and other high ranking Roman officials.
Palatine Hill is the most spread-out, and least trafficked of the 3 attractions. It is not well-signed and the ruins and excavations are scattered about. The site is very sunny, bathrooms are scarce, and there is no food or drink sold on the site.
It is a wonderful area to get away from the crowds and absorb all you have seen. However, to get the most out of the site you will need a good map and, at a minimum, an audio guide. We recommend a guided tour to help interpret the Palatine Hill area.
THINGS TO SEE AT PALATINE HILL
Hippodrome Stadium of Domitian: A palace’s garden and horse ring.
Circus Maximus Balcony: A Temple of Apollo balcony with views of Circus Maximus.
Advance booking is required. No tickets are sold onsite.
Budget minded travelers who do not want to book a guided tour should purchase admission tickets online prior to your Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill visit. Tickets are posted on sale about 1 month in advance and sell out quickly.
Basic tickets include 24 hour access to the 3-attractions and a single-timed entry to the Colosseum for levels one and two. To visit the Arena Floor or Underground area, purchase upgraded tickets (or a guided tour). Audio-guides can be pre-booked online.
To purchase an advance ticket, you will pick a date and time for your visit. You can print your ticket or download it onto a smart phone. When you arrive onsite you go straight to the security area to queue for a security check.
Tickets can be purchased through the official colosseum site (best prices) or through an official partner site (easier booking, includes a booking fee).
Entry is free for all on the first Sunday of each month on a first come first serve basis; and for some groups of people (see website for details).
If you show up at the ticket office without a ticket, attendants will help identify available time slots for the day (usually in late afternoon). With that information you will be asked to purchase the tickets on your smart phone.
Although well-kept, the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill sites are not well-marked. To gain context, we recommend booking a guided tour. Before booking any tour, check to see that the company uses Licensed Tour Guides (they must pass an exam in Rome). There will be a confusing array of options to choose from; to break it down consider:
Do you want an immersive experience with lots of stories or a quick highlights tour?
Do you best enjoy a large or small group tour?
At the Colosseum do you want the basic admission; or do you want to add on options such as the Arena floor and Underground? Or, go on a night tour?
Answer these questions to narrow down your tour options. Note: that private guided tours spare you from the hassle of booking tickets, and much of the queueing experience. Although more expensive, this route is usually more relaxing with longer time spent at the actual sites.
COLOSSEUM OPENING HOURS
The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill are open every day, except December 25th and January 1st (with an early closing on Good Friday).
The sights generally open at 9am and close between 4:30 and 7:00pm, depending on the season. Last admission is one hour before closing.
ROMAN FORUM, PALATINE HILL, AND COLOSSEUM TIPS
There is little shade at all of the venues. Wear a hat and sunscreen. Bring plenty of water. The best opportunity to buy food/drinks and use restrooms will be at the Colosseum.
Wear sturdy walking shoes. Surfaces are uneven and you will be hiking across hills.
Be prepared for a robust security check. Large bags are not permitted and no drinks, except water.
When advance booking time slots, if you find tickets are sold out try adding on options (such as the Arena Floor or Underground), or booking a private guided tour.
The Colosseum is wheelchair accessible with ramps and elevators at the site. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill are both outdoor sites and it would be challenging in many spots to navigate a wheelchair.
BEST TIME TO VISIT COLOSSEUM, ROMAN FORUM, AND PALANTINE HILL
Most visitors come early to beat the heat. Officials report the quietest time to enter the Colosseum is after 3pm, or on a night tour.
Enjoy the spectacle. Addio (farewell)! Laura and Randy
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