The first glimpse of the Coliseum in real life is unforgettable, whilst many aspects of its fascinating history are almost unbelievable.
After the Great Fire of Rome (64 AD), Nero took control over the area where the Colosseum now stands. He made some dramatic changes to the landscape, including constructing gardens and pavilions and even an artificial lake.
Eventually, this was all destroyed and Emperor Vespasian came up with the idea of building the Colosseum on the site, with building beginning around 70 AD using funds coming from items plundered during the Siege of Jerusalem. Thus from its very beginning, the amphitheatre was designed as a symbol of victory.
Capable of holding around 50,000 people, it remains the largest amphitheatre in the world.
Just a decade after building began, the Coliseum was ready for its inauguration. Alas, Vespasian had died the year prior in the year 79, so it was his son Titus who oversaw the festivities in which some 9,000 wild animals were reportedly killed.
Vespasian’s sons Titus and Domitian added to the Colosseum, with Domitian being responsible for a viewing gallery and the creation of an underground network of tunnels and chambers where gladiators, performers, animals and the like could be held behind the scenes.
In the wake of fire and earthquake damage, Theodosius II and Valentinian III had the Colosseum reconstructed, starting a trend of damage, rebuilding and modification that continued for centuries.
For the next 500 years or so, the Colosseum was most notably used to host battles between gladiators (and occasionally wild animals like lions, crocodiles, bears, hippopotami and more), along with other spectacular spectaculars put on by the emperors to entertain the crowds.
It was also the site of executions, and even plays that ended with the real execution of a real condemned prisoner. Today, however it is utilised as the symbol of a global movement against capital punishment.
The Colosseum also housed a market, accommodation, a monastery and church (with its own cemetery) and served a host of other uses including as a fortress.
Pope Sixtus V (1521-1590) saw the Colosseum as a great site to establish a wool factory where he intended to hire local prostitutes and have them turn their hands to turning yarn. His death saw the end of this plan.