Insider’s Rome: The Colosseum

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you won’t see it all in a lifetime, but our new series will guide you through what you mustn’t miss…

Perhaps the most iconic of all the tourist destinations in Rome, the Colosseum looms large at the heart of what was once the city centre.

Exterior view of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

There will be queues, however early you get up, and (frankly) it’s more aesthetically impressive from the outside than it is within, but you do still have to go inside the Colosseum: it’s one of the rites of passage of a trip to Rome.

You can’t say, “Yes, of course we went to the Colosseum – but we didn’t actually go inside, the queues were too long…” That isn’t going to Rome. It just isn’t.

Back in the day, they could get 60,000 people in and seated in minutes – there were so many entrances and so many staircases – but the invention of the turnstile put paid to that and now you have to stand in a snaking line for longer than you will probably spend inside. It’s a bit like going to a football match that’s been postponed but nobody knows yet…

Once within, however, it is easy to imagine what it would have been like to sit among your fellow citizens cheering on the Lions against the Christians (actually, that didn’t happen much) while listening to your grandparents wittering on about the terrible days of Nero, when there was a stupidly large statue here (hence the name: ‘Colosseum’ comes from the Greek for ‘statue’) to the honour of the now dishonoured former Emperor. We will be visiting Nero’s nefarious netherworld in due course, but next we’re going to St Peter’s, which is where some of the stone that’s missing from here ended up.