History of the Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum has a long and rich history. From the times when it was used as a gladiatorial arena and witnessed staged hunts with thousands of wild beasts to today, it has seen the Roman Empire rise to its greatest splendor… and dwindle and disappear. It is said that up to 400,000 people met their end on the sands of the arena, as did one million wild animals of many different species.

  • 72 AD – Construction of the Flavian Amphitheater begins under Emperor Vespasian. Vespasian viewed the Colosseum as a gift to the people of Rome — who were unhappy after the disastrous reign of Emperor Nero.
  • 80 AD – Titus, Vespasian’s son, officially dedicates the Amphitheater, also known as the Colosseum, and decrees 100 days of games for its inauguration. Construction would be finalized completely under Titus’s younger brother and successor Domitian in 83 AD.
  • 217 – A fire damages the building, destroying its wooden upper level completely.
  • Mid 5th century – No exact date is known, but the last reports of gladiatorial combat in the Colosseum date from this period, although it continued to be used for hunts of wild beasts for some time afterwards.
  • Late 6th century – The Colosseum is no longer used as an amphitheater to entertain the citizenry of Rome. Around this time a chapel is affixed to the building, the arena floor is used as a cemetery, and the vaulted spaces that make up the building’s walls under its seats are used as houses and workshops.
  • 12th century – The Frangipani family, a powerful Roman patrician clan of the time, took over the building and converted it into a fortified castle.
  • 1349 – The building is seriously damaged in an earthquake, and an entire section of its outer walls collapses. The damage, in the form of lacking parts of the structure, can still be seen today.
  • 14th to 18th century – The Colosseum undergoes progressive degradation as its building materials are stripped to be used elsewhere in Rome. The iron clamps that held the stones together are taken to be melted and reused, and the stone of its structure is scavenged and used to build other buildings throughout the city. Some of the marble that decorated its façade was used in the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
  • 1749 – Finally, a bit of good fortune: After centuries of decay, Pope Benedict XIV consecrates the building and declares it must be protected, on the belief that the blood of Christian martyrs spilled in the arena made it a holy place. However, there is little historical evidence to support this claim.
  • 19th and 20th centuries – The Colosseum undergoes successive restoration projects at the instance of various Popes, governments, and the city of Rome.
  • 2013 to 2016 – The Colosseum undergoes a major restoration project. The entire façade of the building is cleaned, removing grime and soot accumulated from decades of Roman traffic.
  • Today – The Colosseum receives over 4 million visitors a year. It is the most visited tourist attraction in Italy and one of the most popular and iconic buildings in the world. From the date of its completion in 80 AD, when it was still known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it is one thousand nine hundred and thirty-seven years old, making it one of the oldest and best preserved human-made structures in the world.