Pillars, Power and Performance: Visiting Rome’s Colosseum & Forum

“I found Rome a city of bricks, and I left it a city of marble.”


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Roman Forum Looking to the Colosseum

There is something to be said about following ancient footsteps, pathways winding between structures as immense in size as historical importance, passing marble pillars and travertine arches that still radiate power and wealth in their crumbling states.  To visit Rome, is to step into the life of an empire.  Even before we arrived, this city called to me, and seeing the Colosseum was #1 on my bucket list.  I will forever cherish the rainy November evening when Sam and I touched down in Rome for the first time.  As we entered the city, the rain slowed, and our driver kindly took the scenic route to our hotel, Roma Boutique, slowing as we passed by a lit up Colosseum, and I sat in complete disbelief.  It was even more amazing than I could ever have imagined, and it was right in front of me.

Every inch of Rome is carved and ornate, every opening a window into the past.  Returning here with our daughters this summer was a dream come true, and despite the heat and the excessive crowds, we shared lessons and experiences that you simply cannot get in a classroom.  The Colosseum area is a visual and tactile immersion into history, a social studies slideshow come to life.  From tours to tourist traps, a day here will inspire, teach and humble.

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There is a reason that The Colosseum is one of the top attractions in Rome, and the world for that matter.  Not only is it an immense and striking piece of architecture, it is an experience just to walk the steps as Romans did, thousands of years before.  It is a glimpse into an era filled with heroic gladiators and wild, imported animals battling for life before 65,000 sets of eyes, including an emperor upon his throne.  I found myself needing a constant reminder that we were not on a Hollywood sound stage, that this amphitheater was the real deal. Construction began in 72 AD by emperor Vespasian, and was completed by his heir and successor, Titus in 80 AD.  The Colosseum was further enhanced by Vespasian’s younger son, Domitian, who added underground tunnels to house slaves and animals.  It is home to every fantasy and horror story one can possibly imagine.  The structure suffered major damage by fire in 217 AD, as well as a major earthquake in 443.  The last mentioned gladiator fights were held in 435, while the animal hunts carried on until at least 523.  The Colosseum underwent significant changes as ruler ship changed, housing a cemetery as well as becoming a fortified palace for the Frangipani family until it suffered another major earthquake in 1349 that caused the south side to collapse.

*** Rome is undergoing many historical facelifts thanks to the large fashion houses.  A much needed restoration of the Colosseum was begun in 2013 thanks to a $25 million Euro donation by luxury brand, Tod’s.


We avoided what can be 2-3 hour lineups by purchasing our tickets at the little stand along Via dei Fori Imperiali (backing onto the forum grounds).  You can also purchase nearby at the entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, along .  The tickets are good for both these areas as well as the Colosseum and the lineups are much shorter, yet a 5 minute walk away.


  • SUMMER SEASON:  High season means high temperatures.  Go early in the morning if possible.  Wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.  A small umbrella is handy for shade when needed as there is little in these areas.  The Colosseum has a small section of “misters” that spray a cooling mist, but they are often very crowded.
  • STANDARD ENTRANCE TICKETS: This allows for access to the first and second levels. Make sure to visit each of the accessible levels. The best viewpoints are on the second level and worth the climb up (you’ll find yourself pondering just how 65,000 spectators would have felt had they been forced to evacuate quickly!) This is a great vantage point for the Colosseum itself, for viewing artifacts on display as well as looking out through the arches to the world outside.
  • TOURS:  Be aware that there are plenty of peddlers outside offering tours.  Many are not professional guides and will charge extremely high prices.  We took a tour in November (without the kids) and it was very informative.  Keep in mind that while it offers in depth history and detail, you are tied to their schedule, and there is plenty of standing and listening.  Consider all of this when planning a tour for your family.  For detailed ticket information, and tour bookings, see Here.
  • There are tours which allow access to the Underground Level, the Arena Floor, as well as the 3rd Tier.
  • Audio guides are an option and available for rent.


We couldn’t help ourselves, and it’s still a running joke between Sam and I as we recall the gladiator who called out to us with “Hey, you!  Big-ga Boy!”  It’s cheesy, touristic fun, and while it cost us about 15 Euros, it was worth it for the photos and the laughter.


Nestled between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill is the Arch of Constantine, dedicated in 315 by the Roman Senate to commemorate the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312.  Standing at 21 x 26 meters, it is the largest Roman Triumphal arch.  The Arch is a visual masterpiece, and one gets a unique view of it through the arches of the Colosseum.


This was part of the guided tour we took when we were in Rome in November.  This summer, due to the heat and tourist congestion, we simply strolled thru the forum, heading out the other end, so that we could point out a few things to the girls, and they could walk on the grounds of such historical significance.  Palatine Hill is the center most of the seven hills of Rome, and sits 70 meters above the city, the Roman Forum, Colosseum and Circus Maximus.  The views from atop Palatine Hill are spectacular.

The belief was that by living up so high, the air was cleaner, and those who lived on it would be less susceptible to the diseases of the lower areas.  There is also a strong link to mythology, as it is said this is home to the Lupercal cave where the twins Romulus and Remus were found.  This is the spot where Romulus decided to build the city, and thus where the story of the Roman empire begins.  Palatine Hill is littered with ruins and is quite extraordinary, with fascinating history.

The lower ground between Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill houses the Roman Forum, a place also filled with impressive architecture and rich history.  It was home to Roman public life as well as many important ancient government buildings, and is considered to be one of the greatest meeting places on earth.

Tradition dates the forum back to a time of rivalry between Romulus, first King of Rome, who lived on Palatine Hill, and Titus, who occupied Capitoline Hill. It is said that the cries and prayers of the women of Capitoline Hill caused the men to lay down their weapons, and negotiate.  Some of the earliest temples and shrines dot the southest end, such as the 7th century BC Temple of Vesta, where the 6 vestal virgins kept the home fires burning.  By taking the tour, we learned that the pillar, one of two (top left in photos below) is of a rare Egyptian marble that is now exhausted, and has an estimated worth of $120 million!

The Colosseum and vicinity are the very heart of Rome and it’s incredibly deep roots in history.  While it is generally overcrowded with tourists wanting a glimpse into the realm of gladiators and emperors, it is an absolute must on any Roman travel agenda.  To follow footsteps tread thousands of years before, to stand in awe of powerful and historic structures or to envision battles offering moments of both elation and anguish, is to immerse yourself in an empire that shaped our world and defined desire.  Rome, quite simply, is a place to stir the soul.

Ciao Bella,




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38 thoughts on “Pillars, Power and Performance: Visiting Rome’s Colosseum & Forum

  1. Great post! I loved both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum but we have never taken a guided tour, so a lot of this information, I didn’t know. I can’t wait to take my daughter when she is old enough to understand the historical significance of this amazing archeological wonder.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read! They are pretty spectacular to see, so I was thrilled to share it with our girls. I’m glad we did the tour without the kids, and had more freedom the next time. Cheers!

  2. Great tips about tours and being on their schedule. That’s something that we’re always cautious about when traveling to historical sites with the kids. And yes!! Have fun being a tourist!

  3. Hey there! Me and my husband were just in Italy this past March and we LOVED it. Rome was our last stop on the trip though. We ended up venturing outside of Rome into smaller towns – Tivoli in particular. It was so amazing. I would love to go back someday. Thanks for the nostalgia!

    –Rachel @ Tidy&Teal

  4. I always love reading you posts and reliving the memories we made on our travels. Happy to see you doing what you love and seeing others enjoy your words as well.

  5. You and I would travel well together! You focus on the history, and culture both past and present, and experiencing it in a positive way! Love it. Still so jealous of your Italian travels, I keep showing my girlfriend your Italian-themed photos and she goes on about her recent trip. The history alone is unbelieveable.

    Always looking forward to more from Amy!


    1. Thank you so much!! It’s so easy for me to blog about a place I am so passionate about, Italy will always hold my heart in her hands. It’s simply a country that, even after ten thousand sunrises, you will still wake with so much more to see and learn. Ciao to you both!!

  6. Your post brought back wonderful memories of the time we spent in Rome, a couple of years ago. Walking amongst the crumbling yet majestic ruins is a great experience. You can almost feel the vibes of a once powerful and enigmatic empire as you trudge through the ruins.

  7. Love Rome and you captured the Coliseum area well! Have to say out of all the places we have traveled the Coliseum has a huge “WOW!” factor. 🙂 Love your pic’s with the gladiators too!

  8. Rome overwhelms you in a way like no other city does. Its monumental history shows through every broken pillar, every brick. And walking through the ruins is like walking through time.

  9. Rome is pretty high on my bucket list, it’s somewhere I’d love to take my kids but the 30hr transit time from NZ puts me off! Thanks for the post, makes me think of my university days studying Greek and roman architecture and history.

  10. Have been in Rome for only an hour during a layover and I vowed to go back. Love the photos you shared. I had no idea what I’ve been missing all these years. I really need to go back soon.

  11. Thanks for all the info. I’ve been there but I didn’t make any of the reservations and I’m going back doing it on my own. I just want to clarify. Did you have to pay 15 Euros for both or for each when you took a photo with the gladiator? I’m just curious coz when I went there with my friends I felt like we were harassed and we were charged individually.

    We got a private tour guide for the Colloseum, old Rome, new Rome the last time I went. Any suggestions how I can be a little more practical this time?


    1. Thanks so much for reading! For the gladiators we only paid 15 euros….that was after talking him down though! They do harass, but we still had some good fun with him. As for tours I am so glad we took one the first time to gather so much info and our second trip was more on our own at our own pace, a lot more leisurely and we has the benefit of knowing a lot of important info. Utilize the benefits of a previous tour and explore on your own and focus on capturing great photos! The second trip to Rome is all about simply strolling and enjoying the city on on a deeper level. (My fave part) Have an amazing trip!

  12. A beautiful overview of rome is shown on your website , a heart touching destination with all tips , i think rome can be the new home for few days.
    thank you

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