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Why is the Colosseum “broken”?

Why is the Colosseum broken and partly destroyed?

why is the Colosseum broken
Why is the Colosseum “broken” with that diagonal cut?

A question you always ask me during our Interactive Virtual Tours is: why is the Colosseum “broken”?

In fact, what we see today is only one third of the original Colosseum! 😱

Also read: What is the Colosseum? Tickets and seating rules of the Colosseum in Ancient Rome

The rest has gone lost forever, and this is due to four different reasons:

  • abandonment
  • earthquakes
  • barbarians
  • the Romans themselves – which caused more damages than the three reasons above!

When I say the Romans, I refer especially to the Popes and the most prominent families in Rome. In fact, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, the Colosseum fell in a state of abandonment. This is when they used the ruins of Ancient Rome as a real quarry of precious marbles and metal.

In this article I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions I get during our Live Virtual Tours of Rome about the Colosseum.

Did you know we do interactive virtual tours of the Colosseum for team building events? It’s a great way to have fun and learn something to remember with your colleagues 🙂 Book a free 15-min demo here

A little bit of context to why the Colosseum is “broken”

You need to imagine that when the Roman empire fell (around the year 475), Rome became an abandoned and dangerous place to be in. There was no emperor anymore, hence there was a lack of leadership over the territory.

Consequently, the richest families of Rome started to make war on each other trying to get control over that territory. Rome became quite dangerous for the rest of the inhabitants, so people started to flee the city.

Imagine: from over 1 million inhabitants in the 2nd century AD, after the fall of the empire, Rome’s population went down to 30000 inhabitants! The city basically almost disappeared!

Rome was in a disastrous situation. Artists, artisans and other professionals that used to converge into the Eternal city, at this time they escaped the city. 

What was the point for them to stay, if there was no emperor, court or glorious legacies to work for anymore?

Photo by Michele Bitetto on Unsplash

The turning point for Rome

This disastrous situation lasted until at some point someone took the leadership of the situation. That someone was the Pope.

I am making the long story very short here. In a very gradual process the Popes took control over the situation. Until they basically started ruling as “emperors”, from the Middle Ages until the end of the 1800s, when Italy became a nation.

The Popes (some of them more than others) raised the city of Rome from its ashes, making it the beautiful city that we know today!

In fact the Popes built many of the roads that we walk through today, they built beautiful squares, fountains, churches. Basically most of the wonders that we go and visit today, if you exclude the Ancient Roman ruins.

However the Popes shaped the way the city looks like today also in bad. Because to build all of those beautiful things, they took advantage of a lot of ancient Roman ruins and reused their material.

And to mention one of the most iconic examples, and the subject of this article, the Colosseum was one of them.

What is actually missing from the Colosseum structure today?

The travertine stone

First of all, only one third of the Colosseum is still surviving today. Only one third! No wonder why the Colosseum looks so broken!

The Romans built the Colosseum with concrete and travertine stone, a terrestrial limestone, local to the center of Italy. If you wonder around Rome, you will notice that travertine stone is literally everywhere.

The travertine stone blocks were removed from the Colosseum and reutilized to build churches’ facades and private buildings. For example we know that the travertine stone of the Colosseum ended up in the facade of the church of Sant’Agostino (near the Pantheon) or in Palazzo Barberini (near piazza Barberini).

But there is something else that they stripped off the Colosseum.

The metal

Didn’t you notice all of those holes, both inside and outside the Colosseum?

Many of you during our Live Virtual Tours think of bombings that caused those holes. But that is not the case. 

First of all, you need to imagine that when the Romans built buildings through blocks of stone, they used metal rods to keep the blocks together. 

Basically they would make a hole in the top block, a hole in the bottom block, and then they would pour metal in it. So that a metal rod would keep the blocks together.

In the Middle Ages Rome became a very poor city. Metal was a precious material and there were no factories or artisans producing it. 

Therefore the metal was taken away from the Colosseum structure, as well as from other Ancient Roman buildings. Holes were made in correspondence of the junction lines between the blocks of travertine stone, to remove the metal. The metal was reused for other scopes (church bells, weapons, gates, doors, etc.).

That is mainly why the Colosseum is so full of holes and broken today. And not only the Colosseum, this was happening also to other ancient Roman buildings. To mention an example, look at the Temple of Hadrian in Piazza di Pietra, in the historical center of Rome.

why is the colosseum broken
The holes are the result of the removal of the metal rods keeping the blocks together

If there is so much material missing from the Colosseum’s structure, is it safe today to walk in it?

Absolutely! First of all, the Colosseum is constantly monitored for maintenance and it is reinforced with modern methods.

Also, you need to imagine that the Colosseum structure today has to support a much lighter weight than it used to originally.

There used to be up to 70000 people all at once, for a whole day, when the shows were taking place.

Today the number of visitors in a day are around 20000 people (pre-pandemic numbers). And they spread out throughout the day.

Plus, the structure itself is so much lighter, considering that two thirds of the original colosseum is missing. Therefore, even if the Colosseum looks “broken” it is totally safe to walk in it.

colosseum live virtual tour
Take a Live Virtual Tour INSIDE the Colosseum with us!

If you wish to discover more about the Colosseum, take an immersive and interactive Live Virtual Tour with us!

We take you INSIDE an EMPTY Colosseum and share with you the most precious views while no visitors are there. It will be only us, you and the Colosseum! 😉 A view you won’t get even if you go there in person 😉

When in Rome, explore the underground of the Colosseum with a VIP night tour!

And for when you’re in Rome, have a look at these in-person tours of the Colosseum:

🔸VIP Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill 

🔸VIP Colosseum At Night Tour With Underground & Arena Floor  

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Written by Federica

Creative director of Live Virtual Guide. Her favorite things are gelato, pizza and the hidden gems of Rome.
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