The Colosseum is possibly the most historic icon in Rome. Obviously an extremely touristy destination, it remains a must-see for any visitor. It's the largest amphitheater in the world, and historians estimate that it could seat up to 80,000 spectators in its heyday.
An admission ticket to the Colosseum includes admission to the adjacent Palatine Hill and Roman Forum, the vast expanse of ruins which once was the center of public life during the Roman Empire. The normal ticket is 12 euros, though there is free admission on the first Sunday of every month.
We luckily happened to be in Rome for the first Sunday of March, so we planned our visit on this free admission day. We entered from a side gate in order to explore Palatine Hill first.
The whole area is what one would consider an open-air museum. Palatine Hill overlooks the Roman Forum, and this hill is where Rome originated. The ruins of the ancient residences of affluent citizens are located here.
Palatine Hill overlooks the densely layered Roman Forum. This was the center of market activity and civic life in ancient Rome. There isn't too much in the way of signage or information plaques, so I felt like I did not get a full understanding of the meaning of this site, besides the names and dates of some ruins. If you aren't too familiar with the history, it may be beneficial to take a guided tour or an audio guide.
However, it would have taken a lot of time to examine and admire each of the individual ruins, potentially an entire day, and we had to rush to the Colosseum before it closed at 5PM. Because it was a free day, there were long lines from both sides of the entrance. The line moved quickly because people did not have to buy tickets, but we were worried because it was nearing 4PM, when the guards would stop allowing people entrance.
We were in luck again, and were one of the last few people admitted before the line was cut off to the disappointment of the long line of tourists behind.
On the upper levels, behind the main amphitheater, is a small museum with displays, artifacts, and information. I breezed through that part to arrive at the inside. It surprisingly seemed a little small to me, but then I had to remind myself that it was built in the year 80 AD, long before the engineering and architectural innovations that allow us to build high-rise buildings and giant sports stadiums.
The Colosseum was used as a stage for public entertainment for the citizens of Rome. These spectacles were often violent and took the forms of animal hunts and gladiator fights, as well as executions of prisoners. The stage is removed so we could peer beneath, seeing the tunnels and contraptions that used to store wild animals (rhinos, hippos, lions, etc) and gladiators before their public appearance.
Soon enough, at around 4:45PM, an announcement proclaimed that the site was closing down for the night and asked us to proceed to the doors. We did a final look around, and I tried to imagine the bloody, savage fights and rowdy crowds that used to fill the stadium two millennia ago, but it was almost impossible. In its closing hour, with the vestiges of sunlight and the fading last voices of tourists, the Colosseum seemed quite peaceful.