The most striking thing about the Colosseum is not how grand it once was, but how grand it still is. Started in AD 72 during the Flavian dynasty, it looms large over the Forum after centuries of natural disasters, civil upheaval and looting (its marble facades were carted off to decorate buildings all over Rome). This most famous fight venue probably held up to 80,000 blood-thirsty spectators, who came to see gladiators, animal hunts, war re-enactments and elaborately staged executions. There is evidence it could even be filled with water for mock naval battles. Trivia alert: these aquatic dramas are called naumachia and the first on record was hosted by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. The high seas, and even the ships, may have been fake, but the combat deaths were not – naumachie were seen as a great way to get rid of death-row prisoners.
The Colosseum is a quick walk from both Casa di Lina and Casa di Luisa. When visiting, we suggest skipping long ticket lines at the amphitheater itself by heading to a nearby ticket kiosk for the Palatine Hill (in the shadow of the Colosseum by the Arch of Constantine or down a little farther on Via di San Gregorio). A ticket there will get you into both of those venues, plus the Forum. We definitely recommend the Palatine Hill for a pleasant walk through the rubble of ancient Rome…and beautiful views of the city around it.
There is a ton of history between these three sights and not much written information as you walk along. It’s never a bad choice to book a tour in advance online (which will also get you past long lines), or at least download an audio guide to your smartphone before you leave home. Rick Steves offers some great free downloads.
When you’re done with the historical portion of the day, stroll down the wide (and mostly traffic-free) Via dei Fori Imperiali. In the evening especially, it’s a great place to gaze out at ancient monuments and listen to talented buskers. It will lead you from the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia, home to the imposing Vittorio Emmanuelle II monument and Palazzo Venezia, where Mussolini used the tiny balcony to deliver speeches to crowds below.