While the city of Rome is the top place to see Roman ruins, they can be found in most parts of Italy. In fact, it's difficult to visit Italy and not stumble across Roman ruins and artifacts! Amphitheaters, large, ring-shaped arenas used for spectator sports, including gladiator and wild animal fights, were once central to every major city in the Roman Empire. Many remain today, either in ruins or in relatively pristine condition, both in Rome and throughout Italy. Some are still used for concerts and plays, and sometimes mock gladiatorial battles.
Here are some of the top Roman arenas to visit in Italy.
Rome's Colosseum is one of the most visited sites in Italy and the largest Roman arena in the world. Built by Emperor Vespasian between 70 and 82 AD, it could hold up to 55,000 people and was most commonly used for gladiator and wild animal fights. Ticket lines can be very long so be sure to buy a ticket or pass in advance. Also in Rome, you can see remains of the Castrense Amphitheater, now part of the Aurelian walls.
Verona's Roman Arena is the third largest in Italy, once holding up to 25,000 spectators, and today it's the world's largest opera theater with seating for 14,000. Since 1913 the arena has been the venue for prestigious open-air opera performances and is also used for plays and concerts. You can see the schedule on Verona Arena. The Arena sits at one end of Verona's historic center, famous for being the city of Romeo and Juliet with many interesting things to see.
Some historians believe that the amphitheater at Pompeii, dating from 70BC, was the first arena built by the Romans. At least 20,000 spectators could fit in the amphitheater, about the total population of Pompeii in those days. Pompeii is probably Italy's most famous archaeological site and one of the most visited places in Italy. Once a thriving Roman city, it was buried by a volcanic eruption in 79AD. Pompeii is situated between Naples and the Amalfi Coast.
The Roman amphitheater near Capua is the world's second largest, originally 170 meters across the biggest axis and 46 meters tall with four levels. It is believed to have been built in the 1st century BC, which would make it the oldest known Roman arena, however, some historians believe it was built a later. Inside the amphitheater, visitors can see the subterranean passages. Near the site are Roman baths and tombs. During Roman days, Capua was famous for its gladiator school and next to the amphitheater is the Gladiator Museum. Capua is about 40 kilometers north of Naples, along the Via Appia, the major ancient Roman road.
Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli
The amphitheater in Pozzuoli is the third largest of Italy's Roman arenas, once holding more than 20,000 spectators. It was partly buried from a volcanic eruption. Although not much remains of the seating area, the underground areas are well preserved, including cages where animals were kept and the mechanisms for hoisting the animals into the arena. Pozzouli is about 20 kilometers west of Naples. Visitors can also see other archeological sites in the area and the Solfatara volcanic crater in the Phlegrean Fields.
The ancient Roman port of Ostia Antica can easily be visited as a day trip from Rome. Visitors can wander around the old streets, shops, and houses of this huge complex. The amphitheater, built in 12BC, has a small stage and once held about 3500 spectators.
Alba Fucens, Abruzzo
The Roman site of Alba Fucens is in a picturesque setting halfway between Rome and the Adriatic Sea in central Italy's Abruzzo region. Mountains rise in the distance behind the amphitheater and the site is rarely crowded, making for a pleasant visit. Visitors can explore the arena's underground tunnels or sit on one of the stone seats and enjoy the scenery.
The archeological park of Fiesole has a 1st century BC amphitheater that is used for outdoor performances and concerts in summer. The archeological area includes Roman, Longobard, and Etruscan ruins. Fiesole sits in the hills above Florence and can be reached by bus from the city.
Roman Amphitheater of Syracuse, Sicily
The Sicilian city of Syracuse has both a Roman amphitheater and a Greek theater as well as archeological sites from both civilizations. There is a square hole in the center of the arena, who some say was used to hold crocodiles who fed on the corpses although it may have been for the machinery used to lift animals into the arena.
Piazza dell' Anfiteatro, Lucca
While Lucca's amphitheater itself no longer exists, you can still see its original form from the center of Piazza dell' Anfiteatro, or Amphitheater Square, built on the site of the Roman amphitheater. Buildings were built around the arena in the middle ages but traces of the Roman building can still be seen in the walls and the "square" retains the oval shape. The amphitheater Piazza is one of the top sights in Lucca, a popular walled city in Tuscany.