The Colosseum, completed in 80 AD under Roman emperor Titus, is one of the most recognizable historical sites in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, millions of people from around the world visit each year and you can be one of them: The Colosseum is wheelchair accessible!
A Bucket List Trip to Rome and the Colosseum
This article is meant to be a guide to wheelchair accessibility at the Colosseum. You’ll find plenty of information and photos on that below, but I’d first like to share a bit about my special connection to this site, and the personal significance of my recent trip to Rome.
Ten years ago, I visited the Eternal City and the Colosseum with a group of friends — at the time, I was a young, nondisabled guy who had just graduated with a master’s degree in history. Life was easy and carefree! I of course had no idea that a life-changing car accident was on the horizon, and that it would be my last international trip before I became a wheelchair user.
In the days, weeks and months after that car accident, stuck in a hospital bed, I was told that repeating such a trip would not be possible. My disability was too significant and I would forever be attached to a wheelchair. Life as I had once known it was over. It was a dark message devoid of hope and, for a time, I believed it. I had no idea what I would be capable of and I had not dared to dream that the world might be accessible to disabled people.
Obviously, I did come around to dreaming — and believing — and this website is proof positive of the opportunity that exists for disabled travelers to see and experience the world. The realization of that possibility hit me in a special way in Rome last month and especially at the Colosseum… a place I once thought I would never see again. So dream big. Visit the Eternal City. And use this guide to experience the Colosseum in all its ancient glory.
The Colosseum: History & Background
The Colosseum is nearly 2,000 years old — Construction started in 72 AD under Emperor Vespasian and was completed just 8 years later. Vespasian and his successors were part of the Flavian Dynasty, and for many centuries scholars referred to the Colosseum as the “Flavian Ampitheatre.” It was the largest ancient ampitheatre ever built and held up to 80,000 spectators at its height. Although most recognize it as the domain of gladiators, the Colosseum also hosted dramatic performances and battle reenactments.
In the 5th century, gladiator fights were banned and the Colosseum’s use as an entertainment venue began to wane. The structure was repurposed multiple times, housing workshops, a religious order and a Christian chapel with stations of the cross — at one point, it was even fortified and used as a castle.
A major earthquake in 1349 caused the structure’s southern side to collapse. Stone, metal and other components were stolen over the following centuries and, despite multiple restoration and preservation attempts, the Colosseum was never reconstructed. It is now considered to be an ancient ruin, but significant work has been done to make the site accessible to tourists and disabled visitors.
Wheelchair Access at the Colosseum
The Colosseum has four levels: Level 1 or the ground level, through which entrance to the Colosseum is possible; Level 2, the mid-tier level; Level 3, the upper tier; and the underground excavations level.
Colosseum Level 1 – The Ground Level
The wheelchair accessible entrance to the Colosseum places visitors at the center of the ground level, referred to as Level 1. After passing through the security checkpoint, wheelchair users can choose from a variety of routes — there are a number of ways to tackle the tour, but regardless of the path you take, make sure to explore both the left and right sides of the ground level.
An elevator up to Level 2 is located to the left, at the end of a long corridor just inside the Colosseum’s exterior. Just beyond the elevator (still on the ground floor) is a short path that leads outside, revealing a monumental archway that is an entrance to the main arena.
Erected above the archway, on the exterior of the Colosseum, is a large plaque with a Christian cross and a Latin inscription, translated here in English:
The Flavian Amphitheatre, distinguished by triumphs and spectacles, dedicated to the gods of the heathen in unholy reverence, purified of unclean superstition by the blood of martyrs. In the year of the Jubilee of 1750, tenth of his pontificate, lest memory of their courage should lapse, Benedict the Fourteenth, Pontifex Maximus, undertook to have rendered in marble the memorial painted on the whitewashed wall in the year of the Jubilee of 1675 by Clement the Tenth, Pontifex Maximus, and effaced under the assault of time.
This plaque reminds us of two events in the Colosseum’s more recent history. In 1675, Pope Clement X installed a cross in the arena and declared it a sacred site in memory of Christians who had allegedly been martyred there. In 1750, Pope Benedict XIV installed 14 Stations of the Cross inside the Colosseum and further dedicated it to the martyrs.
Passing through the archway, visitors will emerge into the heart of the arena. It is the area where the action happened — the field of play, if you will. Due to excavations of the Colosseum’s subterranean rooms and corridors, much of the wooden and earthen platform covering the underground area no longer exists. From what remains of this ground level, visitors can peer down into the excavated areas.
Directional signs posted throughout the Colosseum identify the accessible route, as well as the location of bathroom facilities. Pictured above is an accessible bathroom with a toilet, grab bars and roll-under sink that is located on level 1. Note the absence of a toilet seat — something you’ll find is common in the City of Rome.
Colosseum Level 2 — The Middle Tier
Level 2 is the highest level that wheelchair users currently have access to. On this level, visitors can circle the entirety of the Colosseum.
After exiting the elevator on Level 2, you will encounter the start of a sizable museum-quality exhibition. Displays share information about the history of Rome and the Colosseum, presenting artifacts to add context to the story. Visitors should plan to spend 60 to 90 minutes consuming the exhibition.
The pathways encircling the arena are made of stone and cement and, though uneven and broken in some areas, are passable for both manual and power wheelchair users.
Level 2 is the perfect place to take an iconic selfie that captures the beauty and enormity of the Colosseum. From here, one can appreciate the arena’s true size, admire the architecture, and take a bird’s eye view of the ground floor and excavations. It’s incredible!
A number of viewing platforms and portals located on Level 2 allow visitors to view some of the surrounding monuments and ancient sites, including the triumphal Arch of Constantine and Palatine Hill.
As you make your way around the Colosseum on level 2, you will see the arena from multiple perspectives, admiring the intricate stonework that has endured for nearly two millennia. Visitors can return to the ground floor using the same elevator.
Colosseum Level 3 — The Uppermost Tier
Level 3 is not currently accessible, however there are plans to make it so in the future. The Colosseum’s website states that “connected to the higher levels will be completed in 2019 thanks to financing from fundraising activities,” however that work has not yet been completed.
Colosseum Underground Excavations
Much of what we now see in the center of the Colosseum’s arena was meant to be hidden from the public — referred to as the hypogeum, this network of rooms, tunnels and cages was where gladiators, animals and props were stored.
At the time of my visit, I was under the impression that there was no wheelchair access to the hypogeum. That is fortunately not the case — wheelchair access to the excavations is possible via a freight elevator, located next to the arched entrance to the ground floor arena. The elevator is identified in the below photograph.
It is unclear whether disabled visitors require a special ticket or a reservation to visit this underground excavations. I am attempting to track down an answer, and will update this article once I have found an verified the information.
Colosseum Disabled Tickets — How to score free express admission
Disabled visitors to the Colosseum are admitted free of charge, along with one companion. Additional visitors in your party will be subject to the standard admission rates — Tickets can be purchased on site. No reservation or advance notice is required and disabled people are directed to the front of the line.
Visitors are subject to a security check, but I was waved through in my wheelchair. If you are visiting with a bag or purse, you should expect additional scrutiny — all bags are searched.
The Colosseum is open to the public every day of the year, with the exception of Christmas Day, December 25th. Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with the last admission being one hour before closing.
Wheelchair Accessible Transportation to the Colosseum
Although there is a metro station directly across the street from the Colosseum, it does not offer disabled access.
City buses are wheelchair accessible, however, and the following lines provide service directly to the Colosseum: 51, 75, 85, 87, 117 and 118. Bus route 75 provides regular service in both directions between Rome’s central train station, Termini, and the Colosseum.
My hotel was steps away from Termini Station, and I elected to roll in my wheelchair — although I had to enter the street a couple of times due to a missing curb ramp and a narrow sidewalk, I managed the journey in my power wheelchair. Termini station is just over a mile from the Colosseum.
Visiting the Colosseum is a bucket list item, without a doubt. When I visited as a nondisabled person 10 years ago, I hadn’t taken note of its accessibility, but was thrilled to find much of this World Heritage Site open to me as a wheelchair user. The continued investments being made in the accessibility of this wonder of the world are welcome, and I’m sure you will enjoy visiting this incredible place. It’s truly something to behold!
I leave you with this quote from Saint Bede (672/673-735), an English monk and “The Father of English History,” which perfectly describes the Colosseum’s place in our collective consciousness:
“As long as the Colosseum shall stand, Rome too
shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome too
shall fall; when Rome falls, the world shall fall
as well.” Saint Bede the Venerable