Looking for another unique way to visit the Colosseum—and its underground? How about at night?
Not for the first time, but now nightly until October 5, Rome is opening up the Colosseum to nighttime visitors. Talk about a more tranquil, and spookier, way to visit Rome's bloodiest and most depressing most famous archaeological site.
The catch: because the visit includes the underground, it has to be on a tour led by a Colosseum official, which has its pluses and minuses.* Available times are at 8:20pm, 8:30pm, 8:40pm, 8:50pm, 9:20pm, 9:30pm, 9:45pm, 10pm, 10:15pm, 1o:30pm, and 10:45pm. Booking is required; reserve your spot by calling +39 0639967700. The cost is €20, including your Colosseum ticket.
*Pluses: You'll almost certainly get more information on a tour with an official guide than, say, from a guidebook. Minuses: The official guides do this tour over and over and over, meaning the million-and-first time they give the tour—in other words, when you happen to be on it—they often have very little enthusiasm for the subject left. Also, their English can be middling to poor.
Let’s make one thing clear: Since late October, the Colosseum underground has remained closed. There has not been any announcement about when, or if, it will reopen this winter. [Update, April 5 2012: Colosseum officials just announced that the underground will reopen this Saturday, April 7].
But if, having done some research online, you’re confused about if that’s actually the case, I don’t blame you. Here’s why: You can still “buy” the underground tour online.
Different tour companies offer tours of the Colosseum underground. The first, Walks of Italy—which I freelance for—immediately stopped selling its VIP Colosseum tour, which included the underground as well as the third tier, Forum and Palatine, as soon as the Colosseum’s underground closed. In other words, you can no longer book the Colosseum underground tour on their site.
Confusingly, however, Dark Rome is still selling the Colosseum underground tour—and in their tour description, there isn’t any mention of the fact that the underground is currently closed (and has been for weeks). (Like Walks of Italy, their tour also includes the Palatine, Forum and the rest of the Colosseum). Even when I clicked all the way through to the checkout to buy the tour, there was no mention that the underground is closed.
To be fair, the underground could reopen, even in the next few days… maybe. But continuing to sell the tour as if it’s exactly the same, for €89, without a single mention that the underground is currently closed and no plans have been announced for its opening? Hmm.
To make sure I understood correctly, I emailed Dark Rome to ask if it was possible to book the tour to see the Colosseum underground for this coming week. The reservations agent replied quickly, telling me that yes, the tour was still running, although due to flooding, the underground would be closed.
I asked if the price of the tour was the same.”If you book this tour, we will refund 12% of the price of the tour after you have taken the tour. This is because we are unsure when the Underground will open,” she responded. But in a following email, she added, “This refund is only due if you take the tour and the Underground is closed. If the Underground is open you will not be entitled to a refund.”
So. Book now, and if—big surprise!—the underground is closed, something you’d have no idea of from their description, you get just 12% of your €89 back. Or about €10. After you take the tour.
You also can “buy” the underground Colosseum tour with Viator (which—can we finally clarify this?—is NOT a tour company, but a tour consolidator, one that sells lots of other companies’ offerings. In fact, I am 99% sure that this tour is the same one as Dark Rome’s). This description, too, makes it sound as if the underground tour is just fine and dandy. Even worse, the most recent comments that show up don’t mention that the underground is closed (at least they do on Dark Rome’s site). It’s sold as an “upgrade,” costing you, once again, €89.
At least, however, they have this paragraph: “Please be aware that it’s possible the dungeons may not be able to be visited. Recent flash flooding in Rome meant that the underground areas of the Colosseum were closed and as yet there is no firm news on when they’ll reopen—we expected it to be days, not weeks, and the authorities will give us no hard information. It’s usually the case that when something changes we’ll be given just a few hours notice and with this in mind we are still taking bookings for these tours, given that the upper levels are open and the dungeons may be open. We do not offer refunds if the underground areas are closed (for security reasons or due to flooding after heavy rain). Your guide will, nonetheless, give a full explanation and history of the subterranean zones.”
So… be aware. Even if you can “buy” this tour online, that doesn’t mean that Dark Rome, Tickitaly or anyone else has a secret access pass to get you into the flooded areas.
Underground-seekers, take heed. It’s tough to trust marketing these days.
Addendum: I thought long and hard about writing this, especially with the choice to include the names of the agencies in question. However, for purposes of transparency and delivering the most useful information to my readers possible, I’ve made it a policy on my blog to always include names of the places I’m writing about, including both places I love… and those that I think treat tourists unfairly. I don’t think vagueness serves anyone, least of all travelers trying to get a handle on a foreign city.
Finally, I’ve been following the Colosseum underground from the moment it opened. I have, for better or worse, helped create the buzz around it that there is. So I feel a little responsible for the marketing hoo-ha that’s ensued—and also feel that it’s my responsibility to expose when that marketing isn’t 100% honest. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.
The Colosseum has just announced—already!—that it’s keeping the underground and third tier open through December.
That’s particularly surprising news (in a good way), since some of us, myself included, thought they’d close the underground over the winter, as they did last year. Or close the areas temporarily while they started restoration work. But no… which is good news for all of those excited to see the hypogeum and third level!
From Oct. 30-Dec. 31, English tours will run at 9:40am, 12:40pm, 1pm, and 2:20pm. If you go with a tour with an official Colosseum guide (a 2-hour tour that includes only the Colosseum, with the underground and third level), the price is €21.50, including the €1.50 booking fee. The maximum group size for each tour is 25 people. Call +39 06 39967700 to book; here’s a Q&A on how to book with the Colosseum and what the underground tour includes.
After weeks of wondering whether the Colosseum underground and third level would be open in October, good news: They are. Colosseum management Pierreci just confirmed the hypogeum and third tier opening through the month.
Hot off the press: The Colosseum’s underground and third levels will be open… through September!
After that, though, there’s not only no confirmation that those newly-restored areas will be open — but it seems likely they might close, at least temporarily. That’s because September is when Rome plans to start a $35 million restoration (paid for by the Tod’s shoe company!), and with work going on, who knows what will be open.
Then again, it’s Italy, so who knows if the restoration will really begin in September, either.
First, Colosseum has confirmed that it’ll be running tours of those newly-opened areas through July, rather than ending in June, as previously announced.* And, although it’s not confirmed, rumor has it that the hypogeum and third levels will proooobably also be open through October.
Second, before, the Colosseum only was allowing access to the hypogeum and third level via its own tours, given by official Colosseum guides. (Even tour agencies selling the Colosseum underground hand their clients over to official Colosseum guides for the underground part of the tour). But that’s changed. Now, one agency, Walks of Italy, is using its own guides for the hypogeum and third level on the VIP Colosseum underground tour. And, although I’m obviously a bit biased (full disclosure: I used to work for these guys), I think this is an alternative to consider.
Why? Well, even though the official Colosseum guides know their stuff, they can also be a bit, erm, dry. (Your spiel would start to sound dull, too, if you’d been repeating it five times a day for the past 10 years). And not all of them speak that great of English.
So, from what I can see, there are now three main ways to get into the Colosseum’s underground.
Here they are:
Colosseum tour only, with a Colosseum guide. I outlined how to book this tour in an earlier post about booking the Colosseum’s underground. The cheapest way is to book by phone, at least if you have Skype’s Skype-to-phone set up or a great long-distance plan. Otherwise, you can book by using a website like Omniticket, but these sites charge a premium for the convenience. (And all they’re selling you is the official Colosseum tour that you’d get by calling Pierreci).
The facts: Costs €21.50 (if you book directly over the phone). Takes about 1 hour. Only covers the Colosseum and its underground. You use an official Colosseum guide (not always a good thing). Maximum group size is 25.
The complete ancient city tour, but where you’re handed over to a Colosseum guide. This option would be Dark Rome’s Colosseum underground, forum and Palatine tour. They’re one of the only agencies I can see that offers access to the underground as part of a bigger ancient city tour (i.e., not just the Colosseum), but they don’t do the Colosseum underground part with their own guides.
The facts: Costs €92. Takes 3.5 hours. Includes the Colosseum and its underground, along with forum and Palatine. For the Colosseum part of the tour, you’re handed over to an official Colosseum guide; for the rest of it, you use a Dark Rome guide. Maximum group size is 10; for the Colosseum part, it’s 25 (since you’re put onto the bigger group).
The facts: Costs €79. Takes 3 hours 15 minutes. Includes the Colosseum and its underground, along with the forum and Palatine. For the Colosseum part of the tour, you get to keep your own Walks of Italy guide. Maximum group size is 12, throughout the whole tour (since you get to keep your guide).
The woman at Pierreci said that they aren't accepting reservations for today or tomorrow, so if you're looking to check the newly-restored areas — closed again since Nov. 30 — out over the weekend, go directly there.
But from Monday, you can make reservations for the tour that takes you into the hypogeum — the underground, "backstage" area where gladiators and animals would have waited for their turns to fight — and up to the third level, as well as onto the arena.
As in the fall, you can't see these areas without a guided tour. Unlike in the fall, Pierreci says that when you book, you also have to pay by credit card in advance. Pierreci told me that the cost is €9 for the guided tour, plus the €12 entrance ticket, and they said there is no reservation fee.
English tours are offered daily at 9:40am, 12:20pm, 1pm, 3pm, and 4:20pm. To book, call +39 0639967700. (They should speak English).
As anyone who's been to Italy knows, things are always changing here — or one department might say one thing, but another might say something else. So if anyone has a different experience with this, please let us know in the comments.
Lots of people are still asking (and Googling) about the underground level of the Colosseum, which I blogged about when it first opened back in October (including this Q&A on how to book, and this story on what it's really like).
Here's the bad news: As they said when they first opened the hypogeum, third level, and Porta Libitina, the tours ended on Nov. 30.
Here's the good news: I'm still fairly certain that there's no way they could have undertaken a €1 million restoration to those areas without planning on opening them ever again.
So if you're planning a spring or summer 2011 trip to Rome, hang tight. As anyone who's been to Italy once knows, that a reopening date hasn't been announced yet has absolutely no bearing on whether it will happen. And my guess is that, once the tourist season kicks back up, it will.
Want more tips for the very best of what to do and see in Rome? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!
Update, July 2011: It's been confirmed that the Colosseum's underground is now open through September… but possibly no later! Click the link for info on the three major (and only) ways to get to the Colosseum underground. (The post below gives you info on how to book by taking a tour with the Colosseum directly — but that's not necessarily, or always, the best way).
Update, March 2011: The Colosseum's underground has reopened! Some things, including the exact price and the ability to pay in cash on the day of, have changed. Click the link for more info.
Why is this special? It's the first time since antiquity that the hypogeum and third levels have been officially, safely open to the public. (Actually, even better than that, since even in antiquity the hypogeum would not have been open to the public). And it's the first time the arena has been open to the public during the daytime.
Do I have to book in advance to see the hypogeum and third levels? Yes, you must book in advance.
But why? Because the areas are archaeologically sensitive, they don't want the Colosseum's 19,000 or so daily visitors clambering around on their own. Instead, the Colosseum's official guides are taking groups to those areas, with a maximum of 25 people per group.
How do I book? The best (and, I think, so far only) way to book is to call Rome's cultural association, Pierreci, directly. Their phone number is +39 06 39967700. Websites might start cropping up soon, if they haven't already, offering to sell you these tickets online; they'll charge you a surcharge for this, so just call Pierreci instead.
Do they speak English? Yes, they should. If you can't follow the rapid-fire Italian for your options through the automated system, press 0 the first time you're asked a question, 3 the second time. (Assuming, of course, you're an individual booking for a group tour). That should bring you to an operator. Once you speak to someone, if you just ask, "Parla inglese?", you should be able to communicate with them in English fine. They are, after all, offering English guided tours!
But I don't want to make an international call. That's expensive. Download Skype (www.skype.com). It's a free voice-over-internet program and takes thirty seconds to download. It's intuitive, it's easy, and you can call phones internationally for much less than what most phone cards would cost you. Plus, calling Skype to Skype is free.
How much is it? It costs €12 (the normal entrance price, which includes your entrance to the Forum and Palatine), plus €8 for the guided tour, plus a €1.50 reservation fee. You do not pay in advance.
What times are the tours? I don't know, and I'm not sure there's a regular schedule. But it seems like lots of tours in both Italian and English (perhaps other languages, too) are being given. The operator will give you a list of times that you can choose.
Should I book now, or wait till I get to Rome and have more of an idea of my schedule? Book now. Seriously, everyone and their mother will want to do this. You need to get a slot as soon as possible.
How long are they doing this for? So far, till November 30. But I can't imagine they won't continue it after that.
So I have my reservation number, and I'm in Rome. Now what? When you go to the Colosseum, you'll see a long line on your right. Don't stand in it–that's for people without reservations. You also might see a long line on your left. Don't stand in that one, either, which is for big group tours. Instead, go down the middle. When a guard asks you for your ticket, say you have a reservation. He'll let you through to the ticket windows at the end. Get in the line for reservations ("prenotazioni"), which should be very, very short. At the window, present your reservation code. You're then given your ticket, plus a little sticker saying you're one of the chosen few for the tour. The meeting point is currently in front of the elevator, but that may change (like everything does!), so make sure to ask.
What if I have a RomaPass? If you tell the person at the reservation window that you already have a ticket to the Colosseum, you can pay just the reservation and tour fee and use your pass.
Can I use my ticket for something else? Yes. It's a normal, combined Colosseum ticket, so you can use it for entrance to the Forum and Palatine for the rest of the day and the following day (the deadline will be printed on your ticket).
What does the tour cover? The tour includes the hypogeum (subterranean area), arena, Porta Libitina, and third level.
How long is the tour? This morning, it took us an hour and a half to get through it all. I don't know if that's how long they'll all be.
Can I sightsee more around the Colosseum after the tour? The tour ends inside, so yes.
Is it worth it? Yes. It's incredible. And this is absolutely how the Colosseum is meant to be seen. Once you see the Colosseum from its almost-top, and peer up at the seating from where gladiators and animals would have waited for their turn, and walk through the gate where gladiators' dead bodies were taken out, you'll feel badly for those who "only" got to see the Colosseum's first and second levels.
Whew! I hope that covers everything, but let me know if I left anything out!
A guard allowing us up to the third level of the Colosseum.
Back in May, the ministry of cultural heritage said it would open the subterranean level of the Colosseum — the section below the arena where gladiators and animals would have waited for their turn to fight — by the end of the summer.
The hypogeum, as the underground area is called, has never been open to the public before. A series of two-level passageways and rooms beneath the area, it would have been dark, dank, and filled with terrified animals and (perhaps also terrified) gladiators. If walking through where bloodthirsty spectators would have sat doesn't give you chills, exploring these underground chambers certainly should.
The restoration of the hypogeum is part of a much bigger plan for the Colosseum, which the ministry plans to restore by 2013. That is, if they can find private sponsors for the $33 million renovation. Hey, you get advertising space on one of the world's most iconic monuments in return. Anyone? Anyone?