Having stood the test of time for nearly 2000 years, Rome’s Colloseum is the most spectacular of the city’s ancient sites.
Eliptical in shape, it was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre and was commissioned around AD 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people.
However, before its completion, Vespasian died, and it was his eldest son, Titus, who officially opened the Colosseum in AD 80 with 100 days of festivities, including gladiatorial combat and public feasts to mark the inauguration. It was eventually completed in the reign of his other son, Domitian.
At the time, it was the largest structure in Rome. It measures 189 metres in length by 156 metres wide. The height of the outer wall is 48 metres, while the perimeter originally measured 545 metres.
Walking around this amphitheatre of death, where slaves and gladiators fought for their very lives against all odds, it is easy to imagine the brutality of what once went on here.
The different events included battles between gladiators, also known as the munera, and hunts for wild animals.
Gladitorial combat took the form of a duel between two fighters, generally until the death of one or the other. Venationes in ancient Rome involved condemned criminals fighting wild animals for the entertainment of the baying crowd or animals pitted against each other.
They were immensely popular and included lions, bears, bulls, panthers wild goats and dogs. Thousands of animals could be slaughtered in a day and over 9,000 were killed in the inauguration of the Colosseum. Popularised in the film Gladiator, representations of venationes can be seen on coins, mosaics, and tombs of the period.
The central arena is an oval measuring 76 by 44 metres, surrounded by a wall 5 metres high.
The public found their way to the auditorium through the 76 entrance gate arches, while the Emperor and the upper classes used the four special un-numbered gates, known as the Grand Entrances.
The five sections of the auditorium, from bottom to top, would have accommodated around 50,000 spectators who were seated according to their gender and social status. On the lower levels were the more prominent citizens and nobility; while on the upper levels were the lower classes and women.
The first tier was known as the podium. Providing the best views of the arena, the seats here were reserved for the higher echelons of Roman society, including the emperor and royal family, nobles, senators, visiting dignitaries and religious figures.
The emperor took up position located on the podium at the centre of the narrower side of the arena on the north side. Today there is a cross where the emperors would have sat.
The floor of the arena was made with wooden planks and covered with yellow sand, sometimes dyed red to hide the blood during the shows.
Little remains of the original arena floor now. Underneath the Colosseum is the hypogeum, a labyrinth of underground passages. It consisted of two-level subterranean network of tunnels and 32 animal pens, providing instant access to the arena for animals and gladiators.
The Colosseum remained in service for 450 years and now all that is left is the skeleton. Nearly two-thirds of the original building has been destroyed by fires, earthquakes or theft. The southern side fell during an earthquake in 847, while material from it has also been used in monuments such as St. Peter’s Basilica.
As a result of opposition due to the growth of Christianity, gladiatorial games began to disappear from public life during the third century. Stone was looted from the Colosseum and it was even leased out by Pope Alexander VI as a quarry.
In 1749 that Pope Benedict XIV forbade the removal of stone from the structure and erected a cross in remembrance of the Christians who had been martyred there. However, there is no historical evidence to support Benedict’s claim.
Today, the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, with millions of visitors flocking there every year.
In recent years, it has become a symbol against the death penalty, which was abolished in Italy in 1948. Since 2000, following a number of demonstrations against capital punishment, the local authorities of Rome have changed the colour of the Colosseum's night time illumination from white to gold whenever someone condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world has their sentence commuted or is released.
Monday, November 03, 2014
Posted by steve at 12:47 pm