The Colosseum, or Coliseum, is the largest amphitheatre in the world. Built of concrete and stone is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Unlike earlier Greek theatres, that were built into hillsides, the Coliseum is an entirely free-standing structure: it derives its basic architecture from that of two Roman theatres back to back. The Colosseum is today one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions.
- 1- The name. Its original name was Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium) because it was constructed by emperors of the Flavian dynasty, following the reign of Nero: emperor Vespasian and his successor Titus, and modificated by Domitian. The name Colosseum has been derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby, that was named after the Colossus of Rhodes. This statue was later remodeled by Nero’s successors into the likeness of the sun god, by adding a solar crown. The Colossus was probably pulled down to reuse its bronze: only its base survives, situated between the Colosseum and the nearby Temple of Venus and Roma.
- 2- Form and dimensions. The Colosseum is not round but elliptical, 615 ft (189 m) long and 510 ft (156 m) wide, with a base area of 6 acres (24.000 m2). The height of the outer wall is 157 ft (48 m). The central arena is an oval 287 ft (87 m) long and 180 ft (55 m) wide. The arena had a wooden floor covered with 15 cm of sand. The Colosseum consisted of four floors. The first three storeys had high, arched entrances designed with tiers of Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns. The Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. There were 80 entrances: 76 were gate arches, which were used by the general public; four were special un-numbered gates which were the Grand Entrances. The 76 public entrances were numbered (in the photo entrance number LII = 52) providing easy access to the allocated seats. Spectators had a ticket that said where they were supposed to enter: tickets were marked with a seat number, tier number and entrance number. The special, un-numbered gates, were used by the emperors, wealthy patricians, senators, visiting dignitaries and the Vestal Virgins. These gates were located at points North, South, East and West of the Colosseum and were richly decorated with painted stucco reliefs. The North entrance was the Magistrated entrance. The South entrance was the ceremonial entrance for the Emperor, Senate and Vestals. The West entrance, the Gate of Death (Porta Libitina, from the name of the goddess of funerals) , had direct access to the arena: dead gladiators and animals were carried away through this exit. The East entrance, the Gate of Life (Porta Sanavivaria), had also direct access to the arena: it was used for the procession of gladiators who paraded before the Emperor and the spectators, prior to the beginning of the games, and exited after a successful combat.
- 3- Construction and structure. The Colosseum took less than 10 years to build, using over 60,000 Jewish slaves. It was built of travertine on the outside and tufa and brick in the interior. The main pedestals were built of marble blocks. Approximately 100,000 cubic meters of marble was used for its construction. The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic meters (3,531,467 cubic feet) of travertine stone which were set without mortar; they were held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. To keep the hot sun and the rain off of spectators, there was a retractable awning called the velarium. This consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center . There were 240 wooden masts around the top of the stadium to support the awning. Roman sailors were used to put up the velarium when it was needed. Below the Colosseum was a labyrinth of underground passages called the hypogeum. The hypogeum consisted of two-level subterranean network of tunnels and 32 animal pens. It had 80 vertical shafts which provided instant access to the arena for animals and scenery. These passages allowed for animals, actors, and gladiators to suddenly appear in the middle of the arena. There were 36 trap doors to add in special effects such as scenery. Elevators and pulleys raised and lowered scenery and props, as well as lifting caged animals to the surface for release. There is evidence for the existence of major hydraulic mechanisms, and it was possible to flood the arena rapidly, presumably via a connection to a nearby aqueduct, for the naumachiae, simulated sea battles.
- 4- Purpose and use. The Colosseum was built for several reasons: as a gift to Roman Citizens, increasing the popularity of the Flavian dynasty; to stage various forms of entertainment, creating a diversion for unemployed and unruly Plebs; to utilize and showcase the latest Roman engineering techniques demonstrating to the world the power of Rome. It was used for staging various events including gladiator fights, wild animal displays and hunts, theatrical entertainment, executions, religious ceremonies, mock sea battles and re-playing famous Roman victories. All Ancient Romans had free entry to the Colosseum and was also fed throughout the show. It is thought that over 500,000 people lost their lives and over a million wild animals were killed throughout the duration of the games. The animals displayed and killed were transported from every corner of the Roman Empire and included lions, tigers, hyenas, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, ostriches, antelopes, bears and zebras. Festivals as well as games could last up to 100 days.
- 5- Seating. Where people sat in the Colosseum was determined by social status. The best seats were reserved for the Senators. Behind them were the equestrians or ranking government officials. A bit higher up sat the ordinary Roman citizens (men) and the soldiers. Finally, at the top of the stadium sat the slaves and the women. The Emperor took up a prominent position in the Imperial Box, called the pulvinar, which was located on the podium (meaning place of honor): it was like a terrace and about 15ft wide astride the centre of the minor axis of the arena on the North side.
- 6- The fall. Many natural disasters devastated the structure of the Colosseum, but it was the earthquakes of 847 AD and 1349 AD that caused most of the damage you see today. During the great earthquake in 1349, the outer South side, that lied on a less stable terrain, collapsed. Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome. The marble façade and other parts of the Colosseum were also used for the construction of St Peter’s Basilica. During Middle Ages the interior of the amphitheater was extensively stripped of stone, reused elsewhere, or (in the case of the marble façade) burned to make quicklime. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks which still scar the building today.
- 7- Connections with Catholic Church. In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV endorsed the view that the Colosseum was a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. He forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry and consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ and installed Stations of the Cross, declaring it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs who perished there. Nowadays the “Way of the Cross” procession, led by the Pope, starts in the area around the Colosseum, each Good Friday evening for the Via Crucis.
- 8- Recognitions. The Colosseum, was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. On the night of July 7, 2007 (07/07/07), the Roman monument was also included among the New 7 Wonders of the world, following a competition organized by New Open World Corporation. The Colosseum is also depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin.
- 9- Symbol against death penalty. In recent years the Colosseum has become a symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment, which was abolished in Italy in 1948. Since 2000, as a gesture against the death penalty, the local authorities of Rome change the color of the Colosseum’s night time illumination from white to gold whenever a person condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world gets their sentence commuted or is released, or if a jurisdiction abolishes the death penalty. Most recently, the Colosseum was illuminated in gold when capital punishment was abolished in the American state of New Mexico in April 2009.
- 10- Modern stage-set. Only a few celebrities have performed with the Colosseum as background. It is not possible to host a concert inside the monument, but among the singers that have had this honor we can recall: Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Andrea Bocelli (photo: andreabocelli.com) and Elton John.
The Colosseum is open every day, except January the 1st, May the 1st and December the 25th. For opening hours and booking on line click here.
The ticket line at the Colosseum is usually very long: tickets can also be bought at the ticket offices of the Palatine Hill and allow entrance to the Palatine Hill and to the Roman Forum as well. The ticket, once collected, is valid for two days. You may visit at any time of day but remember that the ticket office will close one hour before the Colosseum itself closes.
From April 18th to August 31st the Underground of the Colosseum is open to the public with tours – limited and subject to booking – that allow you to descend into the hypogeum and climb to the third ring. Here you can find informations and booking.
From April 24th to November 1st the Colosseum will be open at night (Moon above the Colosseum), from 8.10 pm to midnight.
From July 2014 the Colosseum will be open until 10 pm on Fridays, and will be free on the first Sunday of the month.Photos source: wikipedia.
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