The Colosseum – the Flavian Amphitheater; is an iconic ancient Roman amphitheatre in the heart of Rome, Italy. An engineering marvel of its time, the elliptical structure is made of concrete and sand. The perimeter of the approximately 48-meter-high building is approximately 527 meters. It was able to accommodate 50,000 - 80,000 viewers.
They were primarily used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, including gladiator fights, animal hunts, public executions, and mock sea battles. These events were a significant part of ancient Roman culture and entertained the citizens.
Where is the Colosseum?
The Colosseum is located in Italy, in the heart of Rome. It is in the southeast of the historic centre, near other well-known attractions such as the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, the Circus Maximus, and the Palatine Hill. Thanks to its central location, it is easily accessible and an outstanding destination for tourists visiting the city. Address: Colosseum Piazza del Colosseo, 1 00184 Rome, Italy
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It is worth buying our ticket online in advance. You can participate in group tours but visit certain parts individually. You can choose what you want to see depending on the ticket type. It's good to know that you can only tour certain Colosseum parts on a guided tour. Moreover, you can also buy a combined ticket, which is also good for the neighbouring Roman Forum. A 24-hour combined ticket costs 16 euros.
The architecture of the Colosseum is a remarkable testament to the engineering ingenuity and artistic skills of ancient Rome. It was designed as an impressive and functional structure, perfectly suitable for large spectacles and accommodating a large audience. Here are some of the main architectural features of the Colosseum:
- Shape and structure: The Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheatre with a major axis of about 188 meters and a minor axis of about 156 meters. It is about 48 meters high. It corresponds to a 12-15 storey building. The entire structure was built from concrete, brick and volcanic stone, with different materials used for different parts of the building to maximize the building's stability and strength.
- Facade and exterior: The exterior facade of the Colosseum is a stunning display of architectural ornamentation. Each level has a series of arches, with 80 arches on the ground floor, 64 on the second and 80 on the third floors. The arches are framed by pilasters (flat columns) of various orders, including Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Each level has a distinct architectural style that adds to the grandeur and visual appeal of the amphitheatre.
- Seating Arrangement: The Colosseum was designed to accommodate a huge audience, estimated to be between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. Seating was arranged hierarchically, with the best seats reserved for the Roman elite and aristocracy on the lower level (ima cavea). As the seating capacity increased (media cavea and summa cavea), it was intended for the common people.
- Arena: The central area of the Colosseum is called the arena. It was a wooden floor covered with sand called an "arena", which means "sand" in Latin. The word "arena" also symbolized the place of battle and spectacle.
- Hypogeum: Beneath the arena's floor is the hypogeum, a complex system of underground passages, chambers, and cells. The Hypogeum was used to store props, animals, and gladiators before they made their dramatic entrance into the arena. This sophisticated mechanism allowed for elements of surprise during the spectacle.
The gladiatorial contest was one of the most prominent events in the Colosseum. Gladiators, typically slaves or prisoners of war, fought each other or wild animals to entertain the crowd.
Although the gladiatorial contests were the most notable events of the Colosseum, many other attractions and shows occurred here. These included animal hunts known as "venationes", in which exotic animals were brought from different parts of the Roman Empire to fight each other or against trained hunters. Naval battles called "naumachiae" were also recreated in the arena by flooding and simulating naval battles.
Its history is a fascinating journey spanning more than two millennia. Here is an overview of the historical timeline:
- Construction (AD 70-80): Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty initiated the Colosseum's construction in AD 70, shortly after the end of the turbulent years of the Four Emperors. Vespasian wanted to build an amphitheatre as a gift to the Roman people to gain popularity and establish his new legitimacy as ruler. The site was where Nero's opulent palace, the Domus Aurea, once stood.
- Consecration (80 AD): It was officially completed and inaugurated in 80 AD by Emperor Titus, son and successor of Vespasian. The opening games lasted for a hundred days and were spectacular, including gladiatorial contests, animal hunts and sea battles.
- Flavius Amphitheater was originally known as Flavius Amphitheater after the Flavius dynasty. The name "Colosseum" is believed to come from the colossal statue of Emperor Nero, the Colossus of Nero, which once stood nearby.
- Continuous use (1st-6th century): It was used for various public spectacles over the centuries and became a symbol of the greatness of the Roman Empire. It hosted gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, public executions and other "fun" events.
- Decline and changes (5th-6th century): With the decline of the Roman Empire and the final fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, the frequency of large spectacles held in the Colosseum gradually decreased. Maintenance has decreased, and earthquakes have caused damage. In the Middle Ages, parts of the Colosseum were used as fortresses, workshops, and even as a source of building materials.
- Christian symbolism (6th-12th century): In the Middle Ages, it gained new importance as a Christian symbol of martyrdom. The association with Christian martyrdom led to sanctification, and some lower-level rooms were used as sanctuaries and places of worship.
- Renaissance and Restoration (15th-19th centuries): It gained attention again during the Renaissance when artists and intellectuals celebrated the classical Roman heritage. Interest in its preservation grew, and different restoration efforts were made in the following centuries. XIV. Pope Benedict consecrated the Colosseum as a Christian place in 1749.
- Modern Age (20th century to present): It has continued to be an iconic symbol of ancient Rome and has become one of the most visited historical sites in the world. Many conservation and restoration projects have been undertaken to protect the structure and allow visitors to explore its fascinating history.
- Construction Time: The construction of the Colosseum was extremely fast by ancient standards. It took about 8-10 years, and most of the work was completed during the reign of Emperor Vespasian.
- Multiple Names: Although commonly known as the Colosseum, it was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater after the Flavian dynasty. It was known as "Amphitheater Caesareum" or "Amphitheater Flavium" in the Middle Ages.
- Velarium: There was a retractable awning called a "velarium". This huge canvas cover protected the audience from the sun and rain during events. The retractable canvas awning covered about two-thirds of the seating area, then supported by 240 wooden masts.
- Unique Gate Names: Its entrances and exits were given unique names, such as "Porta Triumphalis" (Gate of Triumph) and "Porta Libitinaria" (Gate of Death), through which the bodies of fallen gladiators were carried.
- Brick markings: Its exterior was once covered with extensive white travertine limestone. Over the centuries, this cladding was removed, and some of the exposed brickwork was used for other construction, leading to the holes and markings seen today.
- Monument to Animals: More than 1 million wild animals are believed to have been killed within its walls. Recently, a plaque has been placed outside the amphitheatre to honour the memory of these animals.
- Building Materials: Some materials used in the construction of the Colosseum were brought from different regions of the Roman Empire, including travertine from Tivoli and white marble from Carrara.
- Hollywood: The Colosseum has been featured in many films, making it one of the most famous landmarks in cinema. E.g. "Gladiator" (2000) and "Roman Holiday" (1953).
- Its modern significance: in 2007, the Colosseum was included among the world's seven new wonders in a global poll organized by the New7Wonders Foundation.
- Building materials: It is estimated that more than 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone and 300 tons of iron clamps were used in its construction.
- The weight of the arena floor: The wooden arena floor covered with sand was supported by extensive wooden beams. The entire structure of the arena floor was estimated at 300 tons.
- Gladiator contests: More than 400,000 people are estimated to die during the gladiatorial contests and other spectacles held here.
- Metro: The Rome metro line B (blue line) has a " Colosseo " station next to the Colosseum. The entrance is just a short walk from the station.
- Bus: Rome's bus network covers different parts of the city, and many bus routes stop near the Colosseum. These are buses 75, 81, 85, 87 and 673.
- Tram: Tram 3 also stops at the "Colosseo" station next to the Colosseum.
- On foot: If you're staying in the central parts of Rome, it's worth walking if it's within reasonable distance. Rome is a beautiful city best explored on foot.
Nowadays, the Colosseum is a reminder of the architectural and cultural achievements of ancient Rome, attracting millions of visitors from around the world to marvel at its grandeur and immerse themselves in the rich history of the Roman Empire. Let's do the same.
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