One of the most photographed sites, not only in Italy, but all of Europe is the Colosseum. Officially named the Antiteatro Flavio (Flavian Amphitheatre), it was begun in 70AD and needed only ten year to complete, being finished in 80AD during a period known as the Flavian Dynasty. Considered one of the greatest pieces of Roman architecture and engineering the building is, still today, the largest amphitheatre in the world. In is prime it could hold more than 50,000 spectators and was used for gladiator contests, animal hunts, battle re-enactments and public events. The structure could also be filled with water and hold mock naval battles or used as the more classical theatre holding dramas and plays.
Unlike Greek amphitheatres which are built into hillsides the Colosseum is entirely free standing. The floorplan is oval stretching 189m (615ft) long and 156m (510ft) wide. The area of its base is 24,000m² (6 acres) and the walls protecting its outer perimeter are 48m (157ft) high with a perimeter of 545m (1788ft). the arena floor is 87m (287ft) long and 55m (180ft) wide surrounded by a 5m (15ft) high wall above which begin the seating. The outer wall, it is estimated, required more than 100,000m³ (3.5 million ft³) of travertine stone which were here together by 300 tonnes of iron clamps. Originally the building had a retractable awning, known as a velarium, supported by 240 mast corbels that was used to keep the rain and sun off spectators and covered two-thirds of the arena. To enter there were eighty entrance of which seventy six were used by spectators, one for the emperor, one for the Vestal Virgins and the other two for the noble families. A truly incredible piece of engineering.
The area of the Colosseum was densely inhabited around the birth of Christ but in 64AD the Great Fire of Rome devastated the city and afterwards, Emperor Nero then seized the lands for his personal domain. Many believed Nero started the fire deliberately to be able to claim the land for himself. On it he built an incredible house, Domus Aurea (Golden House), decorated with gardens that included an artificial lake surrounded by a series of pavilions and porticoes. An aqueduct to supply water was constructed and a gigantic bronze statue of Nero was set up near the entrance. From this colossus statue the name Colosseum derives. With public and the military against him, Nero committed suicide on 9th June 68AD, and he was followed onto the throne by Vespasian. Wanting to placate the people of Rome, as well as distance himself from Nero, Vespasian ordered for Nero’s lake to be filled in and all Nero’s land was handed to Rome for the use of public building projects. Traditionally, Amphitheatres were on the outskirts of town, but this one, was to be located in the heart of Rome, both symbolically and literally. The building was funded by the spoils looted from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem in 70AD following the Roman victory in the Great Jewish Revolt. Vespasian died in 79AD so his son, Titus, completed the structure in 80AD then modified by his second son Emperor Domitian who constructed all the underground passageways and tunnels used to house animals and slaves.
The inauguration of the Colosseum saw 9000 wild animals killed in the games that commemorated it. 217 AD saw lightning destroy the upper tiers as well as an earthquake damaging the building in 443, both of which saw reconstruction. Even though the Roman Empire came to a halt in 476AD the building continued to be used into the 6th century. Gladiator fights were last mentioned in 435, however animal hunts continued until 523. With the Empire over the building was converted into housing, workshops and even a cemetery was added. This set up continued until 1200 when the Frangipani family purchased it and converted it into a fortress. 1349 saw a massive earthquake hit Rome with the entire south side, built on softer soil, collapsing. Much of the fallen stone was then used to build palaces, churches and hospitals in other parts of Rome including St. Peters Basilica. The interior was stripped of its stone to be used elsewhere, the marble façade was burnt to make quicklime and the bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried from the walls to make tools and weapons leaving the pockmarks which still scar the building today. Today the Colosseum is imbedded in Roman history but will always remind visitors to Rome of the once greatest Empire the world ever saw.
“While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls – the world”
– Lord Byron