The Colosseum – Rome, Italy

The Colosseum in Rome as it stands today
The Colosseum in Rome as it stands today

Roma, or Rome, has many monuments to that depict its past and present grandeur. However few are as famous as the ancient Roman Colosseum. Though in ruins, the Colosseum is one of the greatest architectural feats in the history of both ancient Rome and the world. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, it was the largest structure of its kind during its days of glory.

Located in the center of what was then ancient city of Rome, the Colosseum was started around 72 AD and completed eight years later in the year 80 during the reign of the Emperor Titus. Even by today’s standards, it was quite a gigantic structure that could had seating capacity for approximately 50,000 people.

The main purpose of the Colosseum was entertainment; violent entertainment. The most common forms were gladiator matches (where obviously one side would meet a gruesome end), animal hunts, the recreating of famous battles for propaganda purposes and sometimes, though rarely, for plays and dramas. The idea was that if the people or Rome were entertained, they would be distracted from the problems that were ever-present in Roman society and hence, not complain much or revolt against the authorities.

Inside the Colosseum
Inside the Colosseum

Though now mostly in ruins and a large, open air museum, Rome’s Colosseum still has its uses for the general public. Various events, from religious to political, are often with the structure as its backdrop. Unfortunately this great monument to human ingenuity, which has withstood barbarian invasions, the test of time and the natural elements of Mother Nature, is suffering from the ubiquitous pollution that plagues modern Rome today.

History of the Colosseum

The Colosseum was started in 72 AD by the Roman Emperor Vespasian. He never got to see the final structure as he passed away in 79 AD, but his son and successor Titus did a year later in 80 AD.

The inaugural events at the Colosseum reported by historians were spectacular, though extremely violent. It is recorded that hundreds of gladiators fought, both against each other and wild animals. It is also believed that over 9000 animals were killed along with perhaps tens if not hundreds of gladiators. Many criminals were also executed during the inauguration events as well. As civilized as the Romans claimed to be, it is obvious that this did not apply to bloodsports and their thirst for violence and gore.

Gladiators duking it out
Gladiators duking it out

The Colosseum was expanded under the reign of the Emperor Domitian, who was the younger son of Vespasian. He added a series of underground tunnels known as hypogeum. These areas were used to keep slaves and also caged animals that would be used in future combat events. Domitian expanded the building by adding an extra level of seating at the top, bringing the total capacity of the structure to 50,000.

Over the years, the Colosseum suffered from both fires, earthquakes and neglect with only sporadic renovations. Perhaps the biggest blow to it, at least in a spiritual sense, was during medieval times when Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire. Gladiator battles and the senseless killing of wild animals for sport were banned and by the 6th century, a church was even built on the premises. Part of the area was also turned into a cemetery while in other quarters, merchants set up shops and sold their wares to the public. In the 12th century, the wealthy Frangipani family took over what was left of the Colosseum and converted it into their personal castle.

Mosaic depicting gladiators
Mosaic depicting gladiators

However in 1349 AD, a major earthquake caused irreparable damage, virtually knocking down the southern side of the Colosseum and turning what was left the crumbling bricks and metalwork into raw materials for the construction of nearby churches and houses.

There were attempts to revive the Collesseum as a sporting arena. For example, in 1671, Cardinal Altieri though that it would be a good idea to use the amphitheater for bullfights. However, it was actually the citizens of Rome who protested this. Apparently, they were not as bloodthirsty as their ancestors. Later on, Pope Benedict XIV passed a decree that made the Colosseum holy site since many of the early Christians had been made martyrs there. In later years, most notably 1807 and 1827, the facade of the building was fortified and in later years, the interior renovated. The most prolific improvements were done under Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930’s.

The Colosseum as it may have been
The Colosseum as it may have been

Today, the Colosseum still stands as a testament to Rome’s power and grandeur, if not excess. It is one of the city’s most frequented places by both tourists and locals alike. Unfortunately, the perils of modern society, namely pollution, are now causing significant damage to this structure that otherwise has lasted well throughout the ages.

Interesting Facts about the Colosseum

1. The original name of the Colosseum was the Flavian Amphitheater, or Amphitheatrum Flavium. It is a derivative of the combination of the Vespasian and Titus family names.

2. It is the largest amphitheater ever built by the Romans.

3. The Colosseum is nearly 1,950 years old (started in 72 AD).

4. It was not only gladiator battles and animal hunts that took place here. The Colosseum was also used at times for plays, executions and even at times religious ceremonies.

5. The Colosseum could hold up to 50,000 people. Some scholars boost that number up to 85,000 or more.

6. Though the Colosseum was used for events containing much violence and gore, today during Good Friday, it serves as the starting point for the “Way of the Cross” procession, with the Pope leading the way with a lighting of the torch ceremony. Talk about doing a 180!

7. The Colosseum is printed on one of the sides of Italy’s five-cent euro coin.

8. The total area of the Colosseum covers nearly six acres..

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