The Colosseum in Rome is the largest structure of Roman antiquity. Visitors can still see the enormous dimensions of this monumental structure and parts of the ingenious stage technology under the arena.
The Colosseum is one of the most famous ancient buildings of Rome. In ancient Rome it was the center of popular entertainment. With a length of 188 meters and a width of 156 meters, it is the largest enclosed structure of Roman antiquity and an unprecedented masterpiece of engineering of the ancient Romans.
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PICTURES: Colosseum in Rome
Construction of the Colosseum
In 72 A.D., the Roman Emperor of the time, Vespasian, commissioned the massive structure to be built over Nero's palace, the massive Domus Aurea. In front of an artificial lake, the colossal statue of Emperor Nero once stood right there (hence the name). In 80 A.D., 8 years later, the gigantic amphitheater, which held 50,000 seated and 23,000 standing, was inaugurated with a festival that lasted 100 days.
The 86 by 54 meter oval arena was for centuries the scene of animal fights, gladiator fights, theater performances, circus shows and sporting competitions. The four floors were magnificently decorated, the entire auditorium was covered with precious marble, of which, unfortunately, not much can be seen today. Part of the wooden floor has been reconstructed, visitors can understand in the middle of the arena the feeling of the gladiators when they stood before their emperor and faced death.
Impressive technology of the ancient Romans in the Colosseum
The stage technology that accompanied these festivals some 2,000 years ago was simply phenomenal. Hidden beneath the arena's wooden floor was an elaborate system of cages, juggernauts and other machinery that made performers, gladiators, wild animals and scenery appear and disappear at just the right time. Because the floor of the arena collapsed over the centuries, this maze of walls is clearly visible today from the former spectator stands.
The seats of the Colosseum were so ingeniously designed that the crowds could leave their seats within a few minutes after the performance. With the help of 240 masts on the top wall, the massive complex could be almost completely covered with awnings to protect the spectators from the scorching summer sun.
The end of the Colosseum
In 404, a monk jumped into the arena in protest, whereupon he was torn apart by the crowd. This incident prompted the then reigning emperor Honorius to ban the cruel performances in which people lost their lives. However, animal chases continued to be held until the 6th century, with the last performance taking place in 523, according to tradition.
In the Middle Ages, the Colosseum was converted into a castle and eventually used as a supplier of building materials. Even some travertine blocks used for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica were originally built into the Colosseum. It was not until the middle of the 18th century that Pope Benedict XIV put an end to this mischief, and Pope Pius VII had the ruins of the magnificent building secured in 1805.
To this day, the city of Rome naturally ensures that this unique structure is preserved in all its splendor and fascination.
Commemoration of the Christians
The bronze cross next to the arena commemorates the Christian blood that was spilled in the sand of the arena at that time. Every year, in memory of the martyrs, the Pope walks the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum, which were laid out in the 19th century.