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Colosseum

Country Italy
City Roma

Colosseum Photo Gallery

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Colosseum Description

The Colosseum, or Coliseum, is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rome. St. Bede the Venerable, a Benedictine monk commonly known as the “Father of English history,” acknowledged the importance of the Colosseum as early as in 700 A. D. These are his words dedicated to this ancient structure in Byron’s translation: “While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls—the World.” This majestic artifact is located on the Piazza del Colosseo, next to the Roman Forum, on the floor of a low valley between the Caelian, Esquiline and Palatine Hills. In the middle of the first century A. D. Nero, the Roman emperor whom many believed to be insane, had his enormous park established in this part of the city—right next to his dwelling, the Golden House (Domus Aurea). After the fall of Nero’s rule and the consolidation of the state under Titus Flavius Vespasian, many of the objects associated with the former emperor were razed to the ground so as not to remind the Romans of the shame of Nero’s tyranny. The artificial lake in Nero’s garden was drained and filled with a material resembling concrete. Nearby stood the Colossus of Nero, an enormous 35-meter-tall bronze statue of the emperor built by the Greek architect Zenodorus, and the amphitheater was eventually named after this statue.

Emperor Vespasian ordered to begin the construction of the amphitheater in 72 A. D. in celebration of his recent victory in the First Jewish-Roman War. Therefore, Jewish prisoners of war were the primary source of labor force in the construction of the Colosseum. The foundation was thirteen meters deep. The construction was initially known as the Flavian Amphitheater, and its construction continued under the successors of Vespasian—Titus and Domitian. The amphitheater was consecrated and opened to the public in 80 A. D. by Emperor Titus. According to the historical record of Suetonius, the inaugural games involved the slaying of five thousand animals by the gladiators just on the first day, lasting for 100 days and serving as the embodiment of one of the most famous Roman principles: “Bread and circuses!” The Colosseum was the largest public building of its kind in the Roman Empire. Marcus Valerius Martialis, known in English as Martial, expressed his admiration for this place, noting that previously it had served but Nero alone in his entertainment, but now it would serve all of Rome. Once completed, the Colosseum had the shape of an oval, the length of its sides equaling 156 by 188 meters. Its height is almost 50 meters. The Colosseum had three stories and could house up to 50 thousand spectators at once. Methods used by the architects in the construction of the Colosseum resemble those used in the construction of modern stadiums. Apart from common gladiator fights, spectators coming to the Colosseum could observe whole naval battles. The amphitheater had 82 ground level entrances. Underneath the sanded wooden arena there were two stories of subterranean structures known as the hypogea. This is where the animals and the gladiators were kept. The gladiators entered the arena via a special subterranean passage. The amphitheater was used in this manner up to the VI century. The public had to buy special tickets to enter the amphitheater—numbered pottery shards.

Time was cruel to the majestic building. The entire external wall was destroyed by numerous earthquakes and the activities of the city dwellers, likewise the southern wall of the internal complex. Various Christian ceremonies were performed here in the Middle Ages; by the twelfth century, the Colosseum was converted into a quarry. Only the efforts of Pope Benedict IV assured that further destruction of the amphitheater would cease—he declared it a holy place in 1750.

Next to the Colosseum we find the Triumphal Arch of Constantine, erected to commemorate the emperor’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, which crosses the Tiber near the site of the village of Saxa Rubra, on October 28, 312 A. D. Legend has it that Constantine’s famous vision of the cross, when he received the divine inspiration to conquer in this sign, took place on the eve of that very battle, which marks a watershed in the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire. The Arch was decorated by bas-reliefs taken off other construction. It is 21 meters tall, 25.7 meters wide and 7.4 meters deep.

Between the Via Labicana and the Via di San Giovanni in Laterano one can find the ruins of the Ludus Magnus, the greatest gladiatorial training school in Rome. The school was connected to the Colosseum by an underground passage used by the gladiators to enter the arena unseen by the spectators. Here were also the workshops and forges that manufactured and repaired weapons and armor, as well as the Spoliarium, where the bodies of the fallen gladiators were put to rest. Nearby lie the ruins of the formerly enormous temple of Venus and Roma, the patron goddess of the city, which was built by Emperor Hadrian in 135 A. D. Its foundation used to occupy a space of 145 by 100 meters. The temple was built to Hadrian’s own design, which resulted in a number of scalding remarks from the part of Apollodorus of Damascus, a prominent architect of that epoch, who was banished and put to death for his audaciousness shortly afterwards.

You can take streetcar #3 to get to the Colosseum, or Line B of the Roman Metro to the Colosseo station. The entrance ticket is also valid for visiting the Palatine Hill and the Forum. Experienced travelers recommend buying these tickets at the Forum box offices, since those are the least crowded, and then visit the Colosseum without having to stand in lengthy lines. The Colosseum is open to the public between 9:00 and 19:00 between March and September. It closes at 18:30 in September, 18:00 in October, 17:00 between the middle end the end of March, and 16:00 between the end of October and the middle of March.

Colosseum video guide

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