Colosseo Exterior


“While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand; When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall; And when Rome falls—the World.” Lord Byron. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, 1812.

ARCHITECTURAL INNOVATION As you arrive at the Colosseum, take a few minutes to simply absorb the audaciousness of the Romans. Find a good viewing point, usually along the fence of the Roman Forum between the Colosseo metro station and the Arch of Constantine. The Romans brought 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone from Tivoli and used 300 tons of iron make the clamps to hold the stone together. And they did this without electricity (No power tools!), without computer models, and without fossil fuels (No trucks to bring stone! No gas cranes!). Despite its horizontal design, the Colosseum still moves your eyes upwards. This visual effect is achieved by the variation in the columns. There are three column orders (from bottom to top): Tuscan (similar to Doric), Ionic, Corinthian, and a longer simplified Corinthian. Note that the top columns are nearly 1.5 times taller than the bottom Tuscan.

VOMITORIUM AND NUMBERED ARCHWAYS  Now walk to the east side of the Colosseum, in the direction of Via Labicana. As you walk through the throngs of people, remember that this contemporary chaos would be a quiet day at the Colosseum compared to a day in the Roman era. The Colosseum currently allows 3,000 visitors at once. In the Roman era, historians estimate that between 50,000 to 80,000 people attended a day at the games! They managed this by assigning each attendee a numbered seat. The most prominent existing vestige of the seating system are the Roman numerals above the ground floor archways. These numbers marked an entrance/exit called a vomitorium. Thanks to these, the entire mass of people could be “vomited” out in a short time.

LUDUS MAGNUS GLADIATOR SCHOOL  If you survive the crossing of the street east of the Colosseum, you will be looking down into a partially excavated site. This is the remaining section of the Ludus Magnus Gladiator School, which was connected to the Colosseum by an underground passage. This school had an arena for training, and those sessions were open to the public. The excavation of a gladiator cemetery in Turkey revealed that most gladiator fights were not to the death. “The audience and the organizer of the games decided whether gladiators would live or die, but if two brave gladiators put up a good fight, they often both got out alive,” Fabian Kantz told National Geographic.

EDWARD GIBBON “It was a building of an elliptic figure, founded on fourscore arches, and rising, with four successive orders of architecture, to the height of 140 [157] feet. The outside of the edifice was incrusted with marble, and decorated with statues. The slopes of the vast concave which formed the inside were filled and surrounded with sixty or eighty rows of seats, of marble likewise, covered with cushions, and capable of receiving with ease about 80,000 spectators. Sixty-four vomitories (for by that name the doors were very aptly distinguished) poured forth the immense multitude; and the entrances, passages, and staircases were contrived with such exquisite skill that each person, whether of the senatorial, the equestrian, or the plebeian order, arrived at his destined place without trouble or confusion. Nothing was omitted which, in any respect, could be subservient to the convenience and pleasure of the spectators. They were protected from the sun and rain by an ample canopy, occasionally drawn over their heads. The air was continually refreshed by the playing of fountains, and profusely impregnated by the grateful scent of aromatics. In the centre of the edifice, the arena, or stage, was strewed with the finest sand, and successively assumed the most different forms. At one moment it seemed to rise out of the earth, like the garden of the Hesperides, and was afterward broken into the rocks and caverns of Thrace. The subterraneous pipes conveyed an inexhaustible supply of water; and what had just before appeared a level plain might be suddenly converted into a wide lake, covered with armed vessels, and replenished with the monsters of the deep. In the decoration of these scenes, the Roman emperors displayed their wealth and liberality; and we read on various occasions that the whole furniture of the amphitheatre consisted either of silver, or of gold, or of amber. The poet who describes the games of Carinus, in the character of a shepherd attracted to the capital by the fame of their magnificence, affirms that the nets designed as a defence against the wild beasts were of gold wire; that the porticos were gilded; and that the belt or circle which divided the several ranks of spectators from each other was studded with a precious mosaic of beautiful stones” Edward Gibbon. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. London. Frederick Westley and A.H. Davis. 1837.

Stephanie Sepúlveda & John William Bailly  14 April 2018

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