IL COLOSSEO ARENA
IL COLOSSEO UNDERGROUND For an additional fee, you can take a tour of the Colosseum Underground (book tour online well before your visit). This provides the opportunity to walk in the halls in which the condemned and animals were kept before entering the arena. Gladiators also walked from a tunnel connecting the Ludus Magnus Gladiator School to the west Door of Life to enter the arena. One can also see a reconstruction of the trapdoors and elevation mechanisms that enabled Romans to surprise those in the arena with wolves and bears. Based on archeological finds, bears were the most common animals used in the games.
IL COLOSSEO SEATING The seating of the Flavian Amphitheatre reflected the divisions of Roman society. At the level of the arena sat the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins. The next level (at which the incorrectly reconstructed marble seats are today) was reserved for the Senators. Then the knights (equites) and then the Roman citizens (plebeians), as well as any soldiers with permission to sit away from their unit. On the highest level there was a wooden standing room only for the poor, slaves, and women.
IL COLOSSEO GROIN VAULTS The first floor of the Colosseum has the kind of annular vaulted corridors resting on massive travertine piers that were used earlier. Originality emerged on the second tier when Vespasian’s designers conceived an entirely new kind of vault by merging two barrel vaults so that their intersection created a groin, or ribbed vault. This view down the groin-vaulted corridor of the Colosseum’s second story is proof that their invention was successful and fostered further exploration of the free flow of space favored by Nero’s palace architects. In addition, guided by the octagonal room, they treated each ribbed vault like sculpture, molding their facets as if by hand. The endless Roman fascination with architectural vista also remains a major objective of the Colosseum’s second story. Diana Kleiner Kleiner, Diana E. E.. Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide (Kindle Locations 1621-1627). Kindle Edition.
IL COLOSSEO NAVAL BATTLES Usually when we imagine the Colosseum, we need to reconstruct it. Now, let us actually deconstruct a part of it. The arena (from the Latin word harena, meaning “sand”) was built on wooden pillars. These were removable. The underground structures you now see were built 10 years after the opening of the Flavian Amphitheatre, so visually remove them…and fill the arena with water. Now imagine 80,000 Romans jeering wildly as ancient naval battles were reconstructed in smaller versions of ships. On an Underground tour, you can see the storage areas for these ships.
IL COLOSSEO GRAFFITI The Romans left their mark on the world in monumental ways, as well as in small, humanly relatable manners. On the upper level of the Colosseum, there is an exhibition area that displays sections of marble seats. Some of these display the names of the wealthy owners of the seats; others have simple depictions of the most popular gladiators. There are also coins and dice, as we can only imagine the gambling between acts.
IL COLOSSEO TWO DOORS TO ARENA There were two main doors to enter the arena—the Gate of Life on the East and the Gate of Death on the West. Gladiators, the condemned, and animals all entered the arena through the Gate of Life. Victorious gladiators exited through the same door, but the dead were taken through the Gate of Death. Attendants then brought out sand to cover the blood and the next game would begin.
IL COLOSSEO CHRISTIAN CROSS The history of the Colosseum in relation to Christianity is complex. Although ample historical evidence is lacking, Christians believed their own were executed in the Colosseum. The neglect of the structure of the Colosseum after the Roman empire is therefore understandable. Why preserve the location of persecution? The Colosseum became a quarry, a cemetery, and then had people living in it. After the classical revival of the Renaissance, though, how could such a monumental structure be allowed to be destroyed? Eventually the Catholic Church forbade the quarrying of the site and declared the Colosseum a monument to Christian Martyrs. Find the small plaque placed on the back of the cross by Pope John Paul II in 2000, which reads, “The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions.”
IL COLOSSEO MARBLE BLOCK Marble Block – Inscribed with, “The Emperor Vespasian ordered this new amphitheatre to be erected from his general’s share of the booty.”
EDWARD GIBBON “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.
AUTHOR(S) AND LAST UPDATE Stephanie Sepúlveda &John William Bailly 14 April 2018
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