The Colosseum is an amphitheater of the era of the Roman Empire, which is now protected by UNESCO. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World. He is almost two thousand years old, and he continues to fascinate.
The Colosseum is without a doubt the most important historical symbol of Italy and Rome. One of the most recognizable architectural monuments. The majestic amphitheater, located in the center of Rome, attracts millions of visitors. All of them are eager to see the religious building with their own eyes and try to understand how this could have been created almost twenty centuries ago, and it still stands still. The Colosseum hosted gladiator fights, animal fights and festive performances. The official name of the Roman arena was the Flavian Amphitheatre. The structure got its usual name only in the 8th century.
Then there were centuries of rather troubled times for the amphitheater. The monument of ancient architecture has come down to us, however, in a fairly altered form. Although, in fairness, it is hard to imagine that for a couple of thousand years the amphitheater would have remained completely untouched by either nature or time.
For many centuries, the immortal Colosseum has been a reminder of the true grandeur of the Roman Empire and the highest level of engineering skill of its builders. This is by right the greatest arena of ancient times, a grandiose architectural structure. It was erected under the Flavian dynasty of emperors in just eight years. We know that some projects of today are much less complex and with the availability of modern technologies and tools, they build even longer.
In the arena, captured soldiers and slaves showed their fighting prowess in front of the emperor and spectators. Here, the ancient animal instincts of the crowd, and the thirst for blood, and a fantastic spectacle – all this became the most important component of ancient Roman culture. Chronicles testify that the opening of the Colosseum was celebrated very violently, with a genuine imperial scale: entertainment events were held for a whole hundred days. During this time, several thousand warriors died in gladiatorial tournaments. Those were the times, and the fun suited them perfectly.
Over time, the Colosseum has lost two-thirds of its original mass: earthquakes and builders have “worked” and pulled it into stones for other projects. But he has not lost the ability to cause awe and admiration.
In 64 AD, a major fire broke out in Rome, known in history as the Great Fire of Rome. In six days, the flames destroyed eleven of the fourteen quarters of Rome. Hundreds of citizens died, temples, palaces and public buildings burned to the ground. But it was not a fire, but arson. He, as the historian Suetonius testified, was arranged by order of the emperor Nero, who dreamed of “clearing” the capital for a grandiose restructuring.
As a result, vast territories were liberated, including the Valley of the Three Hills. Nero erected there in the shortest possible time, literally in four years, a huge luxurious palace – a whole complex, the largest of all the royal residences ever built in Europe. It occupied an area of up to 120 hectares and amazed with its splendor. The people called it the “Golden House of Nero”. For construction, Nero significantly increased taxes, setting the whole society against himself. Later, when he realized that his fate had been decided, Nero committed suicide.
Emperor Vespasian, who ascended the throne of the Roman Empire after him in 69 AD, in order to write himself into history, takes on an even more ambitious project: he commissions the construction of the Flavian amphitheater, which would forever leave a trace of his dynasty in world culture. The arena at the same time would remove traces of its predecessor from the face of the earth: the foundation of the Colosseum was just laid on the site of the lake near the Golden House of Nero, which fell into disrepair after his death.
Vespasian’s project for several centuries was the most important part of the socio-cultural life of the Romans, who demanded bread and circuses: gladiator fights were regularly held in the amphitheater with a full house. Moreover, the arena was truly huge: at the same time, three thousand such fights could take place there at once. Warriors also fought with animals, executions were carried out, and festive performances were held. In modern terms, it was a full-fledged multifunctional entertainment center from the beginning of our era.
However, in the Middle Ages, the structure, in fact, was almost ignored by the authorities. The amphitheater stood in disrepair for several centuries. Building materials were taken from it, it decayed and overgrown. Until the 18th century, no one thought about the need for reconstruction and restoration of the Colosseum, during which time many of its parts were irretrievably destroyed.
At the end of the 19th century, the Catholic Church resumed work around the amphitheater, and the Colosseum began to attract specialists: historians, architects and art historians. The restoration and reconstruction of the affected elements and parts of the giant building gave the Colosseum a new status – a symbol of European civilization.
Origin of name
The word Colosseum comes from the Latin word colosseus, which means huge. This is exactly what the building seemed to be at the dawn of our era, when the buildings were mostly no higher than ten meters. Now tourists, of course, differently evaluate the size of the amphitheater: skyscrapers have changed our sense of scale. But it is clear that the peculiarity of the Colosseum is not in its height, but in the cultural and historical contribution that it made to civilization. By the way, the opinion that the name comes from the colossal 36-meter statue of Nero standing nearby is erroneous.
Construction of the amphitheater began in 72 AD during the reign of Vespasian. But his son, Emperor Titus Flavius Domitian finished and consecrated the construction in 80, Vespasian died a year before.
According to the project, the arena had to be large enough. And also very durable, so that tens of thousands of spectators could gather on it at the same time: visiting tourists and, of course, residents of a million-strong Rome. Yes, yes, the capital of the Roman Empire was a gigantic metropolis at that time. So to implement these plans, unusual engineering solutions were needed. Many of them have become simply revolutionary and are still used in construction.
So, the frame of the structure. It is a stable construction of intersecting radial and concentric walls. Above them were rows for spectators. The outer wall of the amphitheater includes four tiers, the first three of which have 80 seven-meter-high arches each, which made it possible to reduce the weight of the building. This was the only true and possible engineering solution for such high walls.
The load-bearing walls of the amphitheater are made of travertine. This natural limestone was mined and delivered by 100 thousand captives captured as a result of the suppression of the Jewish uprising, this circumstance once again emphasizes the power of the Roman Empire. The stone then fell into the hands of Roman craftsmen. The quality of their processing is the highest: huge stones fit tightly to each other. Between themselves, the blocks were connected with brackets. Later, when the arena was derelict, the iron supports were taken away for other construction projects, and the structure of the Colosseum was greatly weakened.
Also, during the construction of the amphitheater, volcanic tuff, brick and concrete were widely used. Tufa blocks were intended for the upper tiers, while heavier concrete and bricks were well suited for partitions and interior ceilings.
All the spectators of Rome wanted to go to the Colosseum. The occasion, as always, is more than worthy: to watch another gladiator fight or a theatrical performance. 50 thousand spectators in the arena, and up to 18 thousand, as historians say, could watch the performances standing.
The essence of Roman architecture is realized in the Colosseum – the alternation of supports and openings, massive walls and arcades, with an emphasis on space. The arched design made it possible to evenly distribute the load on the bearing parts. Inside the ancient amphitheater there were vaulted galleries – places of rest for spectators and brisk trade.
The modern Colosseum is only one third of the original building, but even this fact does not detract from its greatness. 240 huge arches make up an ellipse. The walls are 524 meters long, 156 meters wide and 57 meters high.
The first tier of the Colosseum contains 76 spans through which it was possible to enter the amphitheater, which made it possible to significantly increase the throughput: if necessary, the audience could leave the building in a few minutes. And the standard design of the arches themselves simplified construction – they were assembled on the spot like a large constructor. Bronze shields and even statues are believed to have been placed between the windows on the second and third tiers. However, none of them was found, which caused disputes among historians – whether they were actually there or if it was only part of the original project. The fourth tier was completed later. He protected the audience from bad weather and the sun.
The floor of the amphitheater was paved with boards, which were easily removed when it was necessary to flood the place where naval battles were performed. The elliptical shape of the arena guaranteed a spectacle: neither the warriors nor the animals doomed to the slaughter could take cover. In a huge basement under the arena were chambers for slaves, cages for animals and other rooms. There was also a turning stage system and other mechanisms, thanks to which unexpected tricks and phenomena appeared on the stage.
Games and entertainment
The Colosseum was a clear model of the structure of Roman society. Spectators were placed in it in accordance with the social hierarchy. The bottom row was occupied by senators and members of the magistrate. There was also an imperial lodge. Behind it was a tier for horsemen, and then places for citizens of the empire. The next tier is plebeians and women. The last was a standing tier for slaves and ignoble foreigners.
In the arena of the amphitheater, the public was offered such entertainment spectacles as gladiator fights, baiting of wild animals, the killing of convicted criminals and the reconstruction of naval battles.
Fights of gladiators. The gladiators in the Roman amphitheater were criminals condemned to death, prisoners of war or slaves, who were specially bought for this. Free people were also professional gladiators – in these games they tried to earn money and fame.
On the night before the games, the gladiators had the opportunity to give instructions to complete their business, they made a special banquet for them. The next day, solemnly marching through the whole city, festively dressed fighters went to the amphitheater.
It was believed that before the fight in the arena of the Colosseum, the gladiators fell under the emperor’s podium and shouted “Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!” (lat. “Hello, Caesar, those who are about to die greet you!”). But now in historiography they refute the reliability of such a tradition.
Even individual Roman emperors entered the arena. It is known that Titus and Hadrian took part in this, as well as Commodus.
“He fought like a gladiator and received gladiatorial nicknames with such joy, as if they were given as a reward for triumphs, he always performed in gladiatorial games and ordered that messages about his every performance be entered in official historical documents. They say that he fought in the arena 735 times “, – wrote the historian Aelius Lampridius at the beginning of the 5th century about the emperor Commodus.
The battle scenarios were different. Participants fought for survival both one on one and in squads. The most spectacular and bloodthirsty was the group fight on the principle of “every man for himself”, it continued until the last survivor.
In the scope of gladiator fights, the record belongs to Emperor Trajan. He organized the games for 123 days. In total, during his reign, 40 thousand people died in the arena.
The lifestyle of the gladiators was close to the military: living in the barracks, strict discipline and daily training. For insubordination and non-compliance with the rules, the gladiators were severely punished. For victories they were better fed, and often brought concubines. Gladiators were not deprived of female attention and love, including from influential people. And the cash reward for successful fights was at the disposal of the school.
Harassing wild animals. The first mention of this fun in Rome dates back to 185 BC. Most likely, the new entertainment was borrowed during the Punic War with the Carthaginians, who had a custom to expose runaway slaves to fight against wild animals. The Colosseum and this fun have an important historical background that made this kind of entertainment more status. And that’s why.
In the 5th century AD, Rome renounced the pantheon of pagan gods in order to finally turn to Christianity. Immediately, the emperor Honorius Augustus banned gladiator fights – they went against the precepts of the new religion. However, the baiting of wild animals did not fall under this. And the Colosseum, offering the audience this fun, is trying to maintain the influence and status of an entertainment center.
As a result, wild animals from all over the empire were brought to Rome. Predators were valued – lions, panthers and cheetahs. They also brought outlandish animals, such as, for example, zebras. The diversity of the animal world in the ancient arena showed imperial power. In some representations, animals fought with each other, for example, a lion against a tiger, a bull or a bear. Sometimes the couples were unequal. However, most of these performances took place with the participation of a person. This was most often either a trained “hunter” in armor, with a spear or sword, or a convicted criminal who was supposed to receive his sentence in a fight with a wild beast. In this fight, a man, as a rule, was armed only with a dagger.
Naumachia. This was the name of the fierce battles of gladiators and criminals who found out the relationship on sea ships. The amphitheater became a lake, filled with two meters of water. Bright battles with sea monsters and collective drunken orgies were staged there. Naumachia were too costly, since ships and all naval ammunition were extremely expensive, however, the public effect of their holding was colossal.
It is known that the first reenactment of a naval battle in the history of Rome was financed by Julius Caesar, who wished to celebrate his triumphant military victory in Egypt with a grandiose performance. Caesar’s naumachia was held in a temporary lake dug in the Campus Martius, where a battle between the Egyptians and the Phoenicians was recreated. The performance involved 16 galleys and 2,000 gladiators.
Destruction and restoration
The metastases of the fall of the Roman Empire inevitably reached the Colosseum: the ancient amphitheater began to collapse. Craft workshops and trade shops, a vegetable store settled here. Business people tried to adapt the premises for a cloth factory. The Goths, who captured Rome in 410, plundered the Colosseum: bronze decorations and decorative elements were removed from the facade.
The last games in the amphitheater – they included only the baiting of wild animals – were held by Emperor Flavius Anicius Maximus in 523. Soon a small sanctuary was built inside the Colosseum, the arena became a cemetery. Niches and arches were filled with merchants and artisans. Despite this, the Colosseum began to rapidly fall into decay, its arena overgrown with trees and grass, and wild animals found shelter under the stands.
From the 11th century until the beginning of the 12th century, the Colosseum was a fortress for noble Roman families who competed with each other for influence and power. As a result, they ceded the building to Emperor Henry the Seventh, who presented it to the Roman Senate and people.
The Colosseum has survived three major earthquakes and a devastating fire in its history. So, in 1349, a powerful earthquake caused the collapse of the amphitheater. After that, they began to look at the ancient landmark as a place for the extraction of building material, and not only stones that had fallen off, but also deliberately broken out of it, began to be used for the construction of new buildings. Many Roman mansions, palaces and temples were built from marble and travertine quarried from the ruins of the Colosseum.
From complete destruction in the middle of the XVIII century, the Colosseum was saved by Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, who consecrated the ancient amphitheater in memory of the early Christians who died a martyr’s death here. At the same time, a cross carved in stone appeared on the wall of the Colosseum, and altars were installed in the center of the arena. All these symbols are called to honor the memory of torture, the procession to Golgotha and the death of the Savior on the cross. However, the cross and altars were removed from the Colosseum in 1874-1875.
The following popes, especially Pius the Seventh and Leo the Twelfth, continued to preserve the surviving parts of the building and strengthen the emergency fragments. And Pius the Ninth fixed some of the internal stairs in the Colosseum. In 1938-1939 the Colosseum was partially reconstructed. These efforts continue today.
The Colosseum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In October 2013, restoration work began in the amphitheater, which will take place in three stages. Scientists will monitor the dynamic vibrations from the subway line and highway that affect the structure. The inner zone of the Colosseum and underground premises under the arena are subject to restoration. Restoration work in the third phase will also include the construction of a tourist service center. It was reported that the renovation of the Colosseum would cost almost 20 million euros and should be completed by 2023.
The restored Colosseum will obviously become a new reason for the influx of visitors to Rome.
“The first time I visited the Colosseum was in 1998. Then everything was much simpler – tourists were allowed in without any queues, you could go straight down to the basement where the gladiators were waiting for their fights. And the last time I was in Rome before the pandemic, in 2019, and here it’s completely different: huge crowds of people, queues and no longer allowed to go down.This is a grandiose structure, if only because standing there in the stands, you understand what the engineering genius of the creators and builders is: it’s one thing to come up with, another the Colosseum, and tens of thousands of spectators gathered there, could leave the arena in just a few minutes, research proves this. and want bread and circuses,Alexan Mkrtchyan, member of the Presidium of the Alliance of Travel Agencies of the Russian Federation, shared his memories with Sputnik radio.
By tradition, on Good Friday at 21 o’clock in the Roman Colosseum, the service of the “Way of the Cross” begins. This is a torchlight procession in memory of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. The divine service headed by the pontiff consists of 14 stations – episodes of the earthly life of the last day of Christ, from condemnation to death to burial. During each standing, a prayer is said.
- In 2007, the New Open World Corporation held a competition – people around the world chose buildings worthy of the title of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The first place was taken by the Colosseum, which became the only attraction on the list representing the heritage of European culture.
– Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steven Tyler performed at the Coliseum.
– For a long time, tourists visited the amphitheater only at night to admire the beautiful illumination of the building. But scientists wanted to restore the historical glory of the Colosseum and developed exciting sightseeing tours. With their stories, guides try to immerse listeners as much as possible into the atmosphere of bygone times, when the foundation of the Flavian amphitheater was just being laid, thereby allowing them to see something more than ancient ruins.
Information for tourists
How to get there. Most often, international flights land at the Leonardo da Vinci airport, which all Italians call Fiumicino. Usually tourists travel to Rome by train, which departs from one of the terminals. But from the station you will have to go to the hotel by another means of transport. If you are traveling with a large group, it would be most logical to take a taxi near the airport. In addition, several bus carriers offer flights from the airport to various parts of the city.
The ancient amphitheater is located at the Colosseo metro station of the same name in the very center of the city. Bus numbers to the Colosseum: 60, 75, 81, 85, 117, 175, 271, 571, 673, 810, 850.
There is also tram number 3.
Operating mode. More recently, the approach to the Colosseum was open around the clock. But the authorities of the Italian capital realized that this could negatively affect the state of the building and hurried to establish security. Now the amphitheater is open only for daytime visits from 9:00 to 19:00 in summer (April-October) and from 9:00 to 16:00 in winter (November-March). During the year, the Colosseum “rests” from visitors only on December 25 and January 1.
Prices for entrance tickets. Entrance to the Colosseum and guided tour cost 12 euros for an adult visitor and 7 euros for a child (plus an additional 2 euros for exhibition activities). Pupils, students and pensioners can buy a reduced ticket. The purchase itself can be problematic. After all, most tourists decide to pay for the entrance at the amphitheater itself, which is why queues at the box office appear early in the morning. You can order tickets on the site of the complex or buy them at pre-sale points if you do not want to waste time in line. A single ticket, including a visit to the Palatine Museum and the Roman Forum, is valid for a day from the date of purchase.
And one more thing – do not forget to take a picture near the Colosseum with young people specially dressed in gladiator costumes, advises Aleksan Mkrtchyan:
“The main calling card of the Colosseum is the very guys dressed in the armor of ancient Roman warriors, they are happy, but not free, to take pictures with you, for money. The tradition of being photographed against the backdrop of the Colosseum, when a warrior in ancient Roman armor stabs you with a sword – this tradition remains”, – said Aleksan Mkrtchan.