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The Colosseum of Rome

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The Colosseum of Rome
The Colosseum of Rome

If there is a universal symbol to identify Rome in the world, this is certainly the Flavian Amphitheatre, or as it is more commonly called, the “Colosseum”, the largest amphitheatre in the world. One of 10 things to see in Rome and perhaps in the world. Since 72 A. D. it stands majestically in the archaeological heart of Rome, wanted by the Flavian dynasty who built it in the area occupied by the  artificial lake of the Domus Aurea.

The “Colosseum” is named after an imposing bronze statue, the “Colossus of Nero”, which was located close to it. Its central location was made possible after the disastrous fire in 64 d. C. during the reign of Nero. It was an easy place to reach, since then, there were no mass transportation.

The rise and fall of a symbol of ancient Rome

In 79 A.D. the Colosseum was dedicated to Vespasian and was inaugurated by Titus in 80 A.D.  with games that lasted 100 days  during which 5,000 animals were slaughtered, sacrificed to gain favour of the citizens. The Colosseum was later completed by Domitian and restored by Severus Alexander. During the late Empire inside the Colosseum were organised performances with hunts and gladiator fights. In 217 A.D. the upper porch of the Colosseum and the underground structures burned down by a fire and shows for the next five years had to take place in the Circus Maximus. This explains the characteristic shape that made it famous all over the world. Between 250 and 252 and in 320 A.D. other fires devastated it. Later there was also a disastrous earthquake in September 1349 that brought down a large part of the exterior walls and arches of the amphitheatre support.

Large amounts of travertine blocks, that made up the primary structure of the building, were taken away and used for the reconstruction of buildings destroyed. Step by step  the Colosseum was  abandoned and at first was transformed into a fortress against the barbarian invasions and further as a mine. Since it was  ruined and degraded, the Pope Sixtus V decided to shoot it down completely but then, he  chose to introduce it in the itinerary of the basilicas. The continuous raids finally ended  in the eighteenth century when Benedict XIV dedicated the amphitheatre to the passion of Christ and was raised  the crucifix in the central part of the building.

The architecture of the Colosseum

The Colosseum is made of travertine in the external side and load-bearing structure, while in other areas is made up of tuff, brick and concrete. It is long 188 meters and wide 156 metres . Three rows of arches on the façade about 50 meters high, while the  elliptical arena inside  is 86x54m and was separated from the auditorium by a podium, decorated with niches and embellished with marble. It was reserved exclusively to the members of the imperial family and other personalities. The auditorium was divided according to the social class of the spectators: the lower bleachers reserved for the patricians were in marble and divided into sectors, while the last, in which there was the plebs, were made of wood and separated by a high wall. The amphitheatre could accommodate about 150,000 spectators who could access through the vaulted corridors with stairs of the various plans; a drape  provided protection from the sun. In the basements of the arena there were tunnels for the beasts, the scenic equipment and elevators. Among the services to the public, in addition to drinking fountains scattered along some interior corridors, there were some  extravagant  fountains  with rose scented liquids, saffron or other essences.

What kind of games were held in the Colosseum?

The amphitheatre was the setting for different types of games: fights between animals (venationes), condemned people  killed by wild beasts (noxii) and fights between gladiators (munera). The periods in which there were more  shows were spring, summer (except August) and autumn. The gladiators were the ones that attracted the attention of the people. The tradition of the fighting seems to have been handed down by the Etruscans who believed it was right to sacrifice the prisoners of war or slaves during the games. The Romans also really appreciated the naval battles during the reigns of Domitian and Vespasian; This suggests that the original paving of the Colosseum was of such magnitude that it could contain a great amount of water. The latest evidence of the fights of gladiators is dated back  to 437, but the amphitheatre was still used for the killing of animals around the 523, under Theodoric.

The beasts used during the Colosseum battles

Only after the conquest of Asian and African provinces, the Latin world  had the opportunity to know the extravagant  unusual and scary appearances of beasts. Their brutality and their size intrigued and attracted the public who loved this exciting entertainment, especially when brave men had to fight  them. The struggles with the beasts were very bloody and included many animals of different races, excited and terrified by the noise of the crowd. Sometimes hunters with bows and arrows killed deer or gazelles, sometimes  exotic animals like ostriches were killed. Some shows were  fights between animals, for example, big animals were bound together by chains, while men teased them with long beams encouraging them to fight. The exploitation of exotic animals, such as tigers, in all major amphitheatres of the  Empire caused a real impoverishment of wildlife in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

The Colosseum gladiators between myth and reality

They take their name from a short sword used during the fight. The barracks in which they lived were called “Ludusgladiatorius”. tHey were grouped into schools called “the Family”  where they learned the techniques of struggle and took care of their athletic training thanks to the masters: the “lanistae”, surviving veterans of hard battles with a lot of experience ; trainings were very hard. Much of the fighters were among slaves and prisoners of common crimes, but there were free men who risked their lives to get a little of celebrity and popularity. The reputation of the champions  was truly remarkable, the audience cheered them and followed them with great passion. The gladiators knew how to use  different weapons which assumed different techniques of assault or defence. According to their type of armament they were called by different names: Cetervari, Secutores, Reziari, Mirmillones Traces.

Timetable  and prices of the Colosseum tickets
Address: Old Town, along the ForiImperiali
Getting there: Metro Line B stop Coliseum
Bus 60 – 75 – 85 – 87-117 – 271-571 – 175-186 – 810-850 – C3
tram 3
Opening hours: 8:30 am
Closing time:
Autumn/ Winter
From the last Sunday of October to 15th of February: 3:30 pm  last entrance and exit 4:30 pm ;
from February 16th to March 15th: last entrance 4 pm  and exit  5 pm;
from 16th  March to the last Saturday of March: entrance  4.30 pm and exit 5.30 pm
Spring /Summer
last Sunday of  March to 31st August:  last entrance 6.15 pm and exit 7.15 pm;
from 1st to 30th of  September : last entrance 6 pm and exit 7 pm;
from 1st October until the last Saturday of October: last entrance 5.30 pm and exit 6.30 pm;
Closed January 1, May 1 and December 25
Ticket prices: € 12,00 , Reduced ticket €  7.50 euro, for European Union members between 18 and 24 years and for European Union teachers.
The ticket can be bought  at the ticket offices of the Palatine in Via di San Gregorio n. 30, or in Piazza Santa Maria Nova 53 (200 meters from the Colosseum) and also includes admission to the Roman Forum and Palatine.