Saturday, July 5, 2014

143. ... The arena of death ...

My next stop on my Roman adventure is the mighty Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. This architectural masterpiece is probably the most iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and in the 21st century it is certainly one of Rome’s busiest tourist destinations. 

 

The queue was pretty tame when I arrived at 8:30 and I was able to get straight through in about 10 minutes and have a pretty relaxed sight-seeing, but by the time I left at 10:30 the place was packed with eager visitors – and those hideous pushy noisy tour groups that think they have the right of ownership … 

 

 

Built of concrete, stone and millions of clay bricks plus tons of rubble in-fill, it was the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire. The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic metres of travertine stone which were set without mortar; they were held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was partly completed just 10 years later in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus ( further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian ( 81–96 ) ). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name. 
 
 
 A very rare photograph 
- not a tourist in sight - 
they are all coming up behind me in their millions ... !!!

 

Construction began in around 70–72 AD, partly funded by the spoils of battle and vast quantity of treasure taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem and the Rome's victory in the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD. The Colosseum can be thus interpreted as a great triumphal monument built in the Roman tradition of celebrating great victories, placating the Roman people instead of returning soldiers

 
 



The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, and was used for all sorts of public entertainment – including gladiatorial contests etc.. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era, and was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine. Now it stands partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, and is the star-attraction on the Roman Tourist map ...

 

 


The Colosseum had been completed up to the third story by the time of Vespasian's death in 79, and the top level was finished and the building inaugurated by his son, Titus, in 80. Stories from the time recount that over 9,000 wild animals – and goodness knows how many humans - were killed during the inaugural games held in the amphitheatre. I did over-hear one very animated tour guide telling his spellbound group that over 1.5 million humans were killed in the arena during the first 10 years - maybe that was a slight exaggeration ... 


 

 
 
The building was remodelled further under Vespasian's younger son, the newly designated Emperor Domitian, who constructed the series of underground tunnels used to house animals and slaves. 

The arena itself was 83 meters by 48 meters. It comprised a wooden floor covered by sand covering an elaborate underground structure of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like. 

Another story I over heard - they used sand to cover the wooden floor to soak up all the spilt blood. At regular intervals during the games, slaves would come in and rake up and remove the saturated sand ( and presumably the slaughtered life ... ) and replace it with fresh sand ...
 
 

 

 A similar platform is currently being constructed - the purpose for which I do not know - but it does give you an idea as to how it may have originally looked.


 

 
 
The Colosseum's huge crowd capacity made it essential that the venue could be filled or evacuated quickly. Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums to deal with the same problem. The amphitheatre was ringed by eighty entrances at ground level, 76 of which were used by ordinary spectators. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase. The northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor and his aides, whilst the other three axial entrances were most likely used by the elite. All four axial entrances were richly decorated with painted stucco reliefs, of which fragments survive. Many of the original outer entrances have disappeared with the collapse of the perimeter wall. Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section and row. They accessed their seats via passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. Spectators were seated in a tiered arrangement that reflected the rigidly stratified nature of Roman society.
( nothing much has changed in all those centuries since ... ).

  

In 217, the Colosseum was badly damaged by a major fire ( caused by lightning, according to historians ) which destroyed the wooden upper levels of the amphitheatre's interior. It was not fully repaired until about 240 and underwent further repairs in 250 and again in 320. Further damage caused by a major earthquake in 443 needed more repair work 484.

 
  
The arena continued to be used for contests well into the 6th century, with gladiatorial fights last mentioned around 435 and animal hunts around 523. After that the Colosseum underwent several radical changes of use during the Medieval period. By the late 6th century a small church had been built into the structure of the amphitheater, though this apparently did not confer any particular religious significance on the building as a whole. The arena was converted into a cemetery. The numerous vaulted spaces in the arcades under the seating were converted into housing and workshops, and are recorded as still being rented out as late as the 12th century. 

 

Severe damage was inflicted on the structure by the great earthquake in 1349, causing the outer south side to collapse. Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome. And over the centuries the interior of the amphitheater has been extensively stripped of stone, which was reused elsewhere, or ( in the case of the marble facade ) was burned to make quicklime for cement. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks which still scar the building today. 

 

In the late 16th century Pope Sixtus V planned to turn the building into a wool factory to provide employment for Rome's prostitutes, though this proposal fell through with his premature death. In 1671 Cardinal Altieri authorized its use for bullfights; a public outcry caused the idea to be hastily abandoned. In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV endorsed the view that the Colosseum was a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. He forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry and consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ, declaring it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs who perished there. However there is no historical evidence to support Benedict's claim, nor is there even any evidence that anyone prior to the 16th century suggested this might be the case; the church now concludes that there are no historical grounds for the supposition. 

 
 Exposed Roman paving ...
 
In recent years the Colosseum has become a symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment, which was abolished in Italy in 1948. Several anti–death penalty demonstrations took place in front of the Colosseum in 2000. Since that time, as a gesture against the death penalty, the local authorities of Rome change the colour of the Colosseum's night time illumination from white to gold whenever a person condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world gets their sentence commuted or is released, or if a jurisdiction abolishes the death penalty. Most recently, the Colosseum was illuminated in gold when capital punishment was abolished in the American state of New Mexico in April 2009. 

 

The north side of the perimeter wall is still standing; the distinctive triangular brick wedges at each end are modern additions, having been constructed in the early 19th century to shore up the wall. The remainder of the present-day exterior of the Colosseum is in fact the original interior wall. 

View of the Arch of Constantine ...

Ben Hur himself - or is it El Cid - not too sure ... !!! ...


A cross stands in the Colosseum, with a plaque, stating: ...  
" The amphitheater, once consecrated to triumphs, entertainments and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions " ...
 
The mighty Colosseum is undergoing constant restoration 
- ensuring that it continues to fascinate travelers for centuries to come ...