Thursday, October 19, 2017

View of the interior of the Colosseum, by C. W. Eckersberg (1815)

The Colosseum is the most recognizable and iconic monument of Rome, if you see no other site in Rome you should see this structure. This grand stadium was constructed by the Flavian emperors. In 508-544BC the valley where the colosseum now stands had been drained. Houses and public buildings were constructed at this point where four regions of ancient Rome converged. The Great Fire of Rome in 64AD cleared the area and Nero had a new palace complex, Domus Aurea, constructed on the grounds. Under Vespasian much of Nero's private property was returned to the people and the construction of a grand amphitheatre began (71-72AD) on part of the property. The amphitheatre was completed during the reign of Titus in 80AD and by 81AD a third level had been added. At this time hypogeum, a series of spaces beneath the arena used as a "backstage" area were excavated. In the 2nd century repairs were carried out and in 222 after extensive fire damage the colosseum was completely rebuilt over the course of 30 years.
The colosseum was used for bull fights, gladiator fights, chariot races, official events and various public forms of entertainment. At its peek the most popular event was the Ludi Circenses, the chariot races, there were also naval battles reproduced with complex stage effects. The colosseum also hosted staged hunts, using live animals and often involved feeding convicts to the beasts. Mythological dramas were staged in the arena among scenic woods complete with forest animals. Rome had a strict class system and there were 5 levels of seating within the audience according to your social status. At capacity the arena could hold 50,000 to 80,000 spectators on the marble benches.
In 404 the colosseum saw its last gladiator fight when the Christian Orthodox Emperor Theodosius banned all forms of paganism and customs. The colosseum fell into disrepair firstly from the Visigoths sacking of Rome and then in the 400s pieces of the architecture were stolen for reuse in new structures. More repairs followed as did earthquakes, vandalism and the sacking of Rome by the Vandals of Genseric. From the 6th to 13th century, as the property of the Church of Santa Maria Nova the colosseum became a thruway and residential area. Ownership of the property changed over the years and looting continued as stone by stone the colosseum was dismantled. Finally in 1750 true restoration began under Pope Benedict XIV.
Today the amphitheatre is still the largest in the world and is the model on which the amphitheatres are based. There is now a museum in the upper floor of the outer wall and the arena is used for Roman Catholic ceremonies several times a year. The colosseum was recently chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

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