(Open: from 9 to an hour before sunset, closed Sunday afternoons). The largest amphitheater ever built in Rome and symbol for Romanism was the work of the Flavian emperors and was therefore called Amphiteatrum Flavium. The name Colosseum first come to be used in the Middle Ages and can be traced to the nearby colossal bronze statue of Nero as the sun god which rose up from the site of the vestibule of the Domus Aurea.The emperor Vespasian began the construction of the Colosseum in the valley between the Caelian, Palatine and Esquiline hills, on the site of the artificial lake around which Nero’s royal residence was centered and which had been drained for the purpose. Vespasian’s intentions were to restore to the Roman people what Nero had tyrannically deprived them of, as well as that of providing Rome with a large permanent amphitheatre in place of the amphitheatre of Taurus in the Campus Martius, a contemporary wooden structure erected by Nero after the fire of A.D. 64 but which was no longer large enough.Works began in the early years of Vespasian’s reign and in A.D. 79 the building, which had gone up only to the first two exterior orders with the first three tiers of steps inside, was dedicated. The fourth and fifth tiers were completed by Titus and it was inaugurated in A.D. 80 with imposing spectacles and games which lasted a hundred days. Under Domitian the amphitheatre assumed its present aspect and size. According to the sources he arrived ad clipea, in other words he placed the bronze shields which decorated the attic, adding the maenianum summum, the third internal order made of wooden tiers. Moreover he also had the subterraneans of the arena built, after which the naumachie (naval battles for which the arena had to be flooded) could no longer be held in the Colosseum as the literary sources tell us they once were. Additional work was carried out by Nerva, Trajan and Antoninus Pius. Alexander Severus restored the building after it had been damaged by a fire caused by lightning in A.D. 217. Further restoration was carried out by Gordian III and later by Decius, after the Colosseum had once more been struck by lightning in A.D. 250. Other works of renovation were necessary after the earthquakes of A.D. 429 and 443. Odoacer had the lower tiers rebuilt, as witnessed by the inscriptions which we can read with the names of the senators dating from between 476 and 483 A.D. The last attempt at restoration was by Theodoric, after which the building was totally abandoned.In the Middle Ages it became a fortress for the Frangipane and further earthquakes led to the material being used for new constructions. From the 15th century on then it was transformed into a quarry for blocks of travertine until it was consecrated by Pope Benedict XV in the middle of the 18th century. The building is elliptical in form and measures 188 x 156 meters at the perimeter and 86 x 54 meters inside, while it is almost 49 meters high. The external facade is completely of travertine and built in four stories. The three lower stories have 80 arches each, supported on piers and framed by attached three-quarter columns, Doric on the first floor, Ionic on the second and Corinthian on the third. They are crowned by an attic which functions as a fourth story, articulated by Corinthian pilasters set alternately between walls with a square window and an empty space which once contained the gilded shields. The beams which supported the large canopy (velaria) to protect the spectators from the sun were fitted into a row of holes between corbels. The canopies were unfurled by a crew of sailors from Misenum.The arches of the ground floor level were numbered to indicate the entrance to the various tiers of seats in the cavea. The four entrances of honour were situated at the ends of the principal axes of the building and were unnumbered, reserved for upper class persons of rank such as magistrates, members of religious colleges, the Vestal Virgins. The entrance on the north side was preceded by a porch (a small two-columned portico) which led to the imperial tribune through a corridor decorated with stuccoes.The external arcades led to a twin set of circular corridors from which stairs led to the aisles (vomitoria) of the cavea; the second floor had a similar double ambulatory, and so did the third, but lower than the other two, while two single corridors were set one over the other at the height of the attic.Inside, the cavea was separated from the arena by a podium almost four meters high behind which were the posts of honour. Il was horizontally divided into three orders (maenianum) separated by walls in masonry (baltei). The first two maeniana (the second subdivided once more into upper and lower) had marble seats and were vertically articulated by the entrance aisles (vomitoria) and stairs. The results were sectors of a circle called cunei. It was therefore possible for the seats to be identified by the number of the tier, the cuneo and the seat. The third maenianum or maenianum summum had wooden tiers and was separated from the maenianum secundum below by a high wall. There was a colonnade with a gallery reserved for the women, above which a terrace served for the lower classes who had standing room only.Access to seats in the cavea was based on social class, the higher up the seat the less important the person. The emperor’s box was at the south end of the minor axis and this was also where consuls and Vestal Virgins sat. The box at the north extremity was for the prefect of the city (praefectus Urbis) together with other magistrates. The tiers closest to the arena were reserved for senators. The inscriptions to be read on some of the extant tiers inform us that they were reserved for specific categories of citizens.The arena was originally covered with wooden flooring which could be removed as required. In the case of hunts of ferocious animals the spectators in the cavea were protected by a metal grating surmounted by elephant tusks and with horizontally placed rotating cylinders so that it was impossible for the wild animals to climb up using their claws.The area below the arena floor contained all the structures necessary for the presentation of the spectacles: cages for the animals, scenographic devices, storerooms for thr gladiators’ weapons, machines, etc. They were arranged in three annular walkways with openings that permitted the areas to be functionally connected with each other. A series of thirty niches in the outer wall was apparently used for elevators which took gladiators and beasts up to the level of the arena. The artificial basin created for the lake of the Domus Aurea was rationally exploited in the construction of the Colosseum, saving an enormous amount of excavation work. Once drained, the foundations were cast and travertine piers were set into a large elliptical concrete platform, forming a framework up to the third floor with radial walls in blocks of tufa and brick set between them. It was thus possible to work on the lower and upper parts at the same time, so that the building was subdivided into four sectors in which four different construction yards were engaged simultaneously. Various types of spectacles were given in the Colosseum: the munera or contests between gladiators, the venationes, or hunts of wild beasts and the previously cited naumachie.Christians may or may not have been martyrized in the Colosseum. A final point to consider is the number of spectators the Colosseum was capable of containing: opinions vary but the figure must have been around 50,000.
17 aprile 2008 By Leave a Comment