The Colosseum, situated in Rome at the end of Imperial Forums avenue and visited by millions of tourists every year, is the symbol of ancient Rome and Rome tours are not complete without a visit to this amphitheatre.
Why is it called Colosseum?
First of all let’s talk about its name. The original name wasn’t Colosseum but Flavius Amphitheatre. Some people think that the name derives from the fact that it is very big and in fact in italian “colossale” means enormous, gigantic but in reality the name of the monument refers to the huge statue of Nero, called “Colossus”, that was nearby. It was a 30 m high bronze statue originally in the Domus Aurea but then moved by the emperor Hadrian near to the Colosseum
What does the word “amphitheatre” mean?
The Colosseum is an amphitheatre but what does the word “amphitheatre” mean? In Rome the first amphitheatres were built in first century BC to be used for gladiatorial combat instead of the Forum. The first roman amphitheatre consisted of two wooden theatres joined together, in fact the word amphi means twice in Greek. The two theatres were not fixed but could rotate so that the amphitheatre could be used not only by gladiators for combats but also by actors as a real theatre.
When was the Colosseum built?
The contruction began in A.D. 72 under the Emperor Vespasian and took 8 years before the amphitheatre was completed. Vespasian died one year before and the Colosseum was opened by its son Titus in A.D. 80. It is said that the inauguration lasted for one hundred days and about one thousand animals were killed in the arena, the wooden central elliptical area 76 meters long and 44 meters wide where the gladiators fightings took place. The name arena comes from the Latin and means “sand” and in fact the central area of the Colosseum was covered with sand to absorb blood during the fights. Today you can see a cross in the arena and this is because it was believed that during the Roman empire many christians were killed here in the Colosseum but most historians now believe that it is just a legend.
The Colosseum was the highest building in Rome
The Colosseum was the highest building in ancient Rome, exceeding 52 meters. The walls consisted of four tiers, the first three tiers with 80 arches. The people could enter the Flavius Amphitheatre
through the arches of the lower tier but not all eighty, because six archs were reserved to nobles and six to people participating in the games.
The Colosseum itself is elliptical, like all classical amphitheatres, 189 meters long and 156 meters wide, and there were seats for
about fifty thousand spectators. Not all seats had the same importance. The first floor was reserved to the emperor,
the imperial court and the senators, the second floor to the noble families of Rome, the third and fourth floor to the common people.
Under the arena there were the training rooms and dressing rooms for the gladiators, with the cages for the
wild animals needed for the games. There were two undergrounds floors and they can be seen when you visit the Colosseum
because the floor of the arena collapsed long ago time. Elevators were used to take animals from the undergrounds to the arena.
How appeared originally the Colosseum?
Nowadays when tourists visit it for sure are impressed by its imponent structure but most of them don’t think it is beautiful of course. But the Colosseum was completely different, because it was covered with travertine stone and so it was white. Imagine how beautiful it was under the sun! The white travertine material was then removed during the Middle Ages and Renaissance and used in many churches and palaces. When you visit St. Peter’s Basilica and walk on the steps to the entrance, actually you are walking upon the Colosseum! And this explains all those holes the tourists see. They were made to extract lead and iron used by the Romans during the construction of the amphitheatre.
Did the Romans pay to enter the Colosseum?
Did they pay as you do in your Rome tours nowadays? No, it was completely free! And Romans loved to spend their time in the biggest amphitheatre of the empire and emperors were glad to offer fantastic spectacles to them. Gladiatorial games were long considered to have
come from the Etruscans but nowadays it is believed that the origin is from Campania.
What are gladiators and how was a gladiatorial show?
There were different types of gladiators, with different arms, and the purpose of the fight was, most of the times, to kill the opponent. If some gladiator survived to the fight it was on the public’s decision to make him killed or not. The gladiators were slaves or criminals trying to obtain freedom or fame in the arena. There were training schools to learn to fight and the best gladiators were like idols. In the Colosseum during the morning there were spectacles called venatio and the executions of criminals by means of wild animals, lions for example. But the most important part of the show, that is the fights between gladiators, began in the afternoon.