Colosseum of Ancient Rome
Built in 70 A.D., Rome’s Coloseum, 2,000 years after it was built, has been the site of celebrations, sporting events and bloodshed. Today, it’s a major tourist attraction, playing host to 3.9 million visitors each year. Located just east of the Roman Forum, the massive stone amphitheater known as the Colosseum was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people. In A.D. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus opened the Colosseum–officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater–with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights.
The emperor Vespasian (r AD 69–79) originally commissioned the amphitheatre in AD 72 in the grounds of Nero’s vast Domus Aurea complex. But he never lived to see it finished and it was completed by his son and successor Titus (r 79–81) a year after his death. To mark its inauguration, Titus held games that lasted 100 days and nights, during which some 5000 animals were slaughtered. Trajan (r 98–117) later topped this, holding a marathon 117-day killing spree involving 9000 gladiators and 10,000 animals.
The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater (meaning “theatre in the round”) in the world. Oval in shape, it measures 189m long, 156m wide and 50m high (about the height of a 12 storey building). This ancient sporting arena could easily fit a modern day football pitch inside. This brilliant building had 80 entrances and could seat approximately 50,000 spectators who would come to watch sporting events and games. Awnings were unfurled from the top story in order to protect the audience from the hot Roman sun as they watched gladiatorial combats, hunts, wild animal fights and larger combats such as mock naval engagements (for which the arena was flooded with water) put on at great expense. The vast majority of the combatants who fought in front of Colosseum audiences in Ancient Rome were men (though there were some female gladiators). Gladiators were generally slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war.
The Colosseum saw some four centuries of active use, until the struggles of the Western Roman Empire and the gradual change in public tastes put an end to gladiatorial combats and other large public entertainments by the 6th century A.D. Even by that time, the arena had suffered damaged due to natural phenomena such as lightning and earthquakes. In the centuries to come, the Colosseum was abandoned completely, and used as a quarry for numerous building projects, including the cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and defense fortifications along the Tiber River. Beginning in the 18th century, however, various popes sought to conserve the arena as a sacred Christian site, though it is in fact uncertain whether early Christian martyrs met their fate in the Colosseum, as has been speculated.
By the 20th century, a combination of weather, natural disasters, neglect and vandalism had destroyed nearly two-thirds of the original Colosseum, including all of the arena’s marble seats and its decorative elements. Restoration efforts began in the 1990s, and have proceeded over the years, as the Colosseum continues to be a leading attraction for tourists from all over the world.