Round The World Magazine take a look inside the Colosseum, Rome
Rome’s most iconic structure is the largest amphitheater ever built, and is currently listed as one of the new seven wonders of the world. The Colosseum was built under emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 under his successor Titus. Historical documents indicate the Colosseum was built by the hands of 60,000 Jewish slaves.
The area beneath the Colosseum was referred to as the Hypogeum (translating to underground). The hypogeum consisted of two-levels of subterranean tunnels and 32 animal pens. There were 80 vertical shafts that released animals into the arena. 76 of the entrances were used by ordinary spectators, and the northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor and his entourage.
The 4 axial entrances were used by the elite and were decorated with painted stucco reliefs. The surviving entrances are XXIII (23) to LIV (54) and they have fragments of the fancy decoration remaining.
The name ‘Colosseum‘ derived from the nearby statue of Colossus which was part of Nero’s Park.
The purpose of the Colosseum was to host shows and events that mostly had gory endings.
Building the Colosseum was also opportunity for the Flavian Dynasty to showcase Roman engineering to the world.
Shows involving individual gladiators, referred to as munera, consisted of armed persons demonstrating their power, often with a religious or family prestige element.
Events involving wild animal hunts were referred to as venatio where a variety of species were imported from Africa and the Middle East. Animals involved in the shows included leopards, panthers, lions, elephants, tigers and rhinoceros.
It is said that the slaughter of wild animals inside the Colosseum saw the number of lions, jaguars and tigers plummet across the globe. The impact of the shows devastated the wildlife of North Africa and the entire Mediterranean region. Some species were wiped out entirely.
After a particular set of games, where 9,000 animals were killed, the hippopotamus completely disappeared from the River Nile, and the North African elephant was wiped of the face of the Earth.
The Colosseum is now home to a resident cat who roams the grounds freely, unlike the wild cats who were on the same territory centuries prior.
Local painters, technicians and architects worked inside the Colosseum to add special effects to shows. Additional features were added to the center of the arena such as real trees and background paintings.
Some shows reenacted sea battles and dramas as well as acrobatic performances and magicians. Evidence inside the grounds suggests that elevators and pulleys were raised and lowered to move scenery and props in and out of the arena.
The existence of major hydraulic mechanisms is also evident which allowed the Colosseum to be rapidly flooded with water via a connection to a nearby aqueduct. It has been documented that some shows in the arena included warships on water which has baffled architects who analysed the current state of the Hypogeum.
During some of the show intervals, public executions took place with the assistance of a wild animal (executions ad bestias). Those sentenced to death were sent into the hypogeum, unarmed and naked, where they would inevitably be torn to pieces in front of a live audience.
The Gladiators selected for fighting were slaves of Roman society. They had no rights of citizenship and were both admired and disliked by the Roman audience.
Some parts of the marble façade and the stone of the Colosseum were used for the construction of nearby St Peter’s Basilica and other monuments built in Rome.
The Colosseum is visibly damaged, most of which was caused by a series of natural disasters including the earthquakes of 847 AD and 1231 AD.
It is estimated that the events hosted inside the Colosseum over hundreds of years have taken the lives of 500,000 people, and over a million wild animals.
The last gladiatorial fight inside the Colosseum occurred in 435 AD, and the last animal hunts date back to 523 AD. The events were stopped primarily because of expensive costs of acquiring animals and gladiators.
Despite the brutal history of the building, the grounds of the Colosseum were also used as a religious space by Christians over many centuries. A large cross was removed in the 1870s during a frenzy of secular archaeology that was funded by the new Italian state. The cross has since been replaced by Mussolini in 1926 in an effort to placate Catholics. The cross can be seen by visitors today.
684 species of flora have been identified at the grounds since records began, bringing life to the grounds of death. The variation of plants can be explained by Rome’s changing climate, bird migration, as well as the unintentional transport of seeds when importing animals from all corners of the world.
The Colosseum hosts a museum dedicated to Eros on the upper floor of the building.
The maze of subterranean passageways inside the Colosseum, that were once used to transport wild animals and gladiators, has been open to the public since 2010.
Beautiful Roman art in the museum
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