Architecture

Facts about Colosseum

22 Colosseum facts

Bloody pearl of the ancient world

Visited by over five million tourists a year, the Colosseum is one of the most important relics of the ancient world. In antiquity, the amphitheater was a site of cruel death scenes for both people and animals. During its functioning, almost half a million human lives were lost in its midst.

1
Its construction began between 70 and 72 AD and lasted until 80 AD.
Before the Colosseum was built, the terrain was densely built up and inhabited by people. The situation changed after a great fire broke in 64 AD.
2
It was constructed for the emperor Vespasian as a gift for the Roman people.
By the time of Vespasian's death in 79 AD, three stories of the construction were completed. The whole building was finished under Vespasian’s successor, Titus Caesar Vespasianus of the Flavian dynasty.
3
In the beginning, it was named the Flavian Amphitheater in honor of the Flavian dynasty that ruled the Roman Empire during the construction.
4
It is assumed that the Colosseum was built by Jewish prisoners, imprisoned during and after the First Jewish-Roman War that took place from 66 AD to 73 AD.
Although there is no direct evidence of their involvement in the construction, it was a common practice in the Roman Empire to engage imprisoned enemies in heavy physical labor to highlight the Empire’s dominance and further humiliate the defeated. Roman engineers, architects, sculptors, and painters were involved in any kind of work that required a more sophisticated approach.
5
The present name most likely comes from the statue of Colossus of Nero—an enormous sculpture erected at Nero’s request, that stood nearby to the site where the Colosseum was built.
The Colossus of Nero’s author was a Greek sculptor, Zenodoros, who designed the sculpture and was responsible for its construction. It was a bronze statue of Nero, with an added radiate crown to imitate the Roman god of Sun—Sol. The sculpture was destroyed around 1000 AD under unknown circumstances.
6
It is 188 meters long, 524 meters in circumference, and about 49 meters high.
Wood, limestone, tuff, ceramic tiles, cement, and mortar were used in its construction.
7
It has four stories, each of which is built in different architectural orders.
The first storey is built in Doric order, the second in Ionic, the third in Corinthian, and the fourth is decorated with Corinthian pilasters.
8
It could host up to 50,000 people, although, according to the Chronograph of 354—the first illustrated codex, created by Roman scribe and stone engraver Furius Dionysius Filocalus in 354 AD—it could actually host up to 87,000 viewers.
9
The gladiatorial school, Ludus Magnus (Great Gladiatorial Training School), was situated directly east of the Colosseum.
It was connected with the Colosseum via underground corridors that were used to transport gladiators into the arena.
10
It is the largest ancient amphitheater in the world.
11
The opening of the Colosseum was inaugurated by 100-day games, initiated by Emperor Titus Caesar Vespasianus.
According to Dio Cassius, a Roman historian and senator, about 9,000 animals were killed during the inaugural games.
12
There was a clear division into social status in the stands.
The lowest rows were occupied by senators, the highest by women, slaves, and the poor.
13
There were 80 entrances to the Colosseum.
The way the Colosseum was designed serves as a model for today’s sports venues. According to estimates, viewers from the lowest rows could leave the Colosseum within five to six minutes.
14
During the first years since it has been opened, it hosted naumachia—naval battles.
The expansion of the Colosseum’s undergrounds under Emperor Domitian prevented further staging of naval battles.
15
In 2007, it was declared one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
16
It was a place of cruel and bloody fights between gladiators and wild animals.
According to estimates, over 400,000 people and about a million animals lost their lives during the Colosseum’s operation period.
17
The last official games in the Colosseum with the participation of gladiators took place in 404 AD, and with the participation of animals in approximately 528 AD.
Unofficially, gladiatorial fights were fought until around 440 AD.
18
The undergrounds of the Colosseum hide many rooms where props were kept.
The scenery of the Colosseum depended on the nature of the fights that were fought on it.
19
Every Good Friday since 1750, the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession from around the Colosseum.
The tradition was broken in 1870 after the abolition of the Papal State and later resumed at the initiative of Pope Paul VI in 1964.
20
The microclimate in the amphitheater transformed it into a wild botanical garden.
Since the first cataloging of flora by a Roman physician and herbalist Domenico Panaroli in 1643, 684 plant species were identified. Their number has been systematically changing. In 1871, an attempt was made to remove the flora in order to prevent the gradual degradation of the site. The plan failed, as currently, out of all the species cataloged by Panaroli, over 200 are still present.
21
Over the centuries, the Colosseum was damaged many times as a result of fires and earthquakes.
The first major damage occurred as a result of the 217 AD fire, during which the arena and the top floors of the building were destroyed. As a result of the earthquake in 1349, the outer part of the southern wall of the amphitheater collapsed.
22
Andrea Bocelli, Elton John, and Ray Charles, among others, played their concerts in the Colosseum arena.
The current director of the Colosseum, Alfonsina Russo, plans to open the facility for rock concerts of bands like U2 or Sting.

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