Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Colosseum

We could not have asked for a better day to visit this UNESCO World Heritage SIte.  No wonder this is the most visited tourist attraction in Rome. This place is amazing.

Considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering... even today it is the largest amphitheatre in the world. It was estimated to accommodate between 50,000 to 85,000 people!  It apparently even had covered awnings over two-thirds of the arena... the Superdome of it's day.

We saw five pretty cool amphitheatres on this trip, but this is the Grand Daddy of them all.

The Colosseum construction began under emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus.  An incredible feat in just ten years!  

This project was made possible by booty from the siege of Jerusalem... and is considered to be a triumphal monument built to celebrate their great Roman victory.

The outer wall is estimated to have required over 130,000 cubic yards of travertine stone which was set without mortar and held together with 300 tons of iron clamps.  This wall was once over 150 feet high with a perimeter of 1,788 feet.

This wall once completely surrounded the colosseum... but what the earthquakes didn't knock over the pilferers stole.  Only part of this north half remains. 

Most of the travertine blocks disappeared into palaces, churches and various buildings in Rome.

This end of the outer wall has been built out of modern masonry bricks and mortar to stabilize the wall and keep it from further deterioration.  Where ever you see red brick and mortar these are works to repair and protect... not original construction.

When I first saw all these holes all around this building I didn't understand it.  But thanks to Wikipedia I learned these holes were needed for the iron clamps to keep things in place.

Because of the huge crowd capacity it was mandatory to move people in and out very quickly. Eighty entrances at ground level surrounded the amphitheatre. 76 for use by ordinary spectators, one for the emperor and his buddies or women, with three for celebrities and the aristocracy.

Wide corridors and stairways also helped with the traffic flow. We only see one corridor here, but adjacent to this is another one of equal width. On the inside brass clamps were used instead of steel clamps to hold the blocks in place. They did not use any mortar between them.

What a great feeling to be walking into this historic amphitheatre.

There were lots of parts missing... but the scale of this place is amazing.

These red bricks with mortar were used to reconstruct some missing parts and make it safe for people to move around the colosseum.  These ladies are resting on some of the many columns that used to be all around the upper level perimeter.

This section drawing from Wikipedia helps to fill in some of the missing parts.  It shows where columns were used around the upper level.  

It also shows several levels of seating.  Of course the emperor had a special box providing the best views of the arena.  The lowest level closest to the action was for senators and the most important people of the day. Next highest level was for equestrians. Third tier was for the intermediates... (I think that means middle class folks), and the nosebleed section behind the columns was for women and plebeians.

There is a conspicuous absence of seating in this largest-in-the-world colosseum... but look to the left of centre above for a sample.

Some original marble blocks here are set in place with red  bricks and mortar.  No padded seats here... this is solid comfort.

The elliptical Colosseum is 615 feet by 510 feet and covers about six acres.  The central arena is an oval 287 feet long by 180 feet wide.

The 'pit' had a wooden floor over it covered with sand. The Latin word for sand is harena or arena. The underground structure called the hypogeum literally means "underground."

This network of tunnels and cages under the arena kept all the animals and gladiators for the performances.  Look closely and you can see the two levels in the underground works. 

Eighty vertical shafts provided quick access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed below.  Larger hinged platforms became ramps for elephants and larger animals.  

You can see many of these 80 shafts in the rows. When I took this photo I didn't see this shaft detail.  Thank you, Wikipedia.

This illustration from Wikipedia shows the plight of early Christians, who were used for entertainment.  I don't like this picture for the message... but it shows how the Corinthian columns surrounded the nosebleed section.  Awesome, totally awesome illustration.

Wikipedia has about 16 pages that I gleaned from to help writing this blog.

The arcades are framed by half columns of Tuscan, Ionic and Corinthian orders. All that remains are fragments of the columns and their capitals.  

There were many years when this facility was used as a quarry... and much of it was dismantled and sold to the highest bidder.  Italy has had many financial crisis's before joining the European Union. 

Several different capitals were used in different locations.

The Ionic capitals with scrolls...

The Corinthian capitals with flourishing foliage.

I don't know the name for this vertical wire put into fresh mortar... but we have seen this used many times on public buildings.  If it keeps the birds from perching, then they have to poop somewhere else, right?  

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

This couple from our ship came here on the same tour bus... and asked Shirley to take their photo on their camera.  And I captured them as well.  People everywhere wanted to prove they were here with their picture taken at the Colosseum.

And I got my sweetheart here as well.  It was an awesome day so far... and we still had the St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum to see.

The Colosseum was voted one of the New7Wonders of the World  If you click the link it is interesting to see not only the list of seven wonders... but also the list of runners up.  

How many of these have you been to?

Now I can check one more place off my Bucket List. A most thrilling experience!

"The ancient Romans built their greatest masterpieces of architecture, their amphitheaters, for wild beasts to fight in." -Voltaire


  1. very cool pictures. my question -- so why did they take all the iron clamps out? doesn't that make you a bit nervous walking around with the building all unclamped?

  2. Didn't know that at the time... so it didn't bother us then.

    It sure is not the place to be in an earthquake.

  3. Did you get a sense of how many people walk through it in the course of a day? It's big, but there were a lot of people!

    And, yeah, that illustration is sad. But good.

    Great post.

  4. They say it averages 10,000 people per day tour the coliseum.

    It was one of most fun places to tour... and a fun blog to put together.