The Coliseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built in Roman history and you can still go and visit it today. Although there are no longer games held there, it is the greatest work in Roman architecture and engineering and it has stood the ages.
Its construction started sometime around 70 and 72 AD but it was not completed until 80 AD. It was originally capable of seating some 50,000 people, it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles…it was used for 500 years right up into the 6th century. There was a lot more held there then just the gladiatorial games, there were mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions and even dramas. In the early medieval time the building was no longer used for entertainment, they used it for shops, housing, fortress and other things. Today the Coliseum is in a near ruined condition because of earthquakes and stone-robbers, but it still stands as a symbol of the ancient Roman Empire, it is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and is still associated with the Roman Catholic Church.
It was the Emperor Vespasian the one who started the construction of the coliseum, the site that was chosen was a flat area on a valley floor that was located on some hills. By the end of the 2nd century, the place was very densely inhabited but was destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD; soon after, Nero decided that he liked the place so he took it and added it to his personal domain, he had a huge artificial lake surrounded by gardens pavilion and porticoes, he even had a giant bronze statue of himself built there.
When Vespasian took over, the place was changed; the Colossus was kept but everything else was changed, the lake was filled in and the land used for the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre, there were also Gladiatorial schools and support buildings put up. The Coliseum was built on the sight of Nero’s former lake and some people see that as Vespasian’s way of giving back to the people that which Nero had taken. It was at the very heart of the city, at the heart of Rome itself.
The third story of the Coliseum had been finished by the time of Vespasian’s death in 79, the top level was finished and inaugurated by his son, Titus. It is said that over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games. As the years passed, emperors added and improved the Coliseum, adding housing for animals and slaves and adding new levels so that more people could have seats.
The Coliseum was damaged by fire which destroyed the wooden upper levels, that was in 217 AD and it was not until 320 that repairs had been finished.
When the Medieval period came around, the Coliseum saw many changes; by the end of the 6th century there had been a small church built into the structure of the amphitheatre, and the area was also turned into a cemetery, there were housing and workshops rented out that supposedly continued to be rented out right up into the 12th century, there was even one family who turned the place into a castle! The imagination of man will never cease to amaze me!
In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV endorsed the Catholic view of the Coliseum as a sacred place because of the Christians that had been martyred there, he consecrated the place to the passion of Christ and declared it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs. Since the Catholic Church adopted the Coliseum, various Popes over the years restored the building as much as they could; today it is the greatest tourist attraction in Rome, taking in millions of tourist every year.
These days it is a symbol of Italy’s fight against capital punishment and every time a person condemned to death gets released, the building is illuminated in gold. It was even illuminated in gold in December 2007, when capital punishment was abolished in New Jersey.
It is interesting how something that has seen so much bloodshed over the many years has now become the symbol of life for people. It is very interesting!