Today the Roman Colosseum is officially the biggest amphitheater in the world, the largest monument of the capital city of Italy and the second most visited place after the Vatican City State. No wonder it’s included in the UNESCO World Heritage List and quite obviously it is a magnet for Rome tourists from all around the globe as one of the most recognisable European landmarks.
Let’s answer the most common questions about this phenomenal building with several basic facts you may be curious to know.
It is believed that the Colosseum once had a colossal statue of the Roman Emperor Nero nearby, which modeled that one of Colossus of Rhodes, a gigantic statue of the Greek god Helios (one of the he Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). Thus the amphitheater acquired its name.
To commemorate his own inauguration as Emperor of Roman Empire in 69 AD, Vespasian decided to build a big public entertainment house, which was later called the Colosseum.
Emperor Vespasian belonged to the dynasty of Flavians, and the Colosseum was originally named Flavian Amphitheater to announce their might in stone.
Although we know that the Colosseum is made of concrete and stones, it is still a big secret for modern people what made these materials so endurable. Obviously, the concrete used in the constructions then wasn’t the same concrete we produce today. The Pantheon and the Trajan’s Market are also about 2000 years old and they are the living proof that ancient Roman’s concrete can stand the test of time while the expiration date for the modern one is 600 years. Romans did have their secrets, which disappeared with them. Today scientists make a guess that the volcanic ash, which was allegedly part of the Roman concrete formula, made it so lasting and prevented cracks. However, no way scientists can replicate this formula again.
Vespasian started building the monument in 70 AD and his son Titus finished it in 80 AD. Thousands and thousands of slaves worked day and night to finish it in only 10 years.
The destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is a sad fact for the Jewish history, which has been lamented over by Jews ever since the Temple disappeared. Unbelievable, but the first stones of the Colosseum were the spoils taken in 70 AD from the ruined Jewish Temple in Jerusalem by Emperor Vespasian.
The amphitheater was used to entertain the Roman public approximately until the 5th century. During this time, it was the biggest arena for man and animal fights and then it even served the purpose of staging mock naval battles! For that reason the lowest part of the Colosseum –- hypogeum – was filled with water. It must have been spectacular, expensive and dramatic!
After the fall of the Roman Empire there was a long period of abandonment. The medieval Romans, for instance, used the amphitheater for different unrelated purposes: storage and planting vegetables, merchants’ and blacksmith’s spots on the vaulted floors and so on. In the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V was planning an overhaul, but he died before the plan was fulfilled, so the monument had to wait again.
Up to the 19th centuries acts of vandalism were a regular occurrence for the Colosseum, but even though many tried to pinch off pieces from this construction, it still managed to preserve its posture.
During the time, parts of the Colosseum were used in construction of other buildings and historical monuments, such as St. Peter's Basilica.
In 2013, the Colosseum became the center of the stage for the Rome city administration and the needed refurbishing began. It took 33 long months for archaeologists, architects and many other different specialists to restore the building. In 2017, some additional renovation works were done to allow the tourists to visit the top floors of the Colosseum. In the Ancient Rome, on the fourth and the fifth floors there were seats for the poorest part of the public. So now this is the top place to overview the interior of the amphitheater and get one of the most beautiful panoramas on the capital city of Italy.
Constructions like the Colosseum were scattered all around the Roman Empire. Many of them were made of wood, others - from stone and concrete. As an instance, in the Jewish Quarter you can still see another Colosseum’s “copy” - Teatro di Marcello, which is often confused with the Colosseum by some inexperienced tourists. Such arenas can be met in numerous other cities, both Italian and European, which once were part of the Roman Empire. But the Colosseum outstands all the amphitheater constructions thanks to its size - 189 meters long, 156 meters wide and 50 meters in height.
Interestingly, despite the uniqueness of the Colosseum, history did know bigger entertainment venues as, for example, the Circus Maximus hippodrome. The latter was used for chariot races, therefore it is unfair to compare it to the Colosseum that was dedicated for different kinds of fun.