In the beginning of the new story I just started, you meet the main character just as she’s going out into an arena – a modern rendition of the colosseum. So, it seems only fitting that today’s trip would take us to Italy, and that we would focus on the historical place that has such a long and tragic tale.
(P.S. Click on the pictures to see them REALLY BIG.)
First, let’s delve into a little backstory. It’s an amphitheatre smack-dab in the middle of Rome and is actually the largest one ever built in the Roman Empire. Work began in 72AD and didn’t finish for about another eight years. It can hold 50,000 people – which (to me at least) seems like A LOT considering the population of the world back then compared to now. But this is a modern estimation. Ancient estimations put the numbers at almost 90,000 people.
Most people know that it was used for gladiatorial fights – which is true – but it was also used for mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and theatre productions (think Oedipus).
What might be even more interesting is that during the Middle Ages, these things stopped and it was turned into a place for workshops, as well as housing for a religious order. It also doubled as a fortress and a Christian shrine.
The typical shape of the colosseum (as seen below) is a result of earthquakes and people who have taken both stone and bronze (part of the structure) out in order to use it elsewhere. The arena floor was simply made out of wood and was covered in sand. The two-story passageways underneath were where both gladiators and animals were kept before the contests.
Interesting (if somewhat disgusting) facts:
- 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games
- The arena was eventually converted into a cemetery
- It has been used over the years as a symbol in the international campaign against capital punishment
- Tickets given during events were in the form of shards of pottery with numbers on them
- People reached their seat via the vomitoria – a series of passageways that allowed the building to be filled up and cleared out within a matter of minutes
- Vomitoria comes from the Latin word for “rapid discharge” – and yes, that’s where we get our word “vomit” from
- Animals used in the arena weren’t just limited to lions and leopards, but included rhinos, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, bears, and even ostriches
- Although it’s debated by historians, there are accounts that the colosseum could be flooded to provide an arena for the mock sea battles
I really enjoyed being at the colosseum because it has such a well-known history that you can’t help but be in awe by the fact that you’re standing in the same place literally billions of people have passed through over the course of the years.
And that’s actually one of my favorite things about Italy: you walk down the road and see modern buildings and modern technology and modern people, then BAM. You have this 2,000 year old structure right there in front of you. Italy is a great example of the modern and the ancient colliding every day and yet still surviving.
Have you been to Italy? Seen the colosseum? Have you ever been in a place where “our” world was so clearly juxtaposed next to the ancient world?