Wandering Bard: Italy (The Colosseum)

Posted: May 30, 2012 in Wandering Bard
Tags: , , , ,

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.

Not currently full of 50,000 people, but it seems like it could definitely hold that many, doesn’t it?

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.

This is one of the crosses to remember the fallen. Also, you can see the pock marks in the background where the bronze beams used to be.

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.

Here’s a shot of the arena floor, minus the…uh…arena floor. This is the part that would’ve been covered in wooden floorboards and sand.

Here’s the same shot, but from the opposite end.

Here’s a a close-up of the passageways found underneath the arena floor.

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

    These are the vomitoria, and how people got in and out of the structure so quickly. Each arch is its own entranceway.

  • 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.

20th century lamp post and 2,000-year-old arena of death? No biggie.

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?

  1. Matteo says:

    That’s my city….was…ok….is, in my heart! 😀

  2. I’d love to see it all in person someday. Incredible. Loved the photos – especially the large size format! 🙂 Fantastic post!

  3. Julie Glover says:

    Enjoyed reading about it. I think I’ll go with Natalie on that trip to Italy someday. I’d love to see it all myself as well. Thanks, Karen!

    • Karen Rought says:

      Can I go with you guys too?? I’d love to go back and visit some of the places I didn’t get to see (and revisit some of the places – like the colosseum – that I’d love to see again).

  4. ddog13 says:

    Did you know that people would sell gladiator sweat as perfume? Just thought I’d throw that out there. Great post. Didn’t know about the vomit thing 😀

    • Karen Rought says:

      I absolutely did not know that! Another fascinating and disgusting fact to add to the list!

      Haha, isn’t that one interesting? The Romans actually had a room called the vomitorium in their house (we’re talking palace/castle-like houses, not the regular ones). Except this had a much more literal use of the word: they’d eat their fill of food, go into the other room, throw it up, and start eating again. Does that sound familiar at all? (Think Catching Fire!)

  5. Fabio Bueno says:

    Wonder Wife and I can’t wait for a romantic trip to Italy. Your post showed me another compelling reason. Great pics too!

  6. Great photos – and a fascinating look at the place – thanks for sharing. I’ve not been there yet myself, but we have Italy on the agenda during the next major visit to family in the Netherlands.

    Have you ever read Goscinny & Uderzo’s ‘Asterix’ series – the colosseum features in a few of them (hilariously)?

    • Karen Rought says:

      Thank you! You’ll love Italy, I think. It’s one of those places that has a little bit of everything for everyone. And as a historian – how can you not love something with that much history?

      No, I haven’t, but I’ll look into it!

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