One of the most iconic symbols of Imperial Rome is the Colosseum. This giant amphitheater located east of the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country as it provides great insight into the lives of the ancient Romans.
1. It might have gotten its name from a larger than life statue nearby
The building was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty around A.D. 70 to 72, and it was originally named the Flavian Amphitheater. The structure was located near the 98-foot bronze statue of Emperor Nero depicted as the sun god, called the “colossus of Nero.” The amphitheater’s name was said to have been derived from the name of this statue, an interesting Colosseum fact.
2. The Colosseum was built on the palace grounds of Emperor Nero
After the “Great Fire of Rome” in A.D. 64 destroyed two-thirds of the city, Emperor Nero took this as an opportunity to build a huge palace complex known as the “Domus Aurea” or Golden House with 125-acre gardens, man-made lake, and his statue at the main gateway. After his death, his successors distanced themselves from the notorious and unpopular Nero. The place was abandoned, stripped of marble or anything valuable, and was buried under new constructions. The lake and garden was filled with earth, and right at the palace grounds, the Colosseum was built.
3. The world’s largest amphitheater is the Colosseum
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Colosseum holds the record for the world’s largest amphitheater, a fun Colosseum fact. This giant oval structure, which could hold more than 50,000 people, covered six acres with a maximum length of 189 m (620 ft.) and a maximum width of 156 m (513 ft.) with the main arena where the games took place measured at 290 feet by 180 feet.
4. It took around ten minutes to empty the amphitheater
The Colosseum was so big that it had 80 entrances that led to several stairways to accommodate the huge volume of people entering or exiting the place at the fastest possible time without causing a stampede, which experts say took only ten minutes to accomplish.
5. The Colosseum was built by tens of thousands of slaves
It took almost a decade to build this grand oval amphitheater. Tens of thousands of slaves including Jewish prisoners of war were used as the workforce for the construction of the Colosseum made mainly of limestones, bricks, tuff or volcanic rock, and concrete.
6. Entrance was free for those who wanted to watch the games
The Colosseum was said to have been built as the Emperor’s gift to the Roman people. Providing entertainment on a grand scale was said to be his way of appeasing the citizens’ discontent or anger and prevent uprisings. It was the emperor who usually sponsored the games, which was why the entrance was free and the food that was sometimes distributed to the crowd was free, too.
7. The Colosseum had a retractable “velarium” or awning
In order to protect the crowd from the sun, the colosseum had a retractable “velarium” or awning. The poles or masts built at the top of the amphitheater had rigging that were used to extend and retract the awning. An interesting fact about Colosseum is that it took hundreds of Roman sailors to handle and manipulate the rigging whenever necessary.
8. Games were held for 100 days for its inaugural celebration
The amphitheater was officially opened to the public in A.D. 80 during the time of Emperor Titus, son of Vespasian. The inaugural celebration lasted 100 days, which consisted of simulation of famous battles, dramas based on classical mythology, and gladiatorial combats. Nine thousand animals were hunted and slaughtered during that time as part of the games. For the spectators, the more brutal and bloodier the games were in the arena, the better.
9. The Colosseum arena was filled with water for a mock sea battle
Famous battles in history were often re-enacted in the arena including sea battles. It was said that the colosseum was built in such a way that the arena could be filled with enough water for the ships to sail and the crowd would be able to witness a naval engagement that was realistic to the point of having real fatalities, an interesting Colosseum fact. It was not something new because the first time the “naumachia” was done was in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar wherein a specially constructed basin was flooded with water and maritime vessels such as the triremes were used in the staged battle.
10. The gladiators fight to the death
The fights happening at the arena were all too real, often with fatal results. Gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war, or criminals, and they fight to the death because it was a matter of survival for them. However, they need to entertain the crowd in the process so it was not about how fast they defeat their opponents but more about giving them a good show before they give the killing blow. Those who had skills and training in fighting or battles were the ones who survived to fight another day.
11. The spectators at the Colosseum sat according to social hierarchy
Although the entrance was free, the spectators cannot sit wherever they want. They were given tickets for the seating arrangement was done according to class. The emperor had his own place of honor at the Imperial box where he can be easily seen by the crowd. Members of the royal family, senators, priests, and nobles had their own seats at the podium closer to the floor of the arena. Next was for the lower class or commoners, followed by the common women. The slaves were in the uppermost bleachers.
12. The underground of the Colosseum was a labyrinth
According to the archeologists who studied and explored the hypogeum or underground of the colosseum, there was a labyrinth of passages and machinery that were used in changing the scenery of the arena or making animals appear above ground to give an element of surprise to the fights taking place, a fun fact about Colosseum.
13. The Colosseum became a quarry after the games stopped
After almost four centuries, the games stopped and the colosseum was abandoned. It was used as a quarry when building two of the four highest-ranking Roman Catholic Church buildings such as the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and St. Peter’s Basilica as well as the Palazzo Venetia, which was intended as a residence for cardinals, then used as a papal residence in 1469, and at present, as a museum.
Nearly two-thirds of the Colosseum was destroyed from neglect, vandalism, fire, lightning, earthquake, and from being used as a quarry, an unfortunate fact about the Colosseum. However, whatever is left of this great structure is still impressive in size and design, and attracts around seven million tourists each year as it continue to capture the imagination of visitors for battles fought by the gladiators at the arena.
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