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The Colosseum

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History of Colosseum

City tours to Colosseum

Atac 110- Bus Tour
Carrani Tour
Walking Tour

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The recostruction of Colosseum with the Nero's Statue
Painting gy Caspar Van Wittel from the early 18th century
Painting gy Caspar Van Wittel from the early 18th century
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click the image to view the map of Giovani Maggi from 1625

The Colosseum is the most famous monument of Ancient Rome. Its original name is Flavian Amphitheatre. It was started by the Emperor Vespasian between 70 and 76 AD, and completed by his son Titus in 80 AD. The Colosseum was dedicated the year after Vespasian's death by Titus. They celebrated the opening by holding 100 days worth of games there. It was built on the site where Nero had had a huge villa for himself (Domus Aurea). Vespasian wanted to build something for the people rather than for himself. It got its popular name, the Colosseum, because it was built near where Nero had erected a huge statue, or colossus of himself. It showed him as the god of the sun. It was 100 feet high, and it was the largest gilded bronze statue in antiquity. It was later moved away. It took 24 elephants to move it!

Ut quis quem vicerit occidat.
Kill the defeated, whoever he may be." --Gladiator's proverb

All over the empire, Romans enjoyed going to the theater to see concerts and plays, and to the stadium to watch chariot races and the amphitheater to watch bloody sports. Going to the amphitheater (Colosseum) was probably the most popular. Gladiatorial combats, fights with beasts and other fights were held in the Colosseum. The Colosseum was big enough to hold the whole population of a town--as many as 50,000 people would sometimes spend the whole day there watching sports. The games were really bloody and for four centuries, men died as an entertainment for the crowd. Gladiators went to training schools; most of them were slaves and criminals. At first there were fights to the death between wild animals: bear against buffalo, buffalo against elephant, and elephant against rhinoceros. Sometimes there would even be fights between men and tame beasts. These fights were called venationes.

The Colosseum is eliptical, sitting on a NW to SE axis. The building's core is constructed of brick and a relatively soft, porous rock called tufa. The exterior is clothed in travertine marble, a brilliant white stone that was later favored by Michelangelo for his sculptures. Originally the Colosseum had three stories, but a fourth was added by Alexander Severus when he refurbished the building around 230 AD.

The bottom three stories have 80 arches each; the stories are separated by a thin archetrave (a horizontal band running around the entire Colosseum). The columns in one story line up exactly with those in the story above it. The bottom story has 80 entrance arches, each of which is separated by a Doric column (the columns are engaged, which means the column shafts are actually part of the wall making it impossible to walk behind the columns). The second story has engaged Ionic columns, and the third has Corinthian. The fourth story is a solid wall with thin Corinthian pilasters (rectangular columns that are also engaged). The space between the pilasters is filled alternately with 40 small, recatangular windows and 40 bucklers (now lost).

The unique combination of strong support columns with airy arches and thin archetraves makes the Colosseum look sturdy, yet open and soaring. The Doric column is the oldest type it is strong, simple, and even severe in appearance, making the first story appear to be a strong foundation. Moving up the building, the columns become progressively "newer" and more refined, lending a lightness to the upper stories.

There was no roof on the Colosseum, but in the summer great canvas sheets were rigged to the top to form awnings that kept the sun off everyone inside. These sheets were so large and unwieldy that sailors from the the nearby port of Ostia were brought in to manage them. With the awnings attached, the Colosseum must have looked something like a grand barge that could sail away.

ID  of Colosseum
  architect unknown
  location Rome, Italy
  date 70 to 82
  building type amphiteater
  construction system bearing masonary, cut stone
  context urban
  style ancient Roman



see also...

Capitoline Hill

Castel Sant'Angelo
Circus Maximus


Domus Aurea


Trevi Fountain
Quirinal Palaces
Vatican Gardens

Photos of Colosseum

Wall structures of Colosseum

Wall structures of Colosseum

Structures of the ground floor
Structures of the ground floor
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click to zoom Interior of Colosseum

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Click the image to zoom - Wall structures of Colosseum

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click to zoom the image of colosseum by night

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click to zoom the image of colosseum 

useful links

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History and actual building

Secrets of lost empires: Colosseum
Wall structures photo from 1976

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