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Roman Coliseum Facts

The Roman Coliseum (sometimes spelled Colosseum) is considered one of Rome's greatest architectural works and was the largest structure built during the Roman Empire. The original Latin name Amphitheatrum Flavium came from Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus' family names.

Roman Coliseum Facts

Construction

Around 72 AD, construction began on the Coliseum under Vespasian's rule. The Emperor wanted an amphitheatre, built from what is believed to be treasure captured in the victory of the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.

The Roman Coliseum took seven years to build and contained four floors. The first three floors encompassed arched doorways, but the fourth floor had rectangular ones. Each floor had a height of 32-42 feet while the entire structure ran 144 feet tall. At its longest points, the elliptical area ran 287 feet long and 180 feet wide. The arena, which means "sand" in Latin, was made from wood and covered in sand. Around the edges of the area, nets were strung in front of the stands to protect the spectators.

The arena itself covered passages of underground tunnels where gladiators and animals were held until the contests began. These tunnels had special entrances that led to various points just outside the Coliseum wall. Some tunnels were used by the Emperor so he wouldn't have to fight crowds entering the building.

Instead of mortar, iron clamps were used to hold together the travertine stones used in the Coliseum's construction. This is probably the main reason earthquakes have damaged the building immensely. In the 1800s, brick wedges were placed at each end of the Coliseum to stabilize the walls and make them sturdier.

Crowd Control

The audience section of the Coliseum has a maximum capacity of 50,000 people (though some numbers go up to 85,000). Like modern stadiums, evacuation procedures were conceived when constructing the Coliseum. On the ground level, there were 80 entrances, of which 76 were for commoners, three for Roman elites, and one for the Emperor and those close to him. Each entrance was numbered and audience members received numbered pieces of pottery as tickets. This gave spectators the section and row they were assigned. Stairways behind and below the main seating guided spectators to various sections in an efficient manner; this allowed evacuation to proceed in the same manner.

Usage

Besides gladiator fights, the Coliseum was also used for animal hunts, fake sea battles, reenactments of battles (mainly Roman victories), plays and dramas about classical mythological stories, and executions.

When the medieval era hit, the Coliseum went from an entertainment structure to a more practical building that included housing for citizens, quarters for certain religious groups, a quarry, and a fortress. Pope Sixtus V wanted to use the building as a wool factory to give work to Rome's prostitutes, but this idea was nixed when he died. Cardinal Altieri, in 1671, proposed using the Coliseum as a bullfighting area, but the public complained and the idea was abandoned.

Other Facts

  • The Coliseum was used for 500 years. The 6th century is the last time any activity was recorded.
  • Because of the games, 500,000 people and 1,000,000 animals are believed to have died in the Coliseum.
  • The Coliseum is a 100 percent free-standing building.
  • Gladiator fights sometimes took days.
  • To create stadium seating that angled upwards, the Coliseum was build on a hill. The slopes made it easier to construct the seating.

Today's Coliseum

The Roman Coliseum is one of the most visited tourist attraction in Rome. Some of the arena floor has been redone and, in 2010, the underground tunnels were opened to the public. One of the most recent events at the Coliseum is the walk Pope Benedict XVI leads called Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

Beginning at the end of 2011, local officials and Diego Della Valle have agreed to a $25 million restoration project to restore the Coliseum, which is proposed to take two to three years. If you plan on visiting Rome, take the opportunity to visit much of the original work since it is an amazing site to behold.