The Colosseum Essay

Historical background

The Coliseum or Colosseum, was originally constructed as a Flavian Amphitheatre, an amphitheatre is the form of ellipse, situated in Italy, in the center of Rome. It was build during the time of Roman Empire and was the largest amphitheater ever built in Italy. It is a real masterpiece of architectural and engineering decision.

The Colosseum was a ‘marvel’ of Rome when it was new, almost nineteen hundred years ago, partly because of its size and partly because the circumstances under which it was built made it one of the world’s great ‘gallery plays’ (Scherer 80).

The construction was started in 70-72 AD by the emperor Vespasian and was completed ten years after, in 80 AD by the Titus. Some modifications were made under emperor Domitrian reign during next 5 years.

The site for construction was chosen flat, between Caelian, Esquiline and Palatine Hills. During that period of time the chosen area was densely populated. Later it was devastated by the Great Fire of Rome, and after that the most part of the surrounding area was added to Nero’s personal domain. This particular area was a bit transformed during the reign of Vespasian and his successors. The Coliseum was constructed on the place o Nero’s lake as the great monument celebrating great victories. It was built in Roman traditions. The site of Nero’s lake was not accidental, as Vespasian wanted to empathize on people return to the area of the city, which was used for Nero personal purposes only. It was build as well on purpose in the center of the city to symbolize the heart of Rome. After Vepasian death, Colosseum was not still completed. The high level of the construction was finished by his son- Titus. During the inauguration of the building over 9 000 animals were killed. During the reign of Vespasian’s younger son- Domitian, Colosseum was remodeled and hypogeum (many underground tunnels for slaves and animals) was built. He also contributed with the gallery to the top of Coliseum and in such a way increased number of seating places.

Later, in 217 AD, Coliseum was damaged with the fire and wooden high levels were destroyed. For about 20 years it was not fully reconstructed until 240 AD with subsequent repairs in 250-252 AD and in 320 AD.

Amphitheatre was able to seat about 50,000 of spectators. Primarily, Coliseum was used for gladiatorial contests and spectacles in public. It was used for such purposes for about 5 centuries. One of the most entertaining spectacles were mock sea battles, executions, animal hunts, dramas on the basis of Classical mythology and re-enactments of outstanding fights and battles. Eventually, the construction was used for entertaining purposes only.

Coliseum faced many changed during medieval times. At the end of 6-th century, a small church was built in the amphitheatre, but still it was not supposed to follow any particular religion and did not confer any religious significance to the construction in general. Up to the 12-th century, the spaces were turned into housings and workshops and were rented out. In around 1200 Coliseum was even fortified and used as a castle by the Frangipani family.

In 1349 the Colosseum was greatly damaged by the earthquake and the outer southern part of it collapsed. Tumbled stone however was reused for palaces constructions, building churches, hospitals and other constructions in Rome.

In the 14-th century the religious order turned to the northern part of the Colosseum and stayed there until 19-th century. Unfortunately the interior side of the construction was drastically stripped of stone and bronze things were hacked out of the walls.

In the 20-th century the outside walls were cleaned from automobile damage.
Speaking about physical description of the Colosseum I must say that it is a separately standing structure. It is elliptical in shape and is 189 m in length, 156 m in width and its base area is about 6 acres. The height of the external wall is 48 m; the perimeter of the construction is about 545 m. The outer wall, according to the preliminary evaluations contains about 100 000 of m3 of travertine stone and 300 tons of iron clamps that hold stone together. But the construction suffered a lot from earthquakes and now the matter is not as it was earlier.

The Colosseum’s builders followed much the same principle as that employed in steel construction today, except that for the skeleton framework of piers and arches they used hard travertine stone. The outer walls are of the same stone; the inner ones are composed of several kinds of stone and concrete, with or without brick facings. Metal cramps reinforced the joining of the stones; the holes now so noticeable in the walls were made in the centuries following the decline of Rome by those who dug out these cramps for their metal or for the lead which was sometimes used with them (Scherer 81).

The part that survived from the outer side consists of three stories of arcades that are surmounted by the podium on which the tall attic is situated. Those arcades are framed by columns of Ionic, Doric and Corinthian orders and Corinthian pilasters decorate the attic. On the 2nd and 3rd –floor arcades arches are decorated with statues and figures from Classical mythology. Around the top of the attic were placed around 240 of mast corbels.

Interesting fact is that even though Colosseum has great crowd capacity, it can be quickly filled and devastated grateful to the original architectural solutions (close for present stadiums construction decisions). At ground level there were around eighty entrances and each entrance and exit was numbered for the convenience purposes. The northern sector and entrance was always reserved for Roman Emperor and his family and aides.

Speaking about arena and hypogeum, arena was about 4000 m2. Primarily it was made of wood and covered with sand.

Hypogeum was tied with outside point of the Colosseum with many underground tunnels. Machinery was also involved- elevators and pulleys were used to raise and lower scenery and props, animals, etc.
The Colosseum had an elaborate system of water supply. There were fountains for use by the spectators. Underground water was needed in large quantities for many purposes, such as cleaning away the blood. There was a separate system for the removal of rainwater and for sewage from various sources, notably the toilets for the spectators (Gabucci).

Interesting fact is that it was the period when Coliseum was overgrown with trees, herbs and other plants. Among them were elms, fig trees, pears, cherry trees, olives, etc. For the period of time Coliseum became a beautiful garden with many flowers and for that particular reason it attracted many writers, poets and artists. The place had a very romantic meaning to them. But in the 2nd half of the 18th century there was taken the decision to clean and restore all old stones and eradicate all plants (about 420 of different species) and seeds away.

Current morphology of subject

At the present moment the Colosseum remains one of the main tourist attractions not only in Rome, but in the whole Italy as well. Thousands of tourists are attracted by its historical heritage and come to view this marvelous construction from inside. There is also a museum located there, which is dedicated to Eros and is located in the upper floor of the outside wall of the construction. A part of the arena floor ahd also been re-floored.

The Coliseum today is very much connected with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads the torchlight “Way of the Cross” procession to the amphitheatre. The history of this event traces back to the times when Pope Benedict in the 18-th century forbade quarrying of Colosseum and called for construction of the Stations of the Cross around an arena. They remained till the end of the 19-th century. Later St. Benedict Joseph Labre spent last years of his lifetime inside Colosseum and lived on alms. Then some popes in the 19-th century financed repair and restoration works of the Coliseum.

Such plundering stopped in the eighteenth century, and early in the nineteenth the popes began to strengthen the broken ends of the walls with buttresses. Unbroken though it looks from its least damaged side, less than half of the great building stands today (Scherer 82). This is why this place still has many Christian connections with the church.


In the conclusion I would like to summarize that I adore this masterpiece of engineering and architectural idea. This historical monument is not only the beautiful and mighty construction; it is the historical heritage of Rome. It is possible to follow the historical periods of its development and study history taking it as the primary source. Time is nothing when we speak about Coliseum. After what it had experienced and survived it seems to be eternal.

Scherer, Margaret. Marvels of Ancient Rome. Phaidon Press: New York. 1955
Gabucci, Ada. The Colosseum. Getty Trust Publications: Los Angeles. 2001.

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