The Colosseum

Every tourist setting foot in Rome, wants to visit the Colosseum and rightfully so. Picture this – an amphitheater flooded with 50,000 frenzied, screaming, bloodthirsty spectators. Gladiators and animals being hoisted up, pitted against each other for a fight that would write the fate of one with the blood of another. Imagine the blood-soaked sand and clouds of dust rising up with stench of iron filling the air. All this while the crowds roared and cheered with glee. Gather the wails of the hapless women seeing their beloved being brutalized, their last ill-fated sighs before the soul departed the body – man and animal alike. This kind of morbid entertainment is unfathomable to us now, but entertainment it was, 2000 years ago.

Colosseum outside sky

Colosseum fell into my lap as a tourist and in turn, made me fall in love with every word of its history and every stone of its architecture. 5 years have passed since and I’m still awestruck.

There are people who prefer audio guides and walk the monuments on their own. Earphones plugged in, maps open, fingers tracing a web of lines of varied colors. But not without a searching look on their confused faces.
In my experience, nothing compares to a tour guide…someone who’ll make you fall in love even with a stone. Someone like Verona. What a beautiful name, thought I. And what an irony! For Verona immortalizes Shakespearean love – the love of Romeo and Juliet.
And Rome! Well, we just had a glimpse into its bloodied past. Just a glimpse, that is.
Verona is a purebred Roman. Clad in casuals head to toe, a sling bag hangs from her shoulder and a bunch of papers held to her bosom, she presents us with a most endearing smile. True to her Roman genes, she’s framed tall and slender, her marbled complexion reflects the sun back into the eyes of her beholder. Her golden tresses styled in a pixie bob, messy as it is, she runs her fingers through each time the wind flirts with them and tickles her sharp square jawline. Her transparent blue eyes seem to have made from the flowing Tiber. Perfection!
Severely passionate about her birthplace, its history, people, architecture, food, weather, Rome gushes through her every vein and you can feel it throb in her heart. Our Roman is deeply in love with Augustus, the first and the most beloved Emperor of Rome. Which is why she wants us to lunch in a restaurant his namesake. Finally, there IS love in Verona after all…

Emperor Vespacian originally commissioned the Colosseum in 72CE as a centre for mass entertainment and thereby gain favor of his people. But he didn’t live to see it finished. His son, Titus was the one who took it to completion. It was built on the grounds of Emperor Nero’s Domus Aureus complex.

To celebrate its inauguration, Titus held games that went for for 100 days and nights during which around 5000 animals were slaughtered and countless gladiators killed.
Despite being the most famous and fearsome arena, Colosseum isn’t the largest one. It’s the Circus Maximus or Circo Massimo that outstrips its counterpart with five times more the capacity of hosting 2,50,000 spectators at one time.

The arena was originally named “Anfiteatro Flavio” after the Flavian dynasty of Emperor Vespasian. It was later christened Colosseum, not because of its size, but because of the massive statue of Nero – one of the most infamous and hated emperors of Rome – AKA Colosso di Nerone, that stood closeby.
A fragment of his equestrian statue is only what still lives.
Colosseum Nero Horse

We walk on, stopping at places that would be most insignificant to an ordinary eye. But not to an accomplished historian like Verona who’s also studying architecture. To her, every stone that’s contributed to building Colosseum tells a story. Because it does, like the one in picture below:
Colosseum holes in wallThese holes were dug in and a rope passed through to tie the animals to be used for entertainment. These were subterranean. But as the years passed, natural calamities like earthquakes, fires and floods washed away layers of earth, exposing visuals like these which lay hidden for centuries.

Colosseum is divided into three sections: the arena, the cavea and the podium.
To explore each of them is an experience ready to etch itself on the memory.
Take few deep breaths before starting, cuz each step leading up is huge and the stones they’re made of are uneven, people moving around are in their own sweet world and you need to pace up with your team.
To someone with a heart disorder like mine, this is an extremely strenuous task.
Colosseum View from top

The Arena – was made of wooden floor. It was covered with sand, so the combatants don’t slip and fall. It also served to soak up the blood that spilled during fights. There were trap doors that opened to the underground chambers and passageways, known as the Hypogeum. World was entirely different here, underneath the earth’s surface. This hidden place housed a warren of chambers and massive vaulted passageways where gladiators, slaves and wild animals were held, weapons were stored and sets were prepared.
When it was time for fights, the combatants would be hoisted up to the arena through lifts and trapdoors shut behind them.

At times, the arena was even flooded with water for mock naval battles, only to drain it later. Use of hydraulic mechanisms is still evident. It also played host to theatrical performances and even gory public executions were carried on specific days of the week. A mythological scene would be created, replete with forests as a backdrop. The condemned would be made to act and then either mauled by the beasts or burnt alive to death. Morbid entertainment indeed!
In the picture below, the arena and hypogeum are clearly visible:
Colosseum arena

The Cavea was for spectators who were further divided as per their social standing. Lowest tier was reserved for people bearing ranks in the Emperor’s court. The rich sat in the middle and the paupers in the uppermost section.
The Podium, a broad terrace in front of the Cavea, was reserved for emperors, senators and VIPs.

There were 80 entrance arches that allowed the spectators to pour in and fill the stadium in a matter of minutes. On the upper levels, there was a provision for awnings that were supported by hundreds of masts. These awnings shielded the spectators from sun and rain.
The outer walls of the monument were covered with Travertine, a variety of limestone that gave the stones a naturally fibrous and porous look. Marble statues filled the blank recesses adding beauty to the otherwise wretched place.
Colosseum hypogeum

Colosseum was a centre for entertainment for 500 years. Last battles were fought in the 5th century AD, after which the Roman Empire fell and it was abandoned. As years passed, it kept being plundered of its precious travertine, and marble stripped from it was used to decorate notable buildings like Palazzo Venezia.

In recent years, the pollution and vibrations from nearby Metro have taken a toll on this lofty engineering marvel. Efforts haven been undertaken to preserve the monument and restore its former glory.
Nonetheless, Colosseum continues to be Rome’s greatest icon attracting more than 5 million tourists every year.
After centuries of witnessing countless upheavals, this Wonder Of The World still stands tall as a poignant reminder of a once great empire…

Colosseum New Look

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