One of the seven wonders of the Modern world, the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome has been a hotspot for tourists, archeological enthusiasts, and romantics around the world for centuries now. This enigmatic engineering marvel has been long associated with gruesome gladiator takedowns and animal sacrifices, but there is more to it.
Here is a list of 10 things I bet you didn’t know about the Colosseum!
1. IT HAS STOOD AS A SYMBOL FOR MOVEMENTS
Before the Flavian Dynasty, under the reign of mighty Nero, all Roman structures were usually built and reserved for the opulent strata. It was not until the great Roman Emperor Vespasian who commissioned this one of a kind-permanent structure, to give back to the people of Rome.
The construction of Colosseum not only effaced the popular opinion of architecture for the neo-rich, but it also drove the spirits of resurgence. It was part of Vespasian’s agenda to reinstate Rome in the eyes of the world as a force to be reckoned with.
2. IT WAS BUILT ON WATER
Against the backdrop of the Esquiline and Caelian Hills, where this large Amphitheatre now stands, once stood the Golden Palace of Emperor Nero (Domus Aurea) and his ostentatious whimsy of building an artificial lake. The Colosseum was constructed by draining this lake, which is a metaphorical representation of draining Nero’s power, to create something for the public. Ironically, the Amphitheater is named after his colossal statue that Vespasian had modified as the statue of the Sun God.
3. IT HAS 80 ENTRIES INCLUDING A DEATH GATE!
To host over 50,000 spectators, it was imperative to have an intricate system of exits and entries. As many as seventy-six gates opened into the seating area, with each entry for plebs (citizens) requiring a token for entry. The vaulted passageways made it easy for the people to evacuate the Amphitheatre in case of an emergency.
Two gates were reserved for the Emperor and his guests. The final two gates were used by gladiators. Porta Sanivivaria was the gate through which victors left, while Porta Libitina was the gate at West end for removal of the dead.
4. IT HAD ELEVATORS FOR ANIMALS TO MAKE SURPRISE APPEARANCES INTO THE ARENA
The Hypogeum was a later addition to the Amphitheatre. It was just like the hidden workings of a ship including systems, pulleys, ropes, and pipes. This underground, two-storied maze of trap doors, cells, and passages was the breathing ground for the animals and gladiators who would soon be living their last breaths in the arena.
As the Roman’s plunged to strive for technological solutions, one such, much ahead of its time, was the system of elevators. The carefully crafted machinery was used to make any beast suddenly appear in the arena to startle the gladiators and amaze the spectators.
5. IT HAD THE COOLEST SUN PROTECTORS
Catering to the needs of the thousands of citizens, a specially designed retractable system of canvas overhangs called Velarium shaded the entire arena and protected the spectators from rain. The complex mechanism of pulleys was rumored to be operated by special sailors.
6. IT AIMED TO PROVIDE BEST COMFORTS TO THE PLEBS
A remarkable feat by the Roman planners was done to ensure that this public landmark had all facilities. Aqueducts stored water which was furnished to fountains across the Colosseum for public use via pipes running through the walls.
Sewage facilities were also looked into, with holed seats serving as public toilets! The hypogeum doubled as a host to sewage and drainage systems connecting to the main sewerage.
7. IT HAS HAD DIVERSE USES ACROSS PERIODS
The deadly bloodshed, warfare entertainment, and sacrifices of humans and animals alike were predetermined functions for the Colosseum. However, with time and rising opposition for such horrid and gory practices, the amphitheater staged many other absurd ways to serve its people. In the prime days of its decline, it worked as a quarry. Romans built their homes out of these stones. The pinnacle was when Pope Sixtus V even suggested that this space be used as a wool factory!
8. IT WAS USED FOR MOCK SEA BATTLES
The flexible nature of the Colosseum’s floor made it easy to stage naumachia or mock sea battles. Underlying supports were removable and during these re-enactments, they were disassembled and kept aside. The arena was then filled with water from aqueducts and scaled-down ships were set on their course. Later, runoff canals were used to drain the flooded Amphitheatre.
9. RIDDLEY SCOTT FOUND THE COLOSSEUM ‘TOO SMALL’
Spanning 6 acres of land, the massive free-standing structure is encircled by a 545 meters circumference. But an impressive arena of 83 meters by 48 meters was not enough for Hollywood! Even with the opportunity to shoot in the amphitheater, Riddley Scott’s Gladiator was shot at a tailor-made replica in plywood, one third the size of the real colosseum, in Malta. It was made to resemble the Colosseum in its glory through special VFX.
10. IT IS AN ALLEGORY TODAY AGAINST CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Contrary to the ghastly proceedings of its days, the Colosseum stands to oppose similar acts in today’s world. It dresses in a special white light instead of its regular golden illuminance whenever, around the world, a nation abolishes the death penalty or a death sentence is attenuated.
The Colosseum shines on in its prime irradiance as a protagonist in a global campaign.