Colosseum, Rome

02 Mar, 2009

Rome’s Colosseum: A Testament to the History of Suffering and Grandeur

Colosseum, Rome

The influence of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy is undeniable. For one, it remains to be an iconic site, a structure that defined the mood and the grandeur surrounding the city of Rome. The Colosseum is a constant fixture in worldwide tourism and pop culture, and its image does not fail to be seen in notable projects and events. For instance, the Colosseum was part of the setting of the 2008 movie Jumper, starring Hayden Christensen. It was also one of the backdrops of the photo for Tyra Bank’s America’s Next Top Model. In fact, this list is long—possibly endless. Nonetheless, one sign of the Colosseum’s impact can still be seen today, as the word “Coliseum” was derived from this behemoth of a structure. For example, one of Asia’s biggest indoor venue, the Araneta Coliseum, was named after and was obviously inspired by Rome’s Colosseum; the shape of Asia’s Coliseum is a dead giveaway. Other venues around the world are named after the Colosseum; even the adjective “colossal,” now used to described something big or great in size, was presumably derived from the Colosseum.
The Colosseum became the setting of another modern classic—the film Gladiator, which won awards for its year of eligibility. The movie shows a portion of Roman history (although not so accurately) and, in turn, it provides a slice of what happened in the Colosseum. People see the Colosseum as some sort of romanticized venue or location, although the film illustrated that Rome’s most iconic attraction was a place of grandeur—and suffering, pain, and violence.
This only shows that, even until today, people recognize the achievement of the Colosseum—and many still aim to recreate this magnificent structure. Rome is known for many things, but nothing can equal the prestige Rome has attained thanks to the Colosseum.

Colosseum, Rome


However, although the Colosseum is now seen as a romantic setting—thanks to its antiqued appearance—it is far from being idyllic and picturesque, as its history would reveal. Constructed during the early 70 AD and completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum served as an amphitheatre during the time of Emperor Vespasian. For some reason, very little is known about Vespasian’s reign as emperor between 70 AD and 80 AD, although this period was marked by the construction of very noted structures, most of which are still around today. Besides the Colosseum, Vespasian finished the construction of the Apollo statue which his predecessor Nero started.
As an amphitheatre, the Colosseum was meant to be an open-air venue. During this time in the history of Rome, performances held in such venues were very common, hence the proliferation of similar venues in the city. However, the Colosseum is different from other similar venues such as the hippodrome (made specifically for horse racing) or venues for the circus. The general appearance of an amphitheatre just like the form of the Colosseum, except most Roman and Greek amphitheatres are round; the Colosseum, on the other hand, is elliptical. The Colosseum was originally named as the Flavian Amphitheatre, after the Flavian dynasty. It was only during the year 1000 when the Colloseum as a term was coined to refer to the Flavian Amphitheatre. Still, then and now, Romans use a plethora of names to call the Colosseum.
Not surprisingly, the Colosseum is the biggest amphitheatre ever built during the Roman Empire. It has a seating capacity of around 80,000, which speaks of the intentions of Vespasian for this iconic amphitheatre. At the time of its completion, the Colosseum served as the venue for gladiator games, executions, animal hunts, and re-enactments of famed battles, among others.

A blood history

Judging from its original purpose, one can only expect the Colosseum to have an extremely high body count. According to various researches, more than a million people died in the Colosseum, and most of them died during the Roman rule. The Roman ruling class organized these spectacles, which was expensive to mount. Nonetheless, these events were much awaited by the people, making the Colosseum and the area around it solely dedicated to the gladiator games. The surrounding area, for instance, was used as the holding area and the training grounds for the imprisoned gladiators. It also served as the prison for the animals that were used for the animal hunts.
Although the games were expensive, Vespasian made sure that the games will go on, especially since it was since way to make sure that the new rulers of the land can reconcile with the people of their dynasty. In a way, it was a political gesture—the area was previously Nero’s, the building the Colosseum was his way of giving back what was theirs before Nero took it from them.
However, from this point until before the 18th century, the Colosseum’s importance and its overall appearance began to decline. For one, the preference of the people began to change, and their interest in the gladiator games has waved. The various invasions against Italy also took its toll, so the gladiator games were not given much importance. After all, the empire needed the money for other reasons, and using the money on the gladiator games were becoming to frivolous. Physically, yhe first sign of its decline began when it suffered from various fires and earthquakes. Consequently, the last gladiator games were done during the early 400s, and the last hunt was done during the early 500s. Nonetheless, while the Colosseum was no longer used, the gladiator games didn’t immediately die; before its inevitable death, the games were done in other venues, such as the circus. From then on, the Colosseum under went several changes in terms of structure and function. After the Roman Empire, gladiator games were no longer done in the iconic amphitheater.
Perhaps because of its size and its structure, the Colosseum was used for several other reasons. For instance, it was used as a castle and a burial place (a fitting event since it did become the death site of a number of gladiators). It also became a very important site for the Catholic Church, something that holds true even until today. Yet, this bloody and violent history of the Colosseum serves as a remainder of the cruelty and the violence that persisted during the Roman Empire. Many materials, critiques, and researches have spoken of the parallelism between the decline of the Roman Empire and the activities that persisted in the Colosseum. That such an iconic structure became the sight of gore and violence perhaps speaks for itself.

Various reincarnations

After centuries of neglect, the Colosseum found a new purpose through the most unlikely of organizations: the Catholic Church. This first became evident when the Catholic Church built a chapel near the amphitheatre, although this did not really change the people’s perception of the place at that point. Before the Church completely turned it into a holy site that the organization is fully involved in, it became the residence of the Frangipani family, turning it into a castle. After which, the Colosseum began even more dilapidated. According to studies, many parts of the Colosseum was actually used later to build other forms of structure in the nearby areas. The Colosseum was partly made out of bronze, and these bronze clamps were hacked out from the amphitheatre’s walls. The hacking left scars on the structure’s wall, damages that are visible until today.
It was already during the late 16th century and the early 17th century when the Church took an active role and an interest in the Colosseum. This is mainly because of Pope Benedict XIV’s endorsement that Catholics were martyred in the iconic amphitheatre. This claim is—or was—actually contested. A number of materials and resources say that Catholics and the Colosseum are not necessarily connected. This connection probably came about during the time of Cardinal Altieri, when he proposed to use the Colosseum as a place for bullfights. In turn, the suggestion was met with criticism, prompting Pope Clement X to close the area and turn it into a sanctuary. Earlier, Pope Pius V said the sand from the Colosseum can be gathered by pilgrims, since the grounds of the Colosseum have been sanctified by the blood of the Catholic martyrs.
Pope Benedict XIV made the Colosseum an official sacred site for the Church. From then on, the Colosseum was no longer used for quarries. The area was consecrated with the Stations of the Cross, which makes it an important location during the Good Friday Station of the Cross. During the 18th and the 19th century, the popes continued renovating the Colosseum. In between that time until the present time, the Colosseum was once again abandoned, but was again placed under the use of the Catholic Church during the 1800s.
Nonetheless, the Colosseum remains important not just in Roman art and in Roman architecture, but also in what it has achieved overall. For instance, the Colosseum can be seen as one of the first structures in the world that used preventive measures against earthquake; at it survived a number of earthquakes is a testament to this. The design of the Colosseum is also something to note, considering how it has influenced a number of designs after its inception—and a number of designs even until today. Again, the size and the general design of the Colosseum is the inspiration of a number of similar venues around the world (the word “colosseum” or coliseum is used for venues that are grand in size, such as the Coliseum Theatre in London or the Araneta Coliseum in Asia).

The Colosseum today

Obviously, the Colosseum is an important part of what Rome is to. Without a doubt, the Colosseum is one of the more popular attractions of Rome, attraction millions and millions of locals and tourists yearly. But beyond its importance in Italy’s tourist, the Colosseum is perhaps a symbol of what the country is today. Although many may not see the Colosseum as the representation of Italy, many have already said that the Colosseum is Rome, and that Rome is the Colosseum; one will fall if the other falls, and the other will continue to stand if the other continues to survive.
This allegory is similar to how many people view iconic sites and structures in a number of countries, although very few countries have this kind of connection. After all, not everyone can say that Japan’s Tokyo Tower or Mount Fuji (some of the country’s renowned sites) is synonymous to the country itself. Perhaps it is how the site was created that gives this aura of representation. For instance, this is how people view America’s Statue of Liberty because it represents a part of the country’s history—their independence from Britain, their connection with France. And this is what the Colosseum achieves. The Colosseum is a structure that reminds the people of the many facets of Roman history. Needless to say, the most important part of this history is the Roman Empire. That the Colosseum is Rome (and, consequently, Italy) is not far-fetched, considering that the fall of the Roman Empire and the country went hand in hand; in turn, when the Colosseum was renovated, the country flourished. Today, various groups and sectors continue to renovate and fix the Colosseum, although it will never attain the same glory it once had.
Again, the influence of the Colosseum can still be seen until today, a sign that it remains relevant in many aspects—from its design to its intention. After all, it wouldn’t be part of several pop culture icons if it isn’t. The Colosseum remains fresh and relevant, especially to those who value history but even to those who merely want to admire the site’s aesthetic beauty. In fact, it is part of UNESCO World Heritage list (a list that includes sites from around the world that deserves preservation) and is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, a list that was derived through online voting. That it was voted for by several online users is only a demonstration of how iconic and popular it is around the world.

Colosseum, Rome

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