The Colosseum: 6 things that will allow you to discover the secrets of the most famous Roman monument
The Colosseum is one of Rome’s symbols, it is known all over the world. The Colosseum is the Roman monument par excellence. The walk toward the amphitheater is one of tourists most sought after route, while allowing them to liver the charm of the discovery of the Roman antiquity.
The Colosseum is Rome, but are you sure you know its secret history?
Here are 6 things to know about the most visited monument in the world.
1. A lake under the Colosseum
The Colosseums was built on top of the lake created by Emperor Nero that was intended to carry water to his Domus Aurea (Golden House – Nero’s home). Emperor Vespasian, later on, in order to make people forget about the horrible actions perpetrated by Nero, ordered that the lake that was feeding the Domus Aurea’s creeks should be filled up and the big space should be dedicated to the building of a special amphitheater. Its building began in 72 AD, and it was the first stable amphitheater in Rome. The Emperor was able to see built only the first two stories.
2. Emperor Titus: a destruction for the Colosseum
The Colosseum was built mainly with the tax money coming from Judea (today’s Israel) and from the treasure that was smuggled after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, after Jerusalem’s defeat. Titus, who succeeded Vespasian, victorious in the fight against Judea, was the emperor who completed the building of the Colosseum. We owe him the building of the last two stories, allowing us today to admire the structure in all its majesty. In 80 AD, Titus called for 100 days of games and celebrations for the opening of the Colosseum.
3. Naval Battles inside the Colosseum
The Colosseum was the setting for the staging of fake naval battles. It is not a myth. They were called Naumachie (mock sea battles), a term coming from ancient Greek that was meant to indicate real naval battles. These were recreated on the Tiber or in basins created for the show. Romans were great engineers and in hydraulic matters, they were real pioneers. Therefore, even Titus wanted his Colosseums to be the stage for these spectacular battles between vessels. We are given account of these in the author Martial’s book Liber de Spectaculis (Book on Spectacles).
4. 28 lifts for dangerous wild animals
There were lifts in the Colosseum. We know how the amphitheater’s name is tied to the cruel show amongst gladiators, or amongst men and dangerous wild animals, or as a place for the capital punishment of Christians. The animals were carried from their enclosures, which were in the Colosseum’s underground, up unto the main arena through a system of lifts, machines maneuvered through winches and wheels that could carry great weights as well as the bulky set designs dedicated to the Circus shows.
5. Emperors, noble knights and peasants. To each one their seat.
The Colosseum’s seats were built with different materials according to the social classes for which they were reserved. The emperor and his court would sit in the refined Imperial stand, right next to it were seated, on comfortable armchairs, senators and noblemen. The most important knights sat on big marble steps and so on, as the social class was lower. In fact, common cives (citizens) sat on seats made of travertine, the real blinding white Roman stone. Peasants, the most numerous class participating to these events, had wooden seats and were confined to the highest levels, as far away from the main arena.
6. Obscure presences amongst the abandoned walls
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Colosseums experienced various events. Used for ludi venatores (games with animals), with the course of the centuries the structure started to collapse. Frequent earthquakes, most especially the devastating one in 1349, and raids of the most precious materials that were used for other buildings, destroyed part of the building. In 1300, a castle belonging to the Frangipane Family was built within it and demolished later on. The Colosseum was left to its destiny of a dying and grim antiquity. In his autobiography, Benvenuto Cellini, speaks of it as a place with diabolical presences, spirits that recall the pain and unbearable violence that for centuries was perpetrated amongst those ancient walls.
The Colosseum that we visit today is the result of a great restoration that started at the beginning of the 19th Century when, once Rome was declared capital of the Reign of Italy, a new discussion regarding the recuperation of antiquities started. It is in the 20th Century that we have a partial reopening of the monument arriving to today’s restorations that will result in giving this absolute “protagonist” of the Roman antiquity its splendor back