A Spectator’s Visit to the Roman Colosseum
After refreshing sleep and breakfast, on our second day we set out to explore Rome. And what could be more “Roman” that a visit to the Colosseum?
According to travel guide Let’s Go Italy (2009 edition):
“The Colosseum – a hollowed-out ghost of Travertine marble that once held more than 50,000 bloodthirsty spectators and now dwarfs every other ruin in Rome – stands as an enduring symbol of the Eternal City.”
From my travel journal:
“. . . we get our first view of the ruins of the Forum, and make our way to the Colosseum. Centurions approach us for photo opportunities, and we finally succumb. (Jen is moderately amused by their attention.)”
“Then we join an English-speaking Italian and his tour through the Colosseum. Although he is not a great tour guide, it was an interesting and informative entrance / visit to the Colosseum. “
“We are told that the centurions – approximately 55,000 in number – were generally slaves, aged 19-24, who chose to be centurions so they could earn their freedom.”
“Some criteria: They must be larger than the average Roman (who were slight and short, approximately 5 feet tall) and they had to successfully fight 7 times to earn their freedom. (“Unsuccessful” equals death.)”
Other interesting notes:
- There were approximately 775,000 – 800,000 people killed in the Colosseum.
- Because it’s a very hot structure, it was covered with a large white linen to keep it cool, and the linen was removed by sailors when it was time for the games / fights.
- People would bring their children to see the events (it must have been very gory).
- The wealthy people would attend the first event, then take their chariots home for a few hours before returning for the afternoon event.
Neglect, Ruin, and Rebuilding
By the 6th century A.D. not only had public taste in entertainment changed, but the structural integrity of the Colosseum had been damaged by earthquakes and other natural phenomenon.
For the next few centuries, it was abandoned and used as a quarry for other buildings including the cathedral of St. Peter, the nearby Palazzo Venezia (also known as the “Wedding Cake”) and for defense fortifications along the Tiber River. (See History.com article.)
By the 20th century, nearly two-thirds of the original Colosseum, including all of the arena’s marble seats and its decorative elements, had been destroyed by weather and natural disasters, as well as neglect and vandalism.
Restoration efforts began in the 1990’s. In 2007 the Colosseum was voted to be one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
And in 2018 (according to Wikipedia) the Colosseum was the most popular tourist attraction in the world with 7.4 million visitors.
Reader discretion advised.
The Colosseum was a place of blood sport. The following information (from travel guide Let’s Go Italy – 2009 edition) may be considered graphic.
“Within 100 days of the Colosseum’s AD 80 opening, some 5000 wild beasts perished in its bloody arena, and the slaughter continued for three more centuries.
“The labyrinth of cells, ramps and elevators used to transport exotic animals from cages to arena level was once covered by a wooden floor and layers of sand. Upon release, the beasts would suddenly emerge into the arena, surprising spectators and hunters alike.
“Animals weren’t the only beings killed for sport; men were also pitted against men. Though these gladiators were often slaves and prisoners, if they won their fights, they were idolized like modern athletes – at least until the next fight.
“Contrary to popular belief, not all gladiator matches ended in death. Some fights stopped after the first knockdown, or the loser could ask the emperor – who would defer to the crowd – for mercy.”