15 Interesting facts about the Roman Colosseum’s architecture and shows

After talking about the history of the Colosseum and the circumstances that led to its construction I would like to tell you many interesting facts about the architecture of the Colosseum and the shows that took place there. The majesty of the amphitheater was directly proportional to the cruelty of the fights that occurred there.
This article will answer most of the questions you will ask yourself when you enter the massive Flavian Amphitheater for the first time.

F.A.Q. on the Roman Colosseum Architecture and shows | Interesting facts about the Colosseum

What was the Colosseum used for?

The Colosseum was a real “stadium”. Inside, bloody fights took place that often ended with the death of most of the protagonists. The fights were called “games”. There were duels between gladiators and fights between gladiators and fierce beasts such as lions, bulls, tigers, panthers, and leopards. In order to create an exotic atmosphere, real sets were often loaded from the basement onto the arena.
Usually, the program was as follows:
In the morning the venationes, or hunts, took place; many animals were brought onto the stage and hunted.
At midday the death sentences of those sentenced to death were carried out.
In the afternoon the gladiator fights took place.
The amount of animals that were slaughtered in the Colosseum is impressive. It is said that during the games on the occasion of its inauguration, 5000 beasts were killed.

Why is it called Colosseum?

Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian had chosen as the site for the construction of the Colosseum the park of the Domus Aurea, the opulent villa that served as an imperial palace for his predecessor, Nero, who had been forced into exile and suicide before Vespasian ascended the throne. The only element that was preserved of the park of the Domus Aurea was a bronze statue 36 meters high representing Nero. The new emperor replaced Nero’s face with that of the Sun God and let the so-called “Colossus” remain in place next to what was later named “Colosseum”.

Who were the gladiators?

Gladiators were mostly prisoners of war, slaves or condemned to death, but sometimes also free men attracted by glory and rewards. They derived their name from the “gladius,” a short sword used in combat. The challenges began with a parade where the gladiators paraded in the arena on chariots or standing followed by musicians and went until under the tribune of the emperor to greet him with the ritual phrase: Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant, or “Ave Caesar, those who are preparing to die salute you”.
If the gladiator was a slave, after 10 victories he was given freedom.

What was the purpose of the underground of the Colosseum?

In the basement of the Colosseum took place the organization of the fights. The system had over 60 trapdoors and 30 hoists through which beasts, fighting machines and gladiators could make their surprise entrance into the arena. The hoists were operated by slaves through systems of counterweights, wheels and pulleys.
The beasts too heavy and the protagonists of the fights entered instead by two entrances placed at the ends of the major axis at ground level.
The undergrounds were lit only by torches and lanterns and the entrance was forbidden to non-workers.
There was a wide corridor along the central axis and 12 curvilinear corridors arranged symmetrically on the two sides.
Recently two tunnels have been discovered that led outside the Colosseum: one led to the Ludus Magnus, the place where gladiators trained, while the other, nicknamed the Tunnel of Commodus, must have been a protected access or escape route for the Emperor.

Interesting facts about the Colosseum architecture
Interesting facts about the Colosseum architecture

How were the seats assigned during the shows?

At the entrance of the amphitheater, the spectators received, according to the social class to which they belonged, a kind of badge where it was indicated the entrance door and the seat, all strictly numbered.
The most important people, Emperor, Vestal Virgins and guests of honor entered through the arches located along the main axis. These sat in the first row. Following, proceeding upwards, sat the senators, merchants, intermediate categories and lastly women and plebeians.

What was the “arena”?

Fights and parades took place on a wooden floor placed at ground level and covered with sand, in Latin “rena”.
Underneath this level were the basements of the Colosseum.

How many spectators could the Colosseum hold?

It could contain from 50 to 70000 spectators, far more than contemporary stadiums. The spectators, however, had a rather cramped space, they sat elbow to elbow.

What is the Colosseum made of? What materials were used for its construction?

The appearance of the Colosseum at the time of the Romans was very different from what we see today, which is only the “skeleton” of it. The facade was covered with slabs of milk-white travertine and was developed on four floors. The complex appeared brilliant white, a jewel set in the heart of Rome. The travertine was found in the quarries of Tivoli, ancient Tibur, loaded in boulders on boats that traveled along the river Aniene and then the river Tevere to the center of Rome.
The architecture of the Colosseum infinitely repeated a technique that the Romans had learned from the Etruscans: the arch. For the pillars of the arches of the ground floor, which supported the other three, they used large blocks of travertine, held together by invisible iron planks. In all other places, bricks (which were invented by the Romans), even in the vaults, then covered with slabs of travertine or marble, held together by mortar. For the secondary pillars was used tuff. Carrara marble was used for the floors and staircases.
During the Middle Ages and the following centuries, the marble of the Colosseum was plundered to build luxurious palaces in the center of Rome.

What was the Colosseum made of
What was the Colosseum made of?

How many floors did the Colosseum originally have?

Originally there were 4 floors, excluding the underground.
Under each of the arches of the second and third floor, there were once impressive marble statues, 160 in all.
The last floor instead, the fourth, had square windows in which were placed gilded bronze shields. From the top floor departed the poles that supported a system of sails the velarium, maneuvered by skilled sailors in order to shelter the spectators from the sun.

What is the shape of the Colosseum?

The plan of the amphitheater is in the shape of an ellipse. The axes measure 189 and 156 meters respectively.

How long did it take to build the Colosseum?

A little less than 10 years. The founder, Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian, did not see it completed yet, while when his son Titus ascended the throne he ordered that the work be completed within a year and inaugurated it even before it was finished.

How old is the Colosseum?

The building was inaugurated in June of 80 AD.

How big is the Colosseum?

The Colosseum was almost 50 meters high and 190 meters long.

Why is the Colosseum full of holes?

During the Middle Ages and subsequent eras, the marble of the Flavian amphitheater was removed, along with the iron planks that held the blocks together. The ends of the iron planks were inserted into the holes. Today the Colosseum appears full of holes because in a certain sense it is “naked”…

Did naumachiae (naval battles) take place in the Colosseum?

According to some historical sources, for some games called naumachie the arena of the Colosseum was filled with water so that ships could float there. This was no longer possible after Emperor Domitian made structural changes in the basement of the Colosseum.

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