The Colosseum

The Colosseum, originally a Flavian amphitheater (Colosseo in Italian), is a huge ovoid amphitheater located in the center of the city of Rome, between the Esquiline and the Cælius, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering.

Its construction, just east of the Roman Forum, began between 70 and 72 AD, under the reign of Emperor Vespasian, and was completed in 80 AD under the reign of Titus. Other changes were then made during the reign of Domitian. The name Flavian amphitheater derives from the family name (Flavii people) of the emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian.

Probably able to accommodate 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for venationes (wild animal fights), munera (gladiator fights) and other public performances, such as executions of death row prisoners, reconstructions of famous battles and dramas based on Roman mythology. It remained in service for nearly 500 years, the last games extending into the century. For the inauguration of the Colosseum in 80 AD, Titus gave a naumachy to the Colosseum, which had been transformed into a basin restoring the naval battle of Corinth against Corcyre. The building finally ceased to be used during the early middle Ages. It was later reused for various purposes such as housing, craftsmen’s workshops, the headquarters of a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian Catholic sanctuary.

The Colosseum is currently in a state of ruin, due to the damage caused by earthquakes and the recovery of stones, but it continues to give the measure of the ancient power of Imperial Rome. Today, it is one of the symbols of modern Rome, one of its most popular tourist attractions, and still has close links with the Roman Catholic Church: every Good Friday, the Pope leads a torchlight procession on a Way of the Cross leading to the amphitheater. The Colosseum is represented on the Italian 5 euro cent coin.

The Colosseum underwent many changes during the Middle Ages. A small church was built inside the structure at the end of the century and the arena became a cemetery. The many vaulted spaces under the bleachers were used as dwellings or workshops, and there are still some tenants in the 13th century, when the Frangipani fortified the building, apparently to make it a fortress.