The Colosseum offers far more than meets the eye; it was built to hold 80,000 people!
Spectators would sit according to their social status: senators would sit near the front in an exclusive box; below them would sit equestrians, non-senatorial nobles and eventually ordinary citizens.
Exotic and wild animals were brought into the arena prior to fights for added drama and excitement for spectators, but unfortunately this practice came to an end around 435 AD.
1. It’s the largest amphitheater in the world
The Colosseum was one of the world’s largest amphitheaters and was designed to host animal fights, acrobatic performances and gladiatorial combat matches. Today it remains iconic in pop culture; did you know that its games actually inspired today’s “thumbs up” greeting? Thumbs up signalled life for gladiators while thumbs down meant death; when one died they would be sent through its western exit – later known as The Gate of Death.
Gladiator battles in the Colosseum were some of the most terrifying spectacles ever witnessed by humans. Gladiators were usually slaves or prisoners of war forced into fighting until death, often killing each other or even their trainers as part of an elaborate ritualized battle game which delighted audiences worldwide.
Spectators were seated according to their social rank in the arena. The emperor had his own box and entrance; vestal virgins and senatorial members occupied seats on either side of the building at certain times; wealthy noblemen sat on a second tier while ordinary citizens took up space on a third one, women slaves sat separately on steps, with numbers on entrances to indicate where people should sit.
Construction of this vast amphitheater required enormous sums of money and was funded by spoils from the Jewish revolt as well as Domitian, his successor as Emperor. An estimated 60,000 to 100,000 captive Jewish slaves worked on its construction as well as in quarries providing its travertine stone supply.
2. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Colosseum is one of the most iconic Roman buildings, yet not only archaeologists and historians are fascinated by it; botanists also take great interest in it as an arena that has hosted 337 plant species!
Though best known as an arena for entertainment and torture respectively, the Colosseum served many other purposes during its heyday. These included mock sea battles known as naumachia where full-size ships would be submerged under water before being used to reenact famous naval encounters; events with dramatic music accompaniment and special effects that proved immensely popular with audiences of all kinds.
Colosseums were also frequently used for punishments known as “ad bestias”, in which criminals were condemned to be killed by wild animals as punishment. While not the main event of these spectacles, these spectacles could sometimes be interspersed with public events like reenactments of notable battles or historical tragedies.
To accommodate such large crowds, the colosseum had 80 entrances on its ground level – of which 76 were reserved exclusively for ordinary spectators and were numbered. Additionally, its architectural design featured Doric columns on its first floor while Ionic ones graced its second. Statues could be found between arches; finally on its third-floor level were Corinthian columns reminiscent of those seen during Baroque times.
3. It’s a tourist attraction
The Colosseum was constructed during the height of Roman imperialism and remains one of the world’s premier tourist attractions today. However, during its history it wasn’t always held in such high regard; one interesting fact about its use as a venue for gladiator battles for crowd entertainment, staged hunts with wild animals like lions and tigers and tragic spectacles in which up to 400,000 people perished while other animals such as elephants died for entertainment’s sake in its arenas.
Martial wrote an ode in praise of this building which likened it to other wonders such as Egypt and Babylon. At that time, admission was free for ancient Romans who received food throughout spectacles. Better off families sat closer to the action while poorer ones sat further back; senators, important figures and the Emperor himself would take seats reserved for him in an arena’s “emperor’s box”, where they could watch fights themselves from an elevated viewing platform.
After the fall of Rome, its amphitheater was converted into a church to remember those who died there, before later serving as workshops and even living quarters for blacksmiths. Later still, during an earthquake in 14th-century Italy it served as fortification against an Italian baron’s attack. A major earthquake severely damaged this structure, much of which was reused elsewhere within Rome leaving only small sections intact today.
4. It’s a cemetery
The Colosseum is best-known as a place where gladiators fight one another and spectators come to watch these combative spectacles, but many do not realize that this building also served as a cemetery – over 3000 Christians died here after either being fed to lions or having their throats cut by sword.
The elliptical shape of the arena allowed spectators to enjoy an excellent view from any part of the stadium, seating over fifty thousand people at any one time and providing senators or equestrians with prime seats; next came the lower class citizens and finally women and slaves sat higher up while, finally, the Emperor resided in his Box.
Ancient Roman colosseums were equipped with massive wooden awnings designed to shield crowds from sun exposure. Installing such an immense cover required a team of over 1,000 men. Awning tops hung from giant arms attached to wooden poles at the top of the colosseum.
Visit a Colosseum today, and it may resemble Swiss cheese with all its holes in brickwork. These holes were once used to hold wooden arms that held fabric awnings covering audiences during gladiator fights and animal hunts in its arenas – protecting them from direct sunlight during events in its arenas such as gladiator combat and hunts.
5. It’s a quarry
In its early years, the Colosseum was used for bloody gladiator battles, epic hunts between humans and wild animals, gruesome executions of criminals and prisoners of war, and exotic creature exhibits like lions, tigers, and cheetahs.
The Colosseum was constructed of various materials, such as limestone, marble, travertine, tuff, volcanic rock and brick; metal such as bronze was also used to secure these stones together and give spectators a better view. To give spectators even better viewing conditions for action inside, the arena was covered with an overarching canvas structure called velarium which was supported by 240 decorative corbels for additional viewing pleasure.
Before the Velarium was constructed, gladiators and wild animals resided in a bi-level underground section known as the hypogeum until fights commenced. One of Emperor Titus’s initial additions to the arena, this now ranks among one of the most interesting Colosseum facts.
Spectators were seated according to their social standing; the Emperor and Vestal Virgins occupied boxes on either side of the arena while senators sat in maenianum primum above lower tier; non-senatorial nobles occupied maenianum secundum above that; while ordinary citizens took their places on upper tier of lower ring. At its height of popularity, arena hosted 100 days of games; today it serves as a symbol of opposition against capital punishment – its white interior will turn gold whenever a country abolishes capital punishment.
6. It’s a museum
The Colosseum (otherwise known as the Flavian Amphitheatre) was named for Emperor Vespasian of Rome’s Flavian Dynasty who ordered its construction. As one of the world’s largest amphitheaters and with seating capacity for up to 50,000 spectators, its name was chosen accordingly. Made up of concrete with either travertine or marble coating exteriorly.
When the amphitheater was operational, a variety of shows would take place inside its confines. These included spectacles between wild animals and humans; public executions; gladiator battles (with gladiators being slaves or prisoners of war).
Visitors could access the arena through 80 entrances marked with inscriptions identifying their class of seating. Senators and equestrian classes had access to the best seats while common citizens closer to the arena sat nearby; below them lay sections reserved for women and slaves.
Medieval times saw the building change into an actual castle inhabited by Frangipani family until 1349 when an earthquake severely damaged it.
The Colosseum was saved from collapse when many of its outer walls were rebuilt using blocks made from ‘tofus’ stone blocks – still used today in Italy for construction projects. Over the years it has undergone numerous restoration projects with one major one being undertaken in 2013 when all dirt, grime and debris that had accumulated throughout history was removed.