The Roman Colosseum is a tremendous amphitheater, the embodiment of both the grandeur and cruelty of the great Roman Empire. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum hosted spectacular games that included gladiator exhibitions, fights between animals, prisoner executions and - strangely enough - naval battles. Untold thousands of humans and animals met their ends within one of the most popular attractions in Rome.
Located just east of the entrance to the Roman Forum, the swarms of tourists and honking of cars (who use the Colosseum's circular structure as one of the world's most intimidating traffic circles) make the Roman Colosseum hard to miss. It is a staple of any sightseeing journey through the busy streets of Rome, and a ticket to view its grandeur can often be bought in conjunction with a tour of nearby Palatine Hill.
The Colosseum's name is derived from a bronze colossus of Nero that once stood nearby, though it disappeared sometime during the Middle Ages and has largely been forgotten. Construction was begun by Emperor Vespasian and completed by his sons in the late first century. The arena floor was covered with sand to soak up the blood shed by those humans and animals unlucky enough to find themselves in its center. Its elliptical shape kept the players from retreating to a corner and allowed the spectators to be closer to the action than a circular arena would allow - the design of the Colosseum in Rome has influenced nearly every modern venue.
Seating was divided into different sections. The first level of seating was restricted for Roman senators and included the emperor's private box. The section above the podium was for lower Roman aristocrats. The third level was divided itself into three sections. The best of these seats was reserved for wealthy citizens, the upper part for the poor and a third, wooden section was left for lower-class women. The Roman Colosseum incorporated a number of passageways that opened into a tier of seats so that the entire structure - one of the largest tourist attractions in Rome even then - could fill in 15 minutes, and be evacuated even quicker.
A day of festivities at the roman Colosseum usually opened with a series of wild animal matches. Tigers, lions, elephants and even giraffes would fight each other, or humans, or both. Midday brought the morbid spectacle of public executions before the main event: the Gladiator matches. Depending on the day's structure, however, sometimes these events would be combined into one long, chaotic battle.
Eventually, Christian leaders ensured that humans were no longer executed within the Colosseum's great walls, though the building was still used for animal hunts until around 524. Four major earthquakes took their toll on the structure though, and by the Middle Ages the Colosseum in Rome had been fully converted into a military fortress, before finally being relegated to existing as the world's largest rock quarry.
During the Baroque age the marble that originally covered the facade was redistributed by the ruling Roman families who used it as a source of marble for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica and their private Palazzis, a fate that also befell the equally monstrous Circus Maximus located on the other side of Palatine Hill.
In the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV eventually ended the use of the Colosseum in Rome as a giant quarry. He promptly consecrated it and installed the Stations of the Cross, declaring it sanctified by the blood of many Christian martyrs who were (inaccurately, as it turns out) thought to have perished there.
Overshadowing the ruins of the Roman Forum, overshadowing the Pantheon, overshadowing every other attraction in the city, the Roman Colosseum will forever remind visitors of an inhumane past, when thirst for blood could bring crowds from miles away and nothing was more thrilling than the taking of a life.
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