The Colosseum – Rome’s Answer to the Sydney Opera House?

For a city to be recognised in the world stage it has to have an iconic image. Sydney, my home city has an amazing harbour, book ended by the harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. I suspect that in Rome the Colosseum is the international icon.

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Alongside the Colosseum, but built more than 200 years later is The Arch of Constantine, a Triumphal Arch which spans the Via Triumphalis, the road on which Emperor entered the city of Rome after a major military victory. The pockmarked appearance of the outer walls is not from gun fire but where the marble facade was ripped off to provide building materials for other later Roman projects.

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It only took 9 years to build the original amphitheatre,. It was financed by the spoil from the looting of the Great Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. The building was carried out by 60,000 Jewish slaves. They were the lucky ones, as the Historian Josephus estimated that 1,100,000 Jews died during the military campaign by Titus to destroy Jerusalem and crush the zealots. The Arch of Titus, at the end of the Roman Forum nearest to the Colosseum, commemorates this victory, and bas-reliefs show Roman soldiers making off with booty from the temple. Later, in AD 135 the Hadrian Emperor  began a concerted campaign to eradicate the Jewish religion and  the new Christian cult, building pagan temples on the site of the Temple and on the Hill of Golgotha.  Hadrian also then renamed the entire country of Israel as Palestine, a Latinisation of Philistine, a terrible insult to the Jews at the time.

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The Colosseum held 55,000 spectators who had free entry to their own seats. Their “ticket’ was made of pottery because it was permanent entry to that seat. It only took 20 minutes for all those people to be seated because there were 84 entrance with direct wide passages to your seat. This seating was broken in separate areas for the various Roman classes.

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The arena was originally named after the Emperor Vaspasian Flavian, who built it. Alongside it was an enormous statue of the Emperor Nero, during whose reign the fire had destroyed much of Rome, leaving this area open for redevelopment. This bronze statue, later melted down, was nicked named the “Colossus” by the Romans and this name became attached to the massive stadium.

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What was the purpose of the Colosseum? At this stage the Empire was in decline, with its strength depending on the Emperor at the time. The Roman Poet Juvenal coined the phrase “Bread and Circuses” to describe what had happened to Rome, when the population’s approval could be won, not by excellent government but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of their immediate, shallow requirements by provision of subsidised food and free entertainment.  Festivals and games held at the Colosseum could last 100 days and the people were fed  when they attended. The money not only for the building but for these festivals came from the spoils of the Empire which previously was used on the Army. Over 400,000 people died in the Colosseum in the 390 years it was open for entertainment.

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In the event of rain the entire roof of the Colosseum could be covered by canvas sails unfurled by teams of sailors pulling on ropes. These images show the under floor construction where animals were stables and large numbers of men could move quickly into the arena. Some have suggested that for the re enactment of a famous naval victory the Central area was flooded to allow boats to fight a simulated naval battle.

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3 thoughts on “The Colosseum – Rome’s Answer to the Sydney Opera House?

  1. I remember standing there in 1985 looking at the Colosseum at all those passages all grown over and I could really imagine what it would have been like way back then especially after studying roman history and seeing all those movies pertaining to early roman days. Fascinating stuff, reading about history and actually seeing it are two completely different things.

  2. Do you have any photos of it as it was nearly 30 years ago? That would be interesting. I think you only get an idea of the scale of the place from the picture with all the people looking out from the second level tunnels that were smashed open by the earthquake in 1349.

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