1. Colossal dimensions
The Colosseum is an 189 metre-long and 156 metre-wide elliptical building, covering an area of 24,000 square metres with a height of more than 48 metres. It has about 80 entrances and could accommodate about 50,000 spectators.
2. Work in progress.
It took just over 5 years to build from 75 to 80 AD. Only 100,000 cubic metres of travertine were used for the outer wall.
3. A name, a mystery.
Originally, it was called the Flavian Amphitheatre (it was built by Vespasian and Tito of the Flavian dynasty). The name “Colosseum” appeared only in the Middle Ages. The most widely accepted theory suggests it got the name because it was built near the statue of Nero’s “Colossus”, which stood a few metres from the amphitheatre. Others say the name comes from its position, since it’s located on a hill where the Temple of Isis stood (hence Collis Isei). But there’s also a dark legend that says it was once a pagan temple where the locals worshiped the devil. At the end of each ceremony, the priests would ask “Colis Eum?” (“Do you love him?”).
4. Without the Colosseum, many of Rome’s historic buildings wouldn’t exist.
The marble of the facade and some of the Colosseum’s interior structure were used to build the Basilica of San Pietro and civil buildings like Palazzo Barberini. Fallen into neglect, the amphitheatre was used as a source for building materials throughout Rome. The pilfering ended only in the 18th century, when the locals rediscovered their love for their ancient ruins. It is estimated that only a third of the original construction remains today. The rest was carted off and used elsewhere over the centuries.
5. Historical film? No, horror!
During the time of the gladiators, the Colosseum gained a dark fame and was soon thought to be one of the 7 gates of Hell (tens of thousands of people died here). It is said that magical ceremonies were performed here, using the blood of those who died in the arena. In the Middle Ages, brigands used to bury their victims here. And in the 1500s, it was targeted by magicians and sorcerers who sought the supposedly magical herbs that grew in its ruins.
6. It’s a bit like a jungle
Strange but true: For centuries, botanists have been studying the flora that grows spontaneously within the Colosseum. More than 350 different species of plants have taken root among the ruins, some of which are exotic and whose growth favour the amphitheatre’s microclimate.
7. It was also used as a swimming pool.
For a period of time, the Colosseum was used for water games (nauromachie), recreations of naval battles, which, however, did not have the same success as the gladiatorial games. According to Martin Crapper, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Edinburgh, water flowed through a series of internal wells and pipes beneath the stands. It took about 7 hours to fill the entire arena.
8. … And it was covered by a large shade cloth.
On sunny days, the Colosseum was covered with a ‘velarium’ formed by about 80 triangular sails, controlled by 320 support ropes. The motivation? Simple, to prevent the spectators from overheating during the midday shows.
9. In the cinema.
The Colosseum has appeared in numerous films. But the film that celebrated its fame worldwide was not filmed at the Colosseum: Gladiator. A series of obstacles prevented director Ridley Scott from shooting scenes here, so he made do with the Roman amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia and replicated part of a model Colosseum in Malta in just 19 weeks. The bulk however was recreated on the computer.
10. New, or better yet, old look.
Starting in October 2013, the facade of the Colosseum has undergone a cleaning and renovation process that will return it to its gleaming white travertine splendour. The estimated cost of the operation, sponsored by Tod’s, is 25 million euros.