Architecture of the Colosseum

The Colosseum is 52 meters high

The minor axis of 156 meters

The major axis of 188 meters.

The arena has an area of 3357 square meters.

The characteristics of the Colosseum

The structure is articulated on the outside in four orders, corresponding inside to five seating sectors which make up the cavea. The load-bearing structure is formed by pillars in travertine blocks interspersed in the first order by masonry in tufa blocks, in the upper orders by radial brick walls. The roof vaults are made of yellow and orange tuff concrete, the former from the Flavian age, the latter Severian. The floor of the first order was in travertine slabs, except along the corridor next to the arena, which as it was to the senators it was covered in marble. In the upper orders, the floor was in opus spicatum, made with brick bricks arranged in a herringbone pattern. Travertine was still used in the cladding of stairs and landings and in exposed ducts. The vaults and brick and tuff walls were covered with white plaster; the base of the walls was instead red. All the paths destined for the emperor, the senatorial order and the highest religious authorities were covered in marble.

The structure of the Flavian amphitheater

The structure of the Flavian amphitheater The amphitheater rises on a low crepidine in travertine blocks forming two steps. The first three orders are formed by 80 arches set on pillars in opus quadratum, with protruding semi-columns surmounted by capitals of the Doric order on the first order, Ionic on the second, Corinthian on the third. The fourth and last register consists of a solid wall in which pilasters of the Corinthian order alternate with large quadrangular windows. The travertine shelves on which rested the base of the wooden beams that supported the cover velarium are still visible; holes are opened in the projecting frame for the insertion of the beams, one for each shelf below.

Insight into the architecture of the Colosseum

The cavea was divided starting from the bottom into a first sector of seats (podium) comprising four large marble shelves on which the movable seats of the senators rested; a second sector, the maenianum primum, was made up of 8 marble steps; the maenianum secundum, the largest sector, was divided into imum and summum and was reserved for the equestrian order; the maenianum summum in ligneis was located in the highest part just below the velarium and had 11 wooden steps under a colonnade. Elliptical corridors called praecinctiones separated the various seating sectors: the praecinctio which distinguished the second lower menian from the upper one formed a high elevation divided into doors, vomitoria (crowd exit corridors) and niches.

How many people could the Colosseum in Rome hold?

It has been calculated that the amphitheater could hold about 55,000 spectators, of which 50,000 seated and 5,000 standing in the highest part. Around the arena ran a gallery of which only the back wall with 24 niches is preserved, which communicated with the games floor through doors used by the service personnel. A small portion of the service gallery was rebuilt in the 19th century along the southern slope, to underline the presence of the imperial cryptoporticus which at this point reached the box intended for the emperor.

Admission to the amphitheater was free but regulated on the basis of a precise hierarchical criterion: the best seats around the arena were reserved for senators, while the worst, higher and more distant and with reduced visibility, were reserved for the plebs and were in the maenianum summum in ligneis.

The entrances were numbered: some numbers are still visible on the top of the arches of the outer ring along the north side which has remained intact. Other indications were painted on the top of the internal arches which allowed spectators to easily go to their assigned seats: the same indications were given on the personal pass which each citizen had. Only the entrances located at the ends of the major and minor axes were not numbered as they were reserved for the authorities and gladiators.

In addition to the gladiatorial fights (munera) and hunting shows (venationes), the executions of death sentences (noxii) took place in the Colosseum, which for the Romans had a high educational value as a warning to adhere to socially correct behavior. Public executions became more frequent in the Late Empire, when certain types of executions such as the gallows and crucifixion disappeared, while burning and beheading survived.

The Dungeons of the Gladiators

The floor on which the shows took place, the arena, completely hid the underground rooms from view of the spectators, where all the activities related to the staging of the games took place. The arena was sprinkled with sand (hence the name “arena”) useful both to avoid slips and to absorb the copious blood of the killings of large animals. The Colosseum’s dungeons were opened from 80 AD. until 508 AD, when they were completely filled with earth. The walls visible today are the result of a series of structural modifications, not always easy to understand, due both to restoration interventions and to scenographic changes. The basements housed the freight elevators (80 in number) used to allow communication with the arena floor and to quickly bring out men, animals, sets and materials necessary for the games to take place. The difference in height between the basement floor and the first tier was 6 metres. The elliptical space of the basement is divided into four symmetrical sectors delimited by two main corridors set along the main axes, which intersect at right angles. The tufa walls date back to the original construction phase of the Domitian era, on which the recesses for the insertion of beams and the vertically grooved guides for the ascent of the freight elevators are visible. During the excavations that took place between 1874 and 1875, many wooden elements pertaining to the lifting mechanisms were found, and even an entire wooden floor, found intact in the central corridor, still in place perhaps to insulate the floor from rising water.

Amphitheater service buildings

The construction of the amphitheater also involved the simultaneous construction of a series of service buildings all dating back to Domitian (81-96 AD): the four Ludi or gymnasiums for training gladiators and venatores (the Ludus Magnus all ‘beginning of Via Labicana), the barracks for the sailors of the Capo Miseno fleet (Castra Misenatium) in charge of maneuvering the velarium, the Summum Choragium or the deposit of the sets and the Paraphernalia, warehouse of the gladiators’ weapons. And then again the Saniarium, first aid for the wounded that can be treated on the spot, and the Spoliarium, where the bodies of the killed gladiators were undressed and the armor was recovered.

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