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The Colosseum

Listed under Monuments & Landmarks in Rome, Italy.

  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
  • Photo of The Colosseum
Photo of The Colosseum
Photo by flickr user David Paul Ohmer
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The most famous symbol of Rome, despite the crowds and the touts still one of the world's greatest monuments.

Written by  James Dunford Wood.

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The Colosseum and Imperial Fora

When first constructed, the Colosseum was a vast amphitheatre capable of seating 45,000 - 50,000 blood thirsty spectators, the largest of it's kind ever constructed. It was inaugurated by Emperor Titus in 80AD, when he declared 100 days of celebratory games involving the massacre of some 5,000 wild beasts. The Colosseum remained in use for the next 500 years and was host to mock sea battles, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, dramas based on classical mythology as well as other public spectacles, before gradually having it's marble and stones stripped for use elsewhere.

The foras were monumental public squares, constructed in Rome between 46BC and 113AD, the ruins of which litter today's Rome. These squares were places to discuss politics, economy and religion in ancient Rome. The most famous of these are the Forum of Julius Caesar, the Forum of Augustus and the largest and most grand, Trajan's Forum, with it's carved column commemorating in graphic details the emperor's victories.

The Colosseum's grizzly past remembered

A breathtaking achievement in terms of Roman engineering and an architectural icon, Rome's Anfiteatro Flavio (better known as the Colosseum) boasts a colourful, theatrical history of events to rival any other.

It began in 80AD, when the main structure of the building was finally completed under Emperor Titus, and it was used to stage dramatic, bloody gladiatorial fights and games, and public executions. Records written by a historian of the time indicate that nine thousand animals were killed in the Colosseum during the very first games held there.

Less violent forms of entertainment were also presented, such as re-enactments of glorious battles, celebratory spectacles such as epic fights or hunts, and Classical dramas.

The building was damaged by fire in the year 217, almost destroyed by earthquakes in 443 and 1349, converted into a cemetery in the 6 th century, rented out as residential and commercial real estate in the 12th century and occupied as a castle in the 13th century. It was used variously as a bull fighting ring, a source of building materials and very nearly as a wool factory, until it was consecrated in 1749 and gradually restored.

The awesome structure has stood more than the test of time and has accumulated an incredibly varied collection of personal stories as well as reflecting a national one. Colosseum ghost stories passed down through generations tell of unjustly slaughtered gladiators who return by night to re-enact their final moments in combat and invisible chariots that rattle and race across the long-vanished sand. Visitors have described hearing words spoken in Latin, the shouts of petty criminals slaughtered at the whim of the watching crowd and the cries of wounded animals, and many have reported seeing disappearing audience members and shadowy Roman guards silhouetted against the sky – images so evocative that they seem to represent the ghost of the Roman Empire itself.

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