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The Glory of Rome

The Glory of Rome

The Colosseum Via dei Fori Imperiali is a broad straight road realized in 1932, which passes through the ruins of the Imperial fora from which it takes its name. At the end of this street, between the Esquilino and Celio hills, there is one of the greatest wonders of the Roman civilization: the Colosseum. This immense amphitheater, whose remains still carry the splendor of its ancient glory, was started by Vespasian in 72 A.D. and was finished by his son Titus in 80 A.D. It was then Domitian who gave it the finishing touches in 81.

The Colosseum’s real name is Flavian Amphitheatre, but it became universally known as the Colosseum because of both the enormous size and the proximity to the Colossus of Nero. There is no page in the history of Rome that is not linked, one way or another, to the Colosseum, which has become a symbol of the city and of its life. The Colosseum functioned as a gigantic Stadium of our age, but the shows preferred by the Romans were the games of the circus.

Celebrated since ancient times, perhaps to foster the warrior spirit of the Romans, at the end of the Republic the games became big shows intended for the masses. The role of the Gladiator was born: these slaves were trained to fight and kill each other, while wild animals of all kinds increased the horror of the shows. Cassius Dio says that 9,000 animals were killed during the 100-day festival celebrated for the inauguration of the amphitheatre.The arena functioned initially as the scene for naval battles and was therefore filled with water in the earlier times.

The Great Emperor Constantine and his successors sought to put an end to the gladiator fights, but the Romans, however,refused, for a long time, to renounce the shows they were used to. In the early 5th century, a monk named Telemachus came from the East: he entered the arena and tried to stand between the Gladiators. He turned to the people, begging them to abandon those horrible amusements. Sarcastic voices and insults rose: the intruder, great martyr for the cause of humanity, was stoned. But since that day, the shows ended.

When the Colosseum was in the fullness of his glory, it was certainly a magnificent spectacle of the glory of Rome, and even today, after so many centuries still it stands as the pride of Rome. However the history of the amphitheatre also includes long periods of neglect and decay. The end of the Roman Empire was marked by two earthquakes which caused serious damages to the Colosseum, although the amphitheatre continued to perform its function even under Theodoric, head of the Roman-barbaric Kingdom of the Goths, who in 523 authorized the representation of Venationes, traditional hunts to wild beasts. A little later, however, there came a time of total abandonment, which led the Colosseum to be used first as a cemetery, then as a fortress, but above all, especially after the earthquake of 1349, as a quarry for building materials. The marble that used to cover it was almost entirely re-occupied during the flourishing period of building activity of the Renaissance.

The profound degradation of the Colosseum was finally stopped by Pope Benedict XIV, who wanted to consecrate the old amphitheatre to the devotion of the Via Crucis, raising a cross on the ground that the legend linked to the name of thousands of Christian martyrs. There is actually no historical records of mass massacres of Christians in the Colosseum, although among the executions there performed there were also those of the followers of Christ. However from the moment of its consecration the Colosseum was repeatedly restored and went under various consolidation works.