During my junior year of high school I went on a 10-day study abroad trip to Europe. Within those 10 days our group would visit three countries: Italy, France, and Spain. I was most excited for Italy, and I can easily say I loved it the most. We visited Florence, Tuscany, and of course, Rome.
Visiting the Colosseum in Rome, such a historical and monumental site, was a very rewarding experience. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I wish my high school had offered art history classes so I would’ve known a bit more on my visit there. All I knew then was that it was used for gladiator fights, sometimes including animals.
After my college art history courses, I have learned much more. To start off, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built and was made of concrete. Gladiators often battled wild animals, commonly lions and tigers. They fought to the death. The theater was also used for theatrical performances, religious ceremonies, executions, and mock sea battles. An underground waterway system was built in order to flood and then drain the arena. It is insane to think the Romans were able to develop such a complex system so many years ago, without any of today’s modern advances in water systems/plumbing. There was even a retractable awning over the top of the Colosseum used to provide shade or protect spectators from inclement weather.
The thousands upon thousands of lives brutally taken in the Colosseum were not mourned over. Witnessing death was exciting to the Romans. If an amphitheater like this existed today it would be considered violent, horrific, inhumane. It wouldn’t be legal, let alone a form of entertainment.
The Colosseum was built by the Roman Empire as a gift to the people. It was a way to enhance the popularity of the empire. Admission to the arena was free for all citizens, and the arena itself could hold an estimated 50,000 people. The creation of the Colosseum allowed Romans to show off their building and architectural techniques to other empires around the world.
The Colosseum today looks nothing like it did back then. It stands in ruins. Much of it was destroyed in an earthquake, so large portions of the walls are missing. The tunnels and spaces where trap doors once stood are now open and exposed. Different types of flora and greenery (lots of moss and algae) now grow among the rubble, where I imagine the arena floor must have been. The illuminated lime green color of earth growing over crumbled rock was fascinating to me. New over old. Natural over man made. Life over death.
It was hard to fully imagine the Colosseum as what it once was with thousands of tourists sprawling all around. Dozens of foreign languages filled my ears, camera flashes went off left and right, people stopped walking abruptly in my pathway. The arena of death shined bright that gorgeous day. The sky was a dark cerulean blue. It was a tourist spot, just a crumbling old place, but when I put my hand to one of the stones on my way out it was freezing. An eerie feeling came over me and I knew that more lives had perished here, more blood had been spread, than this beautiful spring visit would ever allow my mind to be able to conceive.