All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in July 2009.
Piazza del Colosseo (Book 2) (Map B3) (Day 1) (View C9) (Rione Campitelli) and (Rione Monti)
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In 1750 Pope Benedict XIV, in order to preserve the Colosseum from further damage, inhibited the access to it by closing the arches on the ground floor; he dedicated the ancient monument to the Passion of Christ in memory of the many martyrs who (according to tradition) died there.
The view shows the northern part of the monument which still has the outer circle. The view is taken from the green dot in the map below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Anfiteatro Flavio; 2) Arco di Costantino; 3) Ruins near S. Maria Nuova (Tempio di Venere e Roma); 4) S. Bonaventura. 4) is shown in another page. The small 1748 map shows also 5) Domus Aurea; 6) Terme di Traiano; 7) Terme di Tito; 8) Sette Sale. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Monti (upper part) and Rione Campitelli (lower part).
Vasi forced perspective laws to show the whole building and at the same time the apse of Tempio di Venere e Roma. Today the area between the Colosseum and the Forum is reserved to pedestrians and it is always full of tourists, the Colosseum being the absolute "must see" of Rome.
Quamdiu stabit Colyseus, stabit et Roma;
quando cadet Colyseus, cadet Roma;
quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus.
(as long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world).
This saying is attributed to the Venerable Bede (672-735), who learnt it from Anglo-Saxons pilgrims. It probably made reference to a colossal statue of Nero rather than to the amphitheatre, but all British travellers had it in mind when they visited Rome, and in particular Lord Byron.
You may wish to read Charles Dickens's 1845 account of his visit to this site, the playbill Mark Twain found in 1867, Henry James's 1873 and William Dean Howells' 1908 accounts of their visits.
See the historical parade, the military parade and the Rome Marathon, which all go around the Colosseum.
The Colosseum (after the name of a nearby colossal statue of Nero) is more properly called the Amphitheatrum Flavium, because it was built by Emperors Vespasian and Titus Flavius. The Colosseum was damaged by earthquakes and in the Vth century only a portion of the building was used. In 438 Emperor Valentinian III closed the gladiators' schools and the performances were limited to the hunting of wild beasts. The invasion of northern Africa by the Vandals interrupted the supply of lions and other wild animals which were replaced by bears from the Apennines. The last performances took place in 523 during the reign of the Ostrogoth King Theodoric, who had added to his name that of Flavius.
The design of the Colosseum shows the skills of the Roman architects in providing effective solutions to the many problems caused by the gathering of large crowds. There were independent accesses (vomitoria) to the three tiers into which the seats were divided; this allowed an easy exit at the end of the performances. The gladiators and the beasts reached the Colosseum through underground passages and found below the arena rooms for resting and practising. A sort of awning (velarium) sheltered the spectators from the sun. Sand was strewn on the ground to reduce the effects of falls and to absorb the blood. The word rena (sand) eventually became a simpler way (arena) to refer to the amphitheatre.
Smaller buildings housed stables, barracks and training grounds and were linked to the Colosseum by underground passages; the large barracks called Ludus Magnus (Great Game) are now partly visible in an area excavated in the 1960s. The gladiators practised in a small scale replica of the Colosseum.
During the Middle Ages the Colosseum was fortified by the Frangipane, who erected a wall around it using Arch of Titus and Arch of Constantine as entrances. In the XIVth century the building came under the protection of the Roman Senate, but this did not prevent the usage of its fallen parts for calcination (for lime-making) or for the many churches and palaces built in the XVth-XVIIth centuries. Even in 1704 Pope Clement XI did not hesitate to use the travertine which had fallen because of an earthquake to pave the stairways of Porto di Ripetta. With the consecration to the Christian Martyrs, the Colosseum became the scene of many processions and religious ceremonies, in particular during the Holy Week.
At the beginning of the XVIIIth century Carlo Fontana developed a project for building a church inside the Colosseum. The project was eventually shelved, but the drawing supporting it shows the condition of the monument at that time; it was practically open on its southern side (right side of the plan); this part was reconstructed in the XIXth century.
Pope Benedict XIV built the Stations of the Cross and placed a large cross at the centre of the arena (now it has been relocated to its northern side). A moonlight visit to Colosseum became a must for Grand Tour travellers; its walls were covered by a thick vegetation (more than 200 species were identified by a XIXth century botanist) and it was possible to climb it to its highest point.
Today the Colosseum is entirely bereft of its decoration, but we know that every element of the building was carefully thought of also from an aesthetic viewpoint; the seats were divided into sectors and to facilitate their identification they were separated by low marble screens which also served as handrails. These were all decorated with a variety of reliefs.
One of the most effective actions taken to prevent the further fall of the outer circle was completed by Pope Pius VII with the erection of a wall which shows some of the arches in the state they were when the wall was built.
The Christian aspects of the Colosseum with its crosses granting one year and eleven days of indulgence to those who kissed them are today overlooked and the Colosseum is now seen as the most impressive symbol of the Roman Empire. Read Charles Dickens's comments about the crosses of the Colosseum.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Go to page two.