Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Colosseum and Palatine Hill

Rome is full of amazing and historically significant buildings. Walking down the street I pass at least one ancient building with a compelling story behind it. I have never been so engulfed in so much history, so many myths, and such beauty in my whole life. Every day here in Rome is a breath taking experience. Two sites have especially captured my attention- The Colosseum and Palatine Hill.

The Colosseum is probably the most impressive building in Rome. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it was the largest building of the era. The Colosseum was built in a span of eight years. The construction started in the year 72 by Emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian Dynasty. It was completed in AD 80, by Emperor Vespasian’s son, Titus. The amphitheater was built on the site of an artificial lake, which made the soil rich for growing numerous exotic plants. The exotic plants came from the seeds that the animals carried on them during the gladiator fights. Also, the lake provided running water up to the third level of the original Colosseum. The lake was part of Nero’s huge park in the center of Rome that also included The Golden House ( Domus Aurea) and the nearby Colossus statue, which is responsible for the Flavian Amphitheater’s nickname, The Colosseum (

The Colosseum measures 188m by 156m and reaches a height of more than 48m. It could hold up to 55,000 spectators ( The Colosseum’s main purpose was entertainment. Roman emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public so they were occupied and not causing trouble out on the streets of Rome. They did this by providing free games in the arena. These free games were actually fights between people and animals, women and midgets, and animals and other animals. Many people and animals were slaughtered in a gruesome way, solely for entertainment. People today have many different perspectives on these fights; however, it bothers me that innocent people and animals were killed for sport. These games were a symbol of an emperor’s prestige and power, and they also were a way for an emperor to gain popularity. Many times at the end of a fight the emperor would choose if the person lived. Oftentimes he would be guided in his decision by the people in the stands. He would simply give a thumbs up or a sideways thumb. This would of course make the crowd go wild and the emperor would enjoy short-lived acclaim and of glory while an innocent person’s life hung in the balance. Games were held for a whole day or sometimes several days in a row.

In AD 217 the Colosseum was badly damaged by fire, but the arena continued to be used for contests well in to the 6th century, with gladiator fights last mentioned around 435 (Oxford, 1998). Animal hunts continued until at least 523, when Anicius Maximus celebrated his consulship with some venations that were criticized by King Theodric the Great for their high cost (Oxford, 1998).

In the following centuries, the Colosseum underwent several changes of purpose, including a cemetery, housing, workshops, and a castle ( The great earthquake of 1349 caused the outer south side of the Colosseum to collapse. Finally, in 1749 Pope Benedict XIV took control of the Colosseum, making it a sacred Christian monument. The Colosseum today is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, welcoming millions of visitors annually.

Palatine Hill is a different kind f tourist attraction. It is the center of the famous seven hills of Rome. It is located between the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill plays a very important role in Roman mythology. It is believed that on Palatine Hill the twins Romulus and Remus were found by the she wolf who raised them. This hill is where Romulus ultimately decided to build his city, Rome.

By the time of Rome’s Republican Era, Palatine Hill became the “fashionable” place to live, due partly to the amazing view from the top of the hill. It is believed that people such as Augustus, Cicero, and Marc Antony all lived at one time on Palatine Hill. At one time the hill was covered with imperial palaces. During the Middle Ages, churches and convents were built there. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese is responsible for the botanical gardens built on top of the ruins (

Today, Palatine Hill contains the ruins of ancient palaces and other buildings. As a former track and field athlete, the most intriguing site I saw was the “stadium”, built next to the palace of Domitian. This is where took place to entertain people living in and visiting the palace. The games were said to be similar to track and field games. Palatine Hill is incredibly interesting and evocative because this is where Rome began.

The Colosseum and Palatine Hill are both very important to the history of Rome. These two amazing monuments reflect a very important period in ancient Roman history and provide insight of the important history of Rome. These sights had a huge impact on me as I imagined the hard labor and the many deaths that took place there. To be able to stand inside these structures of such great historic importance and see with my own eyes the ruins of a great ancient civilization was fascinating and humbling. I am truly blessed to be here, learning, taking pictures, and really immersing myself in the history and culture of Rome.

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