Whether you choose to admire its breathtaking beauty from the outside or go inside to walk in the footsteps off gladiators, there’s no denying that the Colosseum is one of Rome’s most iconic sights. Constructed over a decade in the 1st century A.D., this monumental arena is the largest amphitheater ever built on Earth. Here, gladiators engaged in battles and actors performed dramas for everyone from Roman emperors to the general public. The Colosseum is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and welcomed over 7 million visitors in 2018. Here’s four interesting facts about the architectural masterpiece that you (maybe) didn’t know about.
It Hasn’t Always Been Called the Colosseum
Emperor Vespasian, of the Flavian Dynasty, commissioned the construction of the ellipsoid arena as a gift to the people of ancient Rome. Vespasian and his sons Titus, who inaugurated the arena, and Domitian were collectively known as the Flavian Emperors. As a consequence, the original name was the Amphitheatrum Flavium (Flavian Amphitheater). Curiously, Vespasian and Titus built another Flavian Amphitheater in the city of Pozzuoli, Naples.
The common name Colosseum is thought to be a reference to the landmark’s colossal size, but some theorists believe that it could be a reference to a statue of emperor Nero called the Colossus of Nero. Saint Bede wrote an epigram about the statue in the 8th century: as long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world. This was often misinterpreted as being a reference to the Colosseum itself.
It Stands on the Site of a One-Time Lake
Adjacent to the Colosseum are the remains of the Domus Aurea (Golden House), which was the pleasure palace and villa of emperor Nero. Within the palace grounds was an artificial lake, located where the amphitheater stands today. Following the suicide of Nero, Vespasian became the Roman emperor and promised a palace for the people. He ordered the reclamation of the lake to build the Colosseum upon. The remainder of Nero’s palace was turned into the Baths of Trajan.
Mock Naval Battles Once Took Place Inside
While gladiatorial contests, animal hunts and executions were popular events, the Colosseum was also a place where Romans could recreate famous military victories. The most elaborate of these recreations were mock naval battles, known as a naumachia. Prior to the construction of the hypogeum, the floor could be flooded to create a lake. Flat-bottomed replicas of typical Roman boats were brought in and hundreds of participants acted out battle scenes. Ancient historians, including Cassius Dio and Suetonius, mentioned such events.
It Almost Became a Wool Factory and a Bullring
Animal games at the Colosseum ceased in 523 A.D., by which time it had already been damaged by an earthquake. By the 1500s and 1600s, the Catholic Church looked for alternative ways to use this once glorious arena. Pope Sixtus proposed redeveloping it into a wool factory by installing dormitories in the upper sections and a fully operating factory on the arena’s floor. Sixtus died in 1590; otherwise the appearance might be somewhat different to how it looks today. Despite being regarded as a sacred site, Cardinal Altieri authorized bullfights in 1671. This idea was, however, withdrawn upon the request of the people.