4 Fascinating Facts about the Colosseum

A John Cabot University student visits the Colosseum

A John Cabot University student visits the Colosseum

Of the many historical sites that students can visit while studying abroad in Rome, few are as famous as the Colosseum. Every year, the ancient amphitheater attracts millions of tourists – and with good reason!

The Colosseum is an architectural marvel. It measures 615 feet long, 510 feet wide, and has a base area of approximately 6 acres. Thanks to its impressive size, the Colosseum could seat approximately 50,000 spectators during its heyday, and comfortably handle the flow of large crowds through its strategic design and multiple points of entry and exit.

Of course, the Colosseum isn’t just famous for its architecture. As the site of gruesome gladiator battles, naval conflict re-enactments, and animal hunts, it also holds a hauntingly bloody past that continues to capture the human imagination.

Read on to find out four fascinating facts behind this iconic Roman landmark.

Classical Studies in Rome Reveal that the Colosseum was once an Apartment Complex

Undergraduates who study history in Italy may know that the Colosseum slowly fell into disrepair during the Middle Ages. Its stones were even quarried for new buildings, including the Palazzo Barberini and the Palazzo Venezia.

Recently, though, experts have uncovered a new chapter in the Colosseum’s history. It is believed that from the 9th century to the mid-1390s, the massive structure was used as an apartment complex. Archeologists have uncovered foundations, sewage pipes, and other remnants from the Middle Ages that lead them to believe that the Colosseum was repurposed as living quarters for local Romans!

And the arena where gladiators, prisoners, and wild animals once fought to the death? Resurrected as a serene courtyard where residents could stroll and lounge.

John Cabot University students study ancient ruins during on-site classes.

John Cabot University students study ancient ruins during on-site classes.

The Colosseum was a Gift to the People of Rome

As students completing their classical studies in Rome will know, it was important for Emperors to rally and maintain public support in order to secure their power. If the Roman population was unhappy with their ruler, that ruler risked meeting a violent and untimely end.

To gain public support, many emperors and generals built impressive temples, baths, and other structures for public use. Vespasian, who came to power after the infamous Nero and the tumultuous year of the four emperors, wanted to endear himself to the people by building something truly awesome. Hence the Colosseum was commissioned and erected on the grounds where Nero’s over-the-top Golden House mansion once stood.

JCU students visit the Colosseum on a learning field trip

JCU students visit the Colosseum on a learning field trip

Study History in Italy and Learn How Ancient Romans Caused Animal Extinctions

While the gruesome human conflicts that took place in the Colosseum live on only in our imaginations, the animal battles Romans hosted in the arena have resulted in lasting real-world consequences.

The Romans captured and slaughtered so many “exotic” animals from North Africa and the Mediterranean that many experts believe that they are at least in part to blame for the extinction of several species.

Among those species are the Barbary Lion, Atlas Wild Ass, North African Elephant, and the Atlas Bear – whose numbers were drastically reduced or wiped out entirely during the Roman Empire.

The Colosseum is now a Symbol against Capital Punishment

As you study in Italy, you’ll notice that the Colosseum lights up at night. If you’re lucky, you might catch it lit by a special message or symbol, like a thumbs up. That’s because since 2000, the Colosseum has stood as a symbol against capital punishment. Every time a death sentence is revoked or the death penalty is abolished anywhere in the world, the lights of the Colosseum change in celebration.

What other fascinating facts do you know about the Colosseum?

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