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The Colosseum (Colosseo) is an almost two thousand year old gladiatorial arena located in the heart of Rome. It is Italy's most visited tourist attraction and is an imposing reminder of the wealth and might of the Roman Empire, and a reminder of the barbarism that was enjoyed as sport in Roman days.
Construction of the Colossem began in 70AD and was completed in 80AD under the reign of Emperor Titus. It's original name was Flavian Amphitheatre (Amphitheatrum Flavium) but was popularly renamed in the middle ages to Colosseum in reference to the nearby statue of Nero, the Colosso di Nerone. The stadium was able to seat 50,000 spectators and the eighty vomitoria (entrances) around the arena allowed spectators to enter from outside and be seated in a matter of only a few minutes.
The seating in the arena (known as cavea) was segregated into three areas and admittance to each area depended upon the class of the spectator. The lowest levels, closest to the action, were reserved for the highest classes and state officials, the middle level was reserved for wealthy Roman citizenry, whilst the upper levels were unreserved and allowed all other classes access to view the spectacle. The Emperor, VIPs and members of the Senate were seated within a terraced area, known as the podium, at the very front of the tiered seating.
The exterior of the Colosseum was made up of 3 levels of arches on the outer walls consisting of Corinthian, Doric and Ionic columns. The upper two levels of arches once contained statues made from marble and the exterior of the Colosseum was covered in a white limestone called travertine. The interior of the arena was covered by a canvas awning that afforded some protection from the elements. The awning was supported by 240 masts from the upper level
The wooden floor of the arena had dozens of trapdoors that led to chambers beneath and allowed access for gladiators, caged animals as well as the extravagant sets used in reconstructed battles. The arena was used for gladiatorial contests, mock battles, executions, animal hunts and other spectacles all used to entertain the citizens of Rome. The floor of the arena was covered in a layer of sand to soak up the copious litres of spilled blood. The arena could also be flooded to allow for recreations of sea battles to be played out.
The Colosseum fell into disrepair and disuse after the fall of the empire and the beautiful marble and travertine removed in the Middle Ages to be used in other building projects. It's historical importance was later recognised and stabilisation and restoration of the structure were instituted in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Nowadays the Colosseum is one of Italy's top tourist draw cards and attracts visitors from all around the world. There is a fee to view the interior of the arena and cues for entry can be lengthy, but the sense of history and awe this imposing symbol of Roman power invoke are well worth the wait.