The theme this week is achievement. For some that will mean climbing the highest mountain, passing an exam or learning to ride a bike. For me, it always makes me think of the achievements of our ancestors and predecessors on whose shoulders we stand. Without their scientific study, art, engineering, literature and architectural legacies, for example, our world would be very different. And the one achievement that always blows my socks off when I see it is the Colosseum in Rome.
Now it may not look much to you today. It’s a shadow of its former self, its true. Much of the marble has been looted from its exterior and used for other buildings around Rome including St Peter’s Basilica. Most of the seating has long since collapsed due to earthquakes and disrepair, as has the floor. But just think about what an achievement it was to build this colossal colosseum nearly 2000 years ago.
This impressive engineering feat is one of the greatest work of the Roman Empire and one of the largest ancient amphitheatres in the world.
Its estimated that over 100,000 cubic meters of travertine marble were used just for the outer wall of the Colosseum. And rather than using mortar to hold it together, iron clasps were employed; over 300 tons of them.
The inner structure was built with concrete, which was invented by the Romans, stone and light weight pumice to allow the architects to build at least 5 levels of seating without needing enormous columns to hold the immense structure up.
It could hold an estimated 80,000 spectactors – that is the equivalent to Manchester United’s Old Trafford Football Stadium, Shaghai Football Stadium, the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home to the New York Giants and New York Jets or Rome’s own modern Stadio Olimpico, home to AS Roma and Lazio.
And given its huge capacity the Colosseum also has over 80 numbered entrances to ensure the smooth flow of people entering and leaving. This was especially important to avoid a crush in an emergency. Clearly the Romans understood health & safety even back then! Today’s Colosseum Ticket Office could learn a thing or two from their predecessors!
The Colosseum even had a sophistated awning system operated by sailors to keep the sun and rain off spectactors. In contrast, its only in the last few years that modern stadiums and sports arenas like Wimbledon Tennnis Club or Cardiff Millenium Stadium have considered building retractable roofs over their games! Better late than never I suppose!
But lets not forget whose achievement this almighty building really was. Not the Emperor’s. Not even the architects’ and engineers’ although their conception of this building was astounding. No, I’m talking about the 60,000 Jewish slaves forced to work on the building over the 9 years it took to construct. What was even more galling was that the money used had been looted from the Jewish Temple after the Seige of Jerusalem. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound.
Even more tragically, this great arena was built to host gladiatorial games, many fought to the death. Scholars calculate that over half a million people lost their lives during fights at the Colosseum, along with a million wild and exotic animals from lions and tigers to hippopotamus and giraffes. I’m not sure we can be quite as proud of this “achievement” but its scale is gruesomely breathtaking.
Today the immense achievement of the conceptualisation and construction of the Colosseum continues to stun and stagger the millions of visitors it receives every year. The structure is considered by many to be one of the 7 wonders of the modern world and given the engineering skill, human labour and tonnes of concrete and stone it took to build, and that it has withstood several devastating earthquakes over the last two millennia, I’d agree.
So next time you are in Rome, make sure to take a trip to see this majestic stadium and see if you can get a sense of how awe-inspiring it might have been to watch it being constructed. Or even to watch the gladiatorial games there. Considering it has taken us nearly 2000 years to rediscover or reinvent some of the technology necessary to build stadia on this scale I think the Romans’ achievement was even more amazing. What would you say is the most breathtaking achievement you’ve ever seen? Leave me a comment below and make sure you add the Colosseum to your travel wish list – it will be a trip you won’t forget!
Official website for the Colosseum – http://www.coopculture.it/en/the-colosseum.cfm
Book tickets for the Colosseum online here
Opening Hours – http://www.coopculture.it/en/the-colosseum.cfm#
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