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The Colosseum: The ins and outs of the World Wonder


It’s well-known that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

However, did you know that the Colosseum was built in just five years? That kind of feat is incredibly impressive, especially since it was the biggest amphitheatre ever built. Its elliptical structure is 189 meters (620 feet) long and 156 meters (512 feet) wide, with a base area of 24,000 square meters (258,333 square feet) and it stands 48 meters (158 feet) tall. It was built over an artificial lake created by Nero and is made of wood, limestone, tuff, tiles, cement, and mortar.

The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic metres (3,531,467 cubic feet) of travertine stone which were set without mortar; they were held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. The inauguration of the Colosseum lasted 100 days; it is said that in the first day alone, 5000 wild beasts were killed. The amphitheatre could host between 50-80,000 people, with seats assigned by social class. There was a velarium (retractable awning) which kept the sun and rain off the spectators.

Given the large number of spectators and the need to evacuate quickly, the Colosseum was equipped with 80 exits. In the center stood the arena, covered in wood and sand, underneath which was the hypogeum, a very complex structure of tunnels and cages, in which beasts and gladiators waited. A complex system of elevators was even created to bring the wild animals from the hypogeum to the arena.

Throughout the centuries, the Colosseum has experienced varying degrees of popularity and decay. During medieval times it was converted into housing and shops. During the 1349 earthquake, most of the outer south side collapsed, and its materials were taken and reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings around Rome.

Little by little most of the travertine was stripped off the walls and reused elsewhere (to make the steps of St. Peter’s basilica, for example). However, the Colosseum still stands today and, even if a little bit battered, remains one of the 7 wonders of the world and the symbol par excellence of the Eternal City.


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