ROME: The Roman Colosseum
Even in today’s world of high rise skyscrapers, the Roman Colosseum remains hugely impressive. While almost two thirds of the original building had been destroyed by earthquakes, fires, or plundered for its once glistening stone by Roman Popes and aristocrats, it still stands as a glorious but troubling monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty.
The Roman Colosseum was born in the aftermath of Nero's extravagance and the rebellion by the Jews in Palestine against Roman rule. Nero, after the great fire at Rome in AD 64, had built a huge pleasure palace for himself (the Golden House) right in the centre of the city. In AD 68, faced with military uprisings, he committed suicide, and the empire was engulfed in civil wars.
The eventual winner of these civil wars was Vespasian (emperor AD 69-79), and it was his idea to shore up his shaky regime by building an amphitheatre - or pleasure palace for the people - out of the booty from the Jewish War - on the site of the lake in the gardens of Nero's palace.
In its day, the Colosseum was capable of seating 50,000 spectators which, besides gladiatorial contests, was also used for such public spectacles as mock sea battles, animal hunts, and re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.
The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era, but it was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and rather surprisingly, a Christian shrine.
In the 21st century the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome as well as one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions. It still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum
Eventually there were well over 250 amphitheatres in the Roman empire - so it is no surprise that the amphitheatre and its associated shows are still the quintessential symbols of Roman culture.
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