History Comes Alive in Rome
When I was at school one of my favourite subjects was history. I was particularly obsessed with ancient history – the empires of Rome, of Athens, the myths and legends of the Mediterranean world. Looking back, this enduring passion for history was triggered by a family holiday to Rome.
My parents had a real knack for planning family holidays that were subconsciously educational – taking us to places that had some key points of interest and historical importance and letting us discover and explore, patiently answering our numerous questions and pointing us in the right direction to find more information.
Using that model of educational travel, the spectacular ruins of the Colosseum in Rome is an amazing way to open the eyes and the mind of any child to the wonders of the ancient world.
The Largest Amphitheatre in the World
The Colosseum is without doubt one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering, and the answer to everyone questioning what to visit in Rome. Its construction dates back to the year 70 AD when the emperor Vespasian ruled Rome.
With the capacity to hold up to 80,000 spectators, this amphitheatre was the centre for major entertainment spectacles – not just the battles between gladiators that we normally associate with this time, but also mock sea battles, animal hunts, public executions, re-enactments of historical events or military victories, or plays and dramas bringing to life the myths and legends of Rome.
The Colosseum was used in this way right through until the sixth century after which it fell into disrepair following earthquakes and fires – its decline mirroring the fall of the Roman Empire.
The survival of the Colosseum
It’s a little ironic that it was the Catholic Church that saved the Colosseum from complete destruction.
This arena where early Christians had been martyred and executed for public entertainment was declared a sacred site by Pope Benedict XIV in 1749, sanctified by the blood of the early Christians that had been killed there.
The church initiated numerous restoration and stabilisation projects, reinforcing the surviving facade and beginning the excavation of the arena’s substructure.
Visiting the Colosseum Today
The Colosseum was built by the best craftsmen available, tackling with ingenuity many of the challenges that modern stadiums are still grappling with – ground level entrances and a ticketing system was used to get the crowds in and out quickly, and a retractable awning provided shelter from the weather and also helped to create a breeze.
But it is the floor of the arena that is really fascinating – the arena had a wooden floor and beneath that a two-level underground network of tunnels and cages where gladiators and animals were held waiting for their turn in front of the crowd. Vertical shafts and large hinged platforms could be used to change scenery or release animals as large as elephants.
As a young child, it is exhilarating to be able to stand in the ruins of the Colosseum, to close your eyes and imagine the sights and sounds of Ancient Rome, the gladiators, the battles, the heat, and the crowds.
This is how you learn about history.