The Colosseum in Rome is perhaps the most recognized ancient site in the world. It was built as an amphitheatre and is regarded as an architectural wonder even today. It was a huge structure and according to historians had a capacity to hold 80,000 people. The Colosseum was designed so that it would only take ten minutes to empty the amphitheatre without causing a stampede.
The impressive structure was divided into three tiers and each level consisted of enclosures reserved for different members of the hierarchy. The amphitheatre was large enough to easily hold a multitude and was beautifully planned.
The monument has colossal dimensions. It stood over 160 feet tall. From end to end the structure was spread over an area of more than six acres. It has a length of 620 feet and was close to 513 feet wide. The main arena where the performances took place measured 290 feet by 180 feet. The different tiers had been supported by stone and concrete and rose to a great height. It was a massive structure designed to perfection.
Getting people to enter and leave such a massive building without problems would actually have been difficult if not for the superb architecture. The architects designed the building with multiple arches and stairways within the structure. There are over 80 arches that led to several stairways which in turn led to the different levels of the monument. This architectural feat involving arches and stairways enabled emptying the building within a matter of minutes. The arches and stairs also made movement within the building comfortable.
A Labyrinth of Passages & Stairs
The area under the stands was like a maze made up of aisles and stairs. The stairways led from one level to the other. This web of stairs and passageways was effective in controlling the enormous crowds as they left the building. The arches and the stairways contributed to the uniqueness of the design of the Colosseum. Each passage and stairway was marked or numbered and so were the seats.
The ancient Romans had clearly thought of the smallest details while building the structure.
The arches were entry points to the building. Four of these were reserved exclusively for royalty and nobles while the rest were for the public.
Design of the Amphitheatre
During that era, most amphitheatres were circular in shape, but architects designed the Colosseum oval. This was yet another feather in the cap of the architects and showed their brilliance. The oval amphitheatre did not hinder the view of the spectators and enabled them to have a bird’s eye view of what was happening in the arena.
When it was first designed, the Colosseum had no floor and all the events took place on bare ground. However, a wooden floor which was supported by wooden poles was later added to the amphitheatre. The floor had an innovative design and is another example of the outstanding architecture involved. Each wooden pole went into holes in the ground that held them up. Wooden boards were placed on the poles forming a makeshift floor. The wooden poles and boards were temporary fixtures and could be removed when required.
In fact, some historians feel that the arena could be flooded with water to hold mock sea fights. There is no concrete evidence to collaborate this. But looking at the structure as it stands today, the theory of holding water in the arena cannot be ruled out.
Years later a more permanent floor was built to replace the wooden floor. The new floor was similar in design to the previous floor. However, instead of wooden poles the new plan had pillars made from stones. The floor remained wooden and it has disintegrated over the centuries.
An Architectural Marvel
The new floor was more than just a floor, it was a technical wonder. The wooden floor was covered with sand so it gave an impression of being the ground. Beneath the floor was a maze of rooms and corridors where the performers would dress up and prepare for their act. The underground sections also served as dressing rooms. Animals were also kept in portions of the sections that were locked in cages. There was a high wall around the arena with metal barriers that prevented the animals from entering the enclosures where the audience sat when they were let loose in the arena.
The technical savvy Romans designed hand operated elevators which ran from the basement to the top where the arena is. These were used to transfer performers and animals up to the arena. The elevators were operated by slaves. There were a number of elevators, each of which was operated by over two hundred slaves. The idea of elevators was pretty classy for that period of time.
The floor of the arena had trap doors where the elevators opened. There were a total of thirty two trap doors along the periphery of the arena floor and the same number of elevators led from the basement to the afore mentioned trap doors.
The trap doors were concealed from the audience and whatever emerged from under the floor seemed to appear out of thin air, thereby creating an illusion. This amazing feature added to the Colosseum’s uniqueness and made it a major attraction for the citizens of the Roman Empire.
As it Stands Today
The Colosseum was definitely an architectural marvel in its heyday. What is left of the building still mesmerizes people. The building may be in ruins, but it does not fail to captivate visitors with its impressive size and design. Thousands visit the site each year to see this wonderful piece of architecture of the ancient world.
It is difficult to comprehend how the building was constructed without the use of modern day equipment and tools. The men who designed the building are forgotten in history but they must have been geniuses to have built it. It is amazing that a major part of the Colosseum still stands, battling the elements over centuries.