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The Colosseum

The Forum

The Pantheon

St Peter's Basilica



The Colosseum

The Colosseum (or Coliseum) was started by Vespasian (AD 9 - 79) on becoming emperor in 69 AD. It was built on the site of Nero’s Golden Palace in order to give the land back to the people having been acquired by Nero following the great fire of Rome in 64 AD when the previous amphitheatre was destroyed. Vespasian never saw the amphitheatre completed as he died in 79 AD. It fell to his sons, Titus and then Domitian to complete the project.


Rome is about 2600 years old, and during this time, layers of buildings and roads have accumulated, with many ancient buildings to be found underneath modern day ones.  The Square around the Colosseum, however, is at the same level as it was in ancient times.


When it was first built, the Colosseum was surrounded by an area paved with large travertine slabs with boundary stones set in the ground. A Colossal statue of Nero, which stood by his palace was retained and it was that which gave it it’s name although its’ correct name was the Flavian Amphitheatre - after the Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.


The building itself is elliptical in shape, 187 metres long by 155 metres across and 50 metres high. It originally consisted of three floors – with the attic being added later by Domitian. It consisted of 240 external arches with 76 used as entrances. These were numbered, and determined the entrance to be used by each ticket holder. This enabled an efficient circulation of the 50,000 to 70,000 people it could accommodate and provided swift access and egress - calculated to be approximately 30mins - and it kept the different classes of spectators separated.


The arena is 75 metres by 44 metres with the floor made of timber. This was covered with yellow sand which is called harena in Latin, which is where we get the word arena. The spectators were seated in tiers above the arena according to class, with the higher social classes nearer the arena.  A fence was place on the podium with wooden rollers on top, in order to prevent anything from climbing over from the arena.


When first constructed, the floor could be removed, allowing the arena to be flooded for sea battles called a naumachia; later Domitian added a complex of stores and holding rooms which were constructed  on two floors and known as the hypogeum (meaning underground) which brought an end to the naumachia. Animals and gladiators would be kept in the hypogeum until they were required in the arena when they would be lifted into the arena by a series of elevators, or guided up ramps. The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Colosseum in order to be able to bring in the animals, gladiators and the condemned without them having to use the streets around the Colosseum.


The construction of the Colosseum involved the draining of the lake constructed by Nero and was achieved due to a number of technical innovations in architecture and construction developed by the Romans. These were the arch, concrete and mass production of bricks. It used a number of construction materials to maximise their qualities, these were travertine, tufa, brickwork and cement. The project required vast resources, much of which came from the sacking of the Temple in Jerusalem.  


The games themselves lasted all day, the morning entertainment was the hunt, where animals were hunted and killed; in many cases with the use of elaborate scenery. Midday was when the condemned were executed and the afternoon was the gladiatorial combat.


During the games spectators would be protected from the sun by an awning which was secured to poles passing through sockets at the top of the building and supported on rests built into the walls. The awning was controlled by a unit of sailors of the imperial fleet.


The Colosseum became known as the arena of death due to the number of animals and people who died there in the name of entertainment. The Inaugural games lasted 100 days with thousands of animals being required.  The Colosseum remained in service for four and a half centuries with the last gladiatorial combat in 404 AD and the last hunt in 523 AD. 

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The Forum


The area of the Forum was originally a grassy wetland of approximately 250 x 170 metres between the Palatine and Capitoline Hill. As more people began to settle in the area during the 7th century BC a large covered sewer system was constructed in order to drain the area into the River Tiber. In time it developed into an open air market near the Comitium (a place of political and judicial activities). Over the years a number of buildings were constructed and in 600 BC the area was paved.  This was the first forum and was considered ancient Rome's city centre. As Rome's population increased, the forum became too small and in 46 BC Julius Caesar built a new one, setting a precedent that was followed by successive emperors including Augustus and Trajan whose forums are adjacent to this one, although a main road separates them and partly covers some of the ruin, work that was carried out by Mussolini in the 1930’s.


The forum was initially a market-place that was also used for festivals and for conducting business. Over time, many of the traditions from the Comitium such as the popular assemblies, funerals of the nobility and games were transferred to the Forum. All the important buildings of Rome were located in or near this area. These include the royal residency of the Regia and the complex of the Vestal Virgins. The Senate House, government offices, Tribunals, religious monuments, memorials and statues could all be found there. Eventually the judicial offices and the senate itself moved from the Comitium to the Forum, which became the city square and the economic and political hub of the Roman Empire.


As with many ancient buildings, a great deal of the building material has been removed from the Forum to be used elsewhere, so apart from a few buildings and the arches of Titus (opposite the Colosseum) and Septimius Severus only columns and stone blocks remain.


When visiting the Forum, the first building to be seen on entry is the Temple of Antonious and Fustina situated on the left as you walk in. This temple was begun in 141 AD by the Emperor Antoninus Pius, and was initially dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina.  After Antoninus Pius died in 161 AD, his successor, Marcus Aurelius, re-dedicated the temple jointly to Antoninus and Faustina.  The building with its’ ten monolithic Corinthian columns 17 metres tall stands on a high platform of large blocks. The deep grooves in the temple's columns are the result of a medieval attempt to dismantle the pillared portico: The cords burnt into the columns, they resisted and remained intact. Converted to the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda, in the 7th century it was rebuilt in 1601.


On the right of the entrance next to the Temple of Antonious and Fustina is the Basilica Aemilia.  Very little remains of the basilica due to the materials being removed in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance although the floor plan is still discernable showing a rectangular plan 70 × 29 metres which is divided in four naves, the main one being 12 metres  wide. The basilica was destroyed and rebuilt on a number of occasions; the first complete reconstruction took place between 55 BC and 34 BC, which included a series of shops used by bankers and money changers. The building was destroyed by fire in 14 BC and rebuilt by Augustus, the ruins of this building can be seen today.


Next to the Basilica on the main triumphal route known as the Sacred Way, which led to Capitol Hill and the Temple of Jupiter is the Arch of Severus. This was erected by the Senate in 203 AD on the tenth anniversary of the emperor's accession. It commemorates Roman victories over the Goths and Vandals and his defeat of the Parthians (Persians) in 198 AD. The arch is made of travertine and marble with reliefs showing the Roman Army departing on the campaign and decisive battles in the wars.


The Senate House or Curia was moved to its present location just past the Arch of Severus in 53 BC by Julius Caesar after the previous building was destroyed by fire an occurrence that happened on four occasions. The current building, constructed in 283 AD by Diocletius, consists of a great hall, 25.2 x 17.6 metres with a height of 31.6 meters. Still visible is the original marble floor made out of Egyptian marble and the tiers that held the seats of the senators.  In the 7th century it was turned into a church which it remained until 1937, when the interior was removed and the original interior restored, it now hold items and statues.


Just behind the Arch of Severus is the Temple of Concord, this was the main temple in ancient Rome, dedicated to the goddess Concordia. Believed to have been originally built in 367 BC, it was restored during the reign of Augustus by Tiberius.  Measuring 45 x 23 meters its design is unusual in that it has its facade on the long side, this was due to the ground configuration and to it being built directly against the wall of the Tabularium which provided a backdrop to the Forum and masks the slope of the Capitoline Hill.


Adjacent to the Temple of Concord is the Temple dedicated to the Vespasian and his son, Titus.  It was begun by Titus in 80 AD after Vespasian's death, and was completed by Domitian, Titus’s brother, in 87 AD who dedicated the temple to Vespasian and Titus.  Like the Temple of Concord it too was restricted by space and measures 22 x 22 metres.  All that survives today are three Corinthian columns at the south-east corner, the podium's core and some fragments of the wall.


The Temple of Saturn was built during the last years of the Etruscan kingdom and was inaugurated at the beginning of the republic in 497 BC. The existing ruins come from the third Temple which dates from 42 BC, the second one being destroyed by fire in 283 BC.  Although dedicated to the god Saturn, the temple's chief use was as the treasury of the Roman Empire, storing the Empire's reserves of gold and silver. It also served as the state archives and held the official scales for the weighing of metals, the bronze tablets on which the law was inscribed and the banners of the legions and the senatorial decrees. Just in front of the temple is an early twentieth-century restoration of the Rostra. This was a speaker's platform completed by Augustus in 42 BC where Politicians’ would address the crowd.   In 20 BC the Milliarum Aureum column was placed in front of the temple and all distances to Rome were measured from that column. 


The ruins of a number of other buildings can be seen; the Basilica Julia named after Julius Caesar housed the civil law courts and provided space for government offices and banking.  Running along the front of the building were seven honorary columns which were erected under Diocletian (284 – 305) only two of which still remain.


Temples include the temple of Castor and Pollux built in 414 BC. All that remains today are three Corinthian columns, with its entablature, its frieze and cornice; the Temple of Caesar with its recessed semicircular niche and altar which marked the site of the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar; and the circular Temple of Vesta built in the 3rd century BC. Although small, the Temple of Vesta was one of Rome's most important, as it was dedicated to the protector of Rome. It held a statue of Vesta and her sacred flame, which was tended by the 6 Vestal Virgins.  The girls were selected from aristocratic families when aged between 6 and 10 years old by the Pontifex Maximus, the supreme religious authority of the State. Once selected, they would move into the House of the Vestals next to the Temple where they would serve Vesta for 30 years.


Today, the forum may appear to be a disorderly collection of ruins but it marks the heart of the Roman Empire.

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The Pantheon


The Pantheon has the largest un-reinforced dome in the world and was the largest dome until the completion of the Duomo of Florence in 1436. Constructed of un-reinforced concrete it has a height of 43.3m which equals the dome's diameter. Two identical domes placed together would make a perfect sphere.


The Pantheon was built originally as a temple by Marcus Aggrippa, Consul of Rome and son-in-law of the Emperor Augustus around 25 BC and was dedicated to the Roman Gods (“Pan" means everything, "theon", divine). This is confirmed by the inscription above the entrance which states that "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, in his third consulate, made it."  This refers to the original temple and not the current one. Aggrippa’s temple was rectangular in shape and was destroyed by fire in the rein of Domitian, which was then to be rebuilt by him, although that too was destroyed by fire. The one that exists today was constructed by the Emperor Hadrian during the period 118 to 128 AD and the examination of the building indicates the level of the ground when it was first constructed.


The best preserved of all ancient Roman buildings, it owes its preservation to the fact that in 609 AD it was given to Pope Boniface IV who converted it to a church and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary placing the bones of Christian martyrs under the main altar. In 1624 the bronze was removed from the beams in the Pantheon for the construction of the baldacchino in St Peters Basilica. To compensate for the removal, Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) added the two bell towers designed by Bernini which became known as "the donkey ears of Bernini;" these were demolished in 1883.


The main part of the building is circular with the entrance through a rectangular structure linking the portico with the rotunda. The portico has three ranks of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind).  The capitals of the columns are all damaged, except for the three columns on the eastern side. These three columns were replaced in 1666 with columns taken from the Baths of Severus Alexander.  The pediment was originally decorated with a sculpture and holes may still be seen for the clamps which held the sculpture.  Within the walls at the back of the portico were niches, which probably held statues of Caesar, Augustus and Agrippa, or Jupiter, Juno and Minerva - known as the Capitoline Triad. The entrance doors to the Pantheon are 7m high (22 feet) and made out of bronze, these were once covered with gold.


Inside the Pantheon is a coffered, concrete dome; the  concrete consisting of hydrate of lime, pozzolanic ash, pumice with small pieces of rock (around 100mm in diameter) which was constructed over a formwork, similar to the technology used  today.

At the centre of the dome is the oculus, which measures over 8 metres (27 feet) across and the source of light in the building. Any rain that enters collects in a drain in the centre of the floor. On the 21st June (the summer equinox), the sun rays shine from the oculus through the front door.


Along the interior walls can be seen marble columns, niches with memorial portrait busts, the seven arched recesses originally housed statues of the seven ancient Gods.  Today, the walls of the Pantheon have lost much of their splendour.  Originally they were covered by white Pentelian white marble and stucco, traces of these can still be seen. 

Located inside the Pantheon are a number of tombs, these include the tombs of Vittorio Emmanuel II, first king of a unified Italy; his successor, King Umberto I. Although Italy has been a "Republic" since 1946 members of the Italian monarchist organization holds a vigil over their tombs. Also buried within the Pantheon in 1520 is the Italian artist Raphael, he worked in some of the Papal apartments in the Vatican and his work typifies the classical phase of the Renaissance.


Above the altar is a 7th century icon of the Madonna and Child which dates from when the temple was first converted to a Christian church. Although rare today these were common in Roman churches at that time.  The Pantheon remains a church to this day and is still used for the celebration of mass, marriages and on special occasions.

St Peter's Basilica

Located within the Vatican City, the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter, commonly known as Saint Peter’s Basilica, is the greatest of all the churches of Christendom and the centre piece of the Vatican, which contains the government for the Roman Catholic Church. An independent sovereign city-state the Vatican consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, approximately 44 hectares (110 acres), it has a population of around 800 and is the smallest independent state in the world by both population and area.


After Jesus’s death, the apostle Peter found his way to Rome where he started to establish the foundations for the Christian Church. Peter was crucified head down and buried in Rome during the time of Nero who blamed the Christians for the Great Fire of Rome in AD 68. For many years the Christians were persecuted until the Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity and reversed that persecution. It was Constantine who constructed the first Basilica in the year 326 over the spot where Peter was believed to have been crucified and buried. In 1506, St. Peter's Basilica was considered to be too small as the main church of the Vatican and a new one was commissioned. In 1546 the project came under the control of Michelangelo who designed the brick dome modeled on the Duomo in Florence. The dome is supported internally by four piers more than 18 meters (60 feet) thick, the dome, which is 138 feet in diameter rises to 390 feet above the floor.  Although the dome was completed in 1590, the building itself took over 100 years of intermittent work before it was consecrated in 1626.


Located directly in front of St. Peter's Basilica is Saint Peter's Square.  Designed by Bernini to enable the greatest number of people to see the Pope if he is either at a window in the Vatican Palace or on the balcony of the church façade.  Around the square are two Colonnades consisting of 284 columns and 88 pilasters, these are said to have been designed to represent the arms of the Church welcoming people. On the Colonnades are 140 statues of the Saints: Above the façade are the statues of Jesus and the Apostles.


In the centre of St. Peter's Square is a 40 metre high obelisk dating from 1835 BC which was brought to Rome in the reign of Caligula to stand in the Circus a few hundred metres away.  It was moved to its present location in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V.  Also in the Square are two 8 metre high fountains, one by Maderno and one by Bernini. Statues of St Peter and St Paul rising over 10 metres high were constructed in 1847 to replace two smaller statues.


Entrance to the Basilica is via five doors which correspond to the five naves of the ancient and new buildings. One of the doors, the Holy Door, is bricked up on the inside and only opened by the pope during Jubilee years, when pilgrims may enter through it.  The Church is built on the design of the Roman cross and has a capacity of 60,000 people. The central nave stretches for 186 metres and would hold a 15 storey building, in fact all the major cathedrals would fit inside St Peters and marks along the nave floor show where the other cathedrals would come to.


The central focus of the interior is the Baldachin, a monumental canopy 95ft high that covers the papal altar. The altar, where only the pope can say mass, is carved from a single block of Greek marble: Directly below the altar is the tomb of St Peter. The Baldachin has four gigantic twisted bronze columns modelled on the pillars of the Temple of Jerusalem, designed and constructed by Bernini it is the largest bronze sculpture in the world. Started in 1623 it took over nine years of work to complete.


Above the altar is the dome which is supported by four gigantic piers.  In 1624 Urban VIII commissioned Bernini to create four loggias in these piers. They are called the "Loggias of the Relics".  The relics are: several fragments of the Cross of Jesus; a scrap of material, showing the imprint of the face of a bearded man; a fragment of the lance which was said to have been the one that pieced the side of Christ on the cross; and parts of St. Andrew's head.  Within the niches of the piers are statues associated with the relics: St. Helena is holding the cross; St. Longinus holds the spear; St. Andrew with his cross; and St. Veronica holding the veil with the image of Jesus’s face.


The Church contains eleven chapels and numerous statues including Michelangelo’s statue of the Pieta. Also is the bronze statue of St. Peter portrayed giving a blessing and holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Pilgrims, who reached Rome in the Middle Ages, touched or kissed the foot of the statue and prayed to St. Peter to open the gates of heaven for them if they died during the pilgrimage. This tradition has continued so that today most people will touch or kiss its foot, resulting in the foot being worn away.  Also on display are the bodies of a number of the popes in glass cases, these can be seen at the altars of some of the chapels.


The Basilica contains contemporary objects as well as those dating back hundreds of years. Visitors are able to visit the Treasury and the tombs in the Crypt and to see columns from the original Constantine Basilica and to go to the top of the dome which provides an excellent view over Rome. 

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