Rome’s Colosseum




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The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and a must-see highlight of any visit to Rome. We spent a day there before taking a Mediterranean cruise in 2011. After the cruise we spent another day in the city.

That first day had us take a hop on/hop off bus around the city and one of our hop off points was the Colosseum. We grabbed a light lunch and then walked around the perimeter.

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This photo is a merge of two others. It captures the immense size of the Colosseum.

It is an ancient building and in remarkably good repair considering it is almost 2000 years old. Construction started under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. He died in 79 AD and did not see the building completed the following year under his heir Titus. Financed by the spoils of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was built with the slave labour of 100,000 Jews captured and spirited off to Rome.

Made of concrete and sand, it was large enough to accommodate 50-80,000 spectators, averaging around 65,000. Like modern stadiums, it was a venue for mass entertainment which included battling gladiators, wild animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, dramas based on Classical mythology and public executions. Yes, Christians were fed to lions here. In fact, the Pope marks every Good Friday by a Way of the Cross procession that starts at the Colosseum to honour Christian martyrs.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.
The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.

Interestingly enough, twenty years after its construction, the poet Juvenal published his Satire X which includes the following lines:

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Juvenal is lamenting the practice of gaining political office by bribing the voters with free wheat and mass spectacles. It marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Walking around the perimeter we were impressed by the vastness of the Colosseum and its great beauty. The two millennia since its creation have left it weathered and eroded. It underwent extensive renovations from 1993 to 2000 at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire (US$19.3 million).

End on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum
This end on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum captures its great height. The outer wall is shored up by supports built during renovations.

There were originally two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall remains largely intact but only a small portion of the outer wall remains. It is shored up at both ends by sloped concrete supports. But even with all the renovation, you can see cracks in the facade at various places, not to mention large stones at the base which have fallen from the structure.

Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn't seem to phase the tourists walking below.
Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn’t seem to phase the tourists walking below.

We saw some men in gladiator garb posing with tourists on our walk as well as a wedding party. It is a popular locale for wedding photos.

The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos.
The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos. Did you spot them in the picture of the Arch of Constantine above?

After our cruise we visited the Colosseum once again, this time paying to go inside. Well worth the money. The inside is as spectacular as the outside and well worth the visit.

As we entered we passed a recently recovered partial statue. There is continuous archeological work going on around Rome. This partial statue was probably of a horse and rider, but we were amused by it because all that remains is, how shall we put it, a horse’s ass.

The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.
The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.

Inside you get a terrific view of the hypogeum, a series of underground passages and rooms, and a partially reconstructed stage at one end. The staging, made of wood, covered the entire subterranean level during the Colosseum’s heyday. Many spectacles were staged that involved lifts and hoists moving animals, actors and stage props from below to the arena floor.

The interior os the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.
The interior of the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.

The hypogeum was a later addition to the Colosseum and in its early years, at least two mock sea battles or naumachiae were staged there. This involved filling the basin with water and bringing in ships. One was staged by Titus when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD and another by Domitian in 85 AD.

It must have been quite the spectacle. Some experts figure that water supplied by aqueducts and a series of pipes and channels could fill the basin to a depth of five feet in just 35 to 76 minutes. These battles were considerably bloodier than the gladiatorial battles often staged in the arena. They involved many more people, 3000 in the event staged by Titus. Condemned prisoners were used and they fought to the death.

Shortly after the last naumachia,  the hypogeum was built which precluded staging more of these spectacles.

Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.
Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.

Up to 80,000 people filled the stadium in its prime but  little seating remains. There are many sloped angular buttresses which held the seating at one time, but now stand alone. There is a little bit of seating extant above the renovated stage area. I’m not sure if this is original or recreated for tourists.

Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.

One of the things we noticed in the Colosseum was the large number of feral cats. We noticed them outside on our earlier visit and now again inside. Not sure what it is with ancient ruins and wild felines, but we first encountered them in the walled city of Cadiz in Spain and we later came across more of them at the ruins in Ephesus.

Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.
Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and can only imagine how it must have been in its heyday, the scene of great and bloody spectacles. The fact that these extravaganzas were staged with real people fighting to the death or even put to death in contests with ferocious beasts gives one chills. But even today gore fests remain popular in movies and television shows, though these are non-lethal make-believe. In less civilized parts of the world, live beheadings and stonings of the condemned remain popular with the masses.

I’ve included an additional photo gallery as well as links to a couple of articles on naumachiae.

 

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Photo Gallery: The Colosseum




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the Colosseum.

The exterior wall of the Colosseum. Only part of it remains.
The exterior wall of the Colosseum. Only part of it remains.
Cracks in the facade.
Cracks in the facade.
Actors pose with tourists for pictures
Actors pose with tourists for pictures
Interior walls supported by flying buttresses which also supported the seating.
Interior walls supported by flying buttresses which also supported the seating.
More of the interior of the Colosseum
More of the interior of the Colosseum
The long center pathway of the hypogeum
The long center pathway of the hypogeum
The recreated stage area
The recreated stage area
The colour of the sandstone can be seen in the bright sunlight. In shadow it looks quite gray.
The colour of the sandstone can be seen in the bright sunlight. In shadow it looks quite gray.
Looking down from one of the upper tiers
Looking down from one of the upper tiers
Another view from an upper tier
Another view from an upper tier
From outside you can see some of the interior through the archways, but it is still worth paying to go in.
From outside you can see some of the interior through the archways, but it is still worth paying to go in.
This end of the outer wall is of modern construction, created during extensive renovations to preserve the outer wall.
This end of the outer wall is of modern construction, created during extensive renovations to preserve the outer wall.
The Temple of Venus and Roma is just across the street from the Colosseum. In fact, much of Rome is one big archeological dig.
The Temple of Venus and Roma is just across the street from the Colosseum. In fact, much of Rome is one big archeological dig.

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An Epistle About the Ephesians




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You may recall the New Testament book called Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. The Ephesians were the people of an ancient city called Ephesus. Today its ruins have been well excavated though new excavation continues to this day. This archaeological site is about twenty kilometres from the Turkish port city of Kusadasi.

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The ancient city of Ephesus lives on through its archaeological ruins.

Built in the 10th Century BC, Ephesus was a flourishing Greek city for almost a thousand years. The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, (around 550 BC) was near here. Little of the temple remains today.

In 129 B.C. the city fell into Roman hands. In 88 BC a short-lived revolt brought self-rule to Ephesus  but two years later it was back under Roman control. There was also some Egyptian influence in the city. King Ptolemy XII Auletes retired there in 57 BC. And Mark Antony visited there with Cleopatra in 33 BC.

Ephesus was made the capital of Proconsular Asia under Caesar Augustus around 27 BC as it entered a new age of prosperity. “It was second in importance and size only to Rome,” notes Wikipedia.

The Gate of Augustus
The Gate of Augustus

In the 50s AD Christianity made a profound influence on the city as the apostle Paul lived there from 52-54 AD. The city is referenced in Paul’s epistle, the Acts of the Apostles and in the Book of Revelations.

Sacked by the Goths in 263 AD, the city was rebuilt by Constantine the Great who built the new public baths. It remained the most important city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantine.  But the city declined after an earthquake in 614 and conquests by the Arabs and later the Turks. By the 15th Century the city was completely abandoned.

Much of the archaeological site is Roman, one of the largest Roman archaeological digs in the world.

When we arrived in Kusadasi, there were lines of buses to take everyone on their excursions. Most were going to Ephesus. Our guide was a genial fellow who told us a bit about the history of modern Turkey as our bus wended its way on the twenty kilometre trek to the site.

About fifty buses were parked cheek by jowl on the pier aaiting tourists.
About fifty buses were parked cheek by jowl on the pier awaiting tourists.

Our guide was very proud of Turkey. He explained that Turkey does not have many of the troubles so common in other areas of the middle east. The reason, he explained, was because the father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, set out to recreate Turkey as a secular state, a modern, western state. He served as the first President from 1923 until his death in 1938. His reforms included recognizing the equal civil and political rights of women, taking them out from under the yoke of Islam. He abolished the caliphate and sharia courts. He reformed education introducing mandatory secular schooling. He encouraged Turks to adopt  western style clothing.

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Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Ataturk’s attitude can be summarized in this excerpt from a 1925 speech: “In the face of knowledge, science, and of the whole extent of radiant civilization, I cannot accept the presence in Turkey’s civilized community of people primitive enough to seek material and spiritual benefits in the guidance of sheiks. The Turkish republic cannot be a country of sheiks, dervishes, and disciples. The best, the truest order is the order of civilization. To be a man it is enough to carry out the requirements of civilization.”

Turkey remains a democratic, westernized country though its majority religion remains Islam. Wikipedia notes that according to a Gallup poll on Religiousity, 73 percent of of Turkey’s Islam adherents are “irreligious Muslims” and only 7 to 13 percent think religion should have any influence on the law. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalists and radicals have engaged in the occasional act of terrorism in Turkey trying to swing it to an Islamic state.

In any event, our guide was most informative and very proud of Turkey’s secularism and western traditions. He also got off the bus and was our guide through the ruins of Ephesus.

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Our tour took us down this roadway to the Celsus Library.

Along the road to the landmark Celsus Library, we passed a number of other landmarks including the Temple of Hadrian. Hadrian was the Roman Emporer best known for building Hadrian’s Wall in Britain.

The Temple of Hadrian
The Temple of Hadrian

Another landmark were the baths built by Constantine the Great. Ephesus was a large and modern city and had running water. The baths were surrounded by public toilets which opened onto a channel of running water to carry the effluent away.

Public toilets near the baths.
Public toilets near the baths.

Further along we came to wide plaza in front of the famous Celsus Library. This library was built between 100 and 110 AD for the senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Destroyed by an earthquake in 270 AD, some remnants of the facade remained and it was rebuilt between 1970 and 1978.

Our guide delighted in telling us that the city’s brothel was located near the library and many a Roman would tell his wife he was going to the library when he was really pursuing less intellectual endeavours.

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The Celsus Library – just a facade now

We passed through the Gate of Augustus beside the library and emerged onto a wide thoroughfare where we watched a recreation of the visit of Antony and Cleopatra to Ephesus in 33 BC. Here we also came to a large amphitheatre.

Janis and I in front of the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus
Janis and I in front of the Roman amphitheatre at Ephesus
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Modern day concerts are sometimes hosted in the amphitheatre.

Ephesus is an ongoing archaeological dig and there was a huge crane near the amphitheatre when we were there, part of a continuing excavation project.

The archaeological dig continues.
The archaeological dig continues.

Soon we were finished our tour and arrived at a market where you could get camel rides and souvenirs. We laughed when we saw a shop labeled Genuine Fake Watches. But apparently the shop is so renowned it shows up on Google maps of Ephesus.

Genuine Fake Watches!
Genuine Fake Watches!

Our bus ride took us back to town where we were taken on a tour of a carpet warehouse. A woman demonstrated the ancient art of carpet weaving on a loom for us. Each row of the carpet is made by tying individual knots, then tamping them down and trimming them with a scissors.

The carpet folks brought out many magnificent carpets and spread them out before us, inviting us to touch and examine them. Some were quite pricey, especially the silk carpets. We ended up buying a small 15 inch by 26 inch decorative piece as a wall hanging for $200.

The Turks are superb salesmen. After the carpet place we had time to walk around the market stalls near the pier. We didn’t get past the first shop. A fellow standing at the entrance greeted us and invited us to come see his shop. We declined but he went into a spiel about Turkish hospitality and how his feelings would be hurt if we didn’t at least look around. We relented.

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A cluster of shops borders the cruise ship terminal.

He then took us through a maze of aisles and displays to a back room where there was a coffee table and some comfortable sofas. He invited us to sit down and we were brought some wine. Then he talked about his product – leather coats. Now neither of us had a leather coat. We always thought them to be a bit pricey and extravagant. But man, this guy was a smooth talker. He kept bringing out coat after coat, asking me if I didn’t think my wife would look lovely in this coat or that? Didn’t she deserve the best? And so on. He finally brought one my wife rather liked.

One down, he then said I also deserved a fine coat. Well I did and he found one I liked. We then dickered on price. He gave us a price. We countered with a lowball offer. He countered. We negotiated and finally came up with an agreement. And we went back two leather coats richer and around $600-$700 poorer. Benny’s Shop if you’re looking for a nice leather coat while in Kusadasi. We still have those coats and still use them today, six years later. We spent more money in Turkey than any other port we ever visited but consider it money well spent.

We very much enjoyed our visit to Turkey and to Ephesus. The Turks are a friendly people and the country is beautiful. The ruins at Ephesus were amazing.

I’ve added two photo galleries of additional pictures linked below. If you are on the front page, just scroll on down. If you are not, just click on the links.

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Photo Gallery: Ephesus # 2




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Here are some more pics from our visit to Kusadasi and Ephesus. The picture above is of the amphitheatre. It was merged from two photos so the upper left is a bit of a blur.

Welcome to Turkey!
Welcome to Turkey!
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Domitian Square
Part of the Domitian Temple
Part of the Temple of Domitian
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Some more ancient ruins
Along the road
Along the road – you can see the Celsus Library in the distance
The Celsus Library
The Celsus Library and the Gate of Augustus
The archaeological dig continues
The archaeological dig continues
The Gate of Augustus - Celsus Library behind it.
The Gate of Augustus – Celsus Library behind it.
Carpets on display
Carpets on display

Silk carpet - it fairly shimmers in the light. Amazing!
Silk carpet – it fairly shimmers in the light. Amazing!

If you missed the rest of this series, click a link below.

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Photo Gallery: Cadiz




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Here are some additional pictures of our visit to Cadiz in 2009.

Hungry cats find a friend.
Hungry cats find a friend.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall. That’s the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the cathedral.
The pulpit inside the cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz. It is still an active church with regular services.
The pipe organ
The pipe organ
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
In the catacomb below the cathedral
In the catacomb below the cathedral
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Our cruise ship in the distance.
Our cruise ship in the distance. Beyond is the mainland of Spain.




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