drawing of colosseum

You emerge from the narrow Vicus Sandaliarius into a large open area that is almost entirely filled with a colossal structure. Before you the travertine marble facade of the Flavian Amphitheater rises steeply from the hollow formed by the juncture of the Velian, Esquiline, and Caelian hills.

The building is ringed by a pavement 66 feet wide, edged by a row of travertine cippi, small round pillars used as barriers for crowd control. Turning slightly to your right, you gaze at the bronze Colossus of the Sun, standing over 100 feet tall and gleaming like gold in the bright sunlight. As you stroll across the paved surface toward the huge structure, which covers almost six acres, you catch sight of a large pyramid-shaped fountain, the Meta Sudans, from which a cooling spray of water cascades almost 50 feet into a basin below (see this model of the Colosseum area).

Once the site of an ornamental lake in the vast Domus Aurea of Nero, this area was converted into a place of public entertainment by the Emperor Vespasian. He drained the lake, setting a permanent water and drainage system into its gravel bed, over which he laid a concrete foundation 18 feet deep for the structure above. He won popular approval for converting a site which was notorious for its imperial indulgence into a state monument of entertainment for the Roman people. Although Vespasian dedicated it in 79 CE before his death, his son Titus completed it and staged 100 days of games in 80 CE to celebrate its opening (see one of the coins minted by Titus that shows the Colosseum with all four levels). Vespasian's younger son Domitian added bronze shields to the ornamentation of the exterior top level; the amphitheater was known in antiquity as the Flavian amphitheater after the imperial dynasty begun by Vespasian. The name Colosseum was apparently not used until about 1000 CE.

The objects below will tell you more about this magnificent monument. Enter the ground-level concentric corridor through the arch to begin your exploration of the site; this plan of the rooms and their connections will help you get your bearings.

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