As one of the most popular and enduring landmarks of Rome, the famous Colosseum is known throughout the world. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum was initiated between 70 and 72 A.D. under the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian and completed during the reign of Titus in 80 A.D. It is the largest amphitheatre ever built during Roman times and is regarded as a marvel of Roman architecture and engineering. The name Colosseum is believed to have come from the nearby colossal statue of Nero.
The Colosseum, like other Roman amphitheatres, was built for the purpose of entertainment and was used for such purpose until the early medieval period. Located in the heart of the city, the Colosseum was the supreme arena for witnessing the preferred entertainments of the Roman era such as contests of gladiators, dramas, and animal hunts. It was also the site of public executions such as the infamous executions of early Christians. Later, the Colosseum was used to house various workshops. During its long history it was also used as a fortress, a quarry, and even a Christian shrine.
Today the Colosseum is visited annually by millions of people making it one of Rome’s most popular attractions. As the structure suffered considerable ruin from earthquakes it does not function much beyond a tourist attraction, though small concerts have been held there. The Colosseum sports an elliptical shape and historians note that it was built as if two individual classical theatres merged back to back. It is 615 feet long and 157 feet wide. During its heyday it could accommodate fifty thousand spectators (although Roman records state that eighty-seven thousand could find seating). In order to allow easy entrance and exit, ancient architects included eighty ground level entrances. The interior was beset with rows of stone seating that stretched upwards along the walls. The various entertainments took place in the center of the amphitheatre.
Special seating and boxes were reserved for the Emperor, Vestal Virgins, and Senators. Some of the senators’ names can still be seen carved into the stone today. Various other groups like scribes, soldiers on leave, or foreign emissaries had their own sections accorded for their use. Of the featured public entertainments, the gladiatorial games were perhaps the most popular and the Colosseum was linked by an underground tunnel to the Ludus Magnus, a training venue for gladiators. Exotic animals like lions, crocodiles, and bears from the vast outer reaches of the Empire were also popular attractions.