In the Shadow of a Colossus

As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in April 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.


While ruins are delightful to admire and to run into seemingly at every corner, they’re not the only charm available to those who choose to wander the streets of Rome. I seldom ran across large green expanses (I suspect Rome is too old and has been heavily populated for too long for this to be easy to find), but I did see potted plants everywhere, which was lovely.

Campidoglio

The Campidoglio, or the Capitoline Hill, is one of the Seven Hills of Rome. The present Piazza del Campidoglio was constructed by Michelangelo in from 1536-1546, commissioned by the Farnese Pope Paul III, who sought to impress Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

This statue represents Marcus Aurelius, though at the time it was believed to represent Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. Likely for this reason alone has this statue survived, as it was customary at the time to melt down ancient bronze statues to reuse their materials, especially when they depicted pagan subjects.

Circus Maximus

Located in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, the Circus Maximus (Latin for “largest circus”) was the first and largest stadium in Ancient Rome, and could accommodate over 150,000 spectators. Today, the site serves as a public park.

Arch of Constantine

This arch commemorates the victory of Constantine (the selfsame first Christian Emperor I mentioned earlier) over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. It was placed in a route often taken by victorious military leaders when they entered the city in a triumphal procession. It is the largest Roman triumphal arch, and is decorated with reliefs taken from monuments dedicated to Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.

Colosseum

Undoubtedly one of the most famous buildings on Earth, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built, both ancient and modern. Its construction began under Emperor Vespasian in 72 CE, and was completed in 80 CE under Emperor Titus.

It could hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators in its audience, and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles including animal hunts, dramas based on Roman mythology, re-enactments of famous battles, and mock sea battles.

After the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, Emperor Nero built the Domus Aurea, a huge complex that included pavilions, gardens, an artificial lake, and the Colossus of Nero. Later, much of this complex was torn down, and the lake filled in. The site was reused to build the Colosseum, funded with the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem, product of the First Jewish-Roman War in 70 CE.

In Medieval times, the structure was repurposed. First, a chapel was built into it in the 6th century. Then, the arena was converted into a cemetery, and the vaulted spaces in the arcades turned into housing and workshops, which remained in use as such until as late as the 12th century. In 1349, an earthquake caused the outer south side to collapse, and the rubble was used to build palaces, churches, and hospitals.

In the 16th century, there were plans to turn the building into a wool factory to provide employment for the prostitutes of Rome, but this idea was abandoned when its proponent, Pope Sixtus V, passed away in 1590. In the 17th, Cardinal Altieri authorized its use for bullfighting, but a public outcry soon chased away that idea. In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ, and declared it a holy site due to the Christians that had been martyred there — though little historical evidence supports this as a fact.

Today, the building is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, and receives millions of visitors annually.

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