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Rome’s greatest amphitheatre was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72 on the marshy site of a lake in the grounds of Nero’s palace, the Domus Aurea. Deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights were staged free of charge by the emperor and wealthy citizens for public viewing. The Colosseum was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, but it is also a building of great beauty. Despite being damaged over the years by neglect and theft, it remains a majestic sight.
Berlioz, as he says in his Memoirs (chapter 36), visited the ancients monuments of Rome, but he was most impressed by the grandeur of the Colosseum and St Peter’s:
It should come as no surprise that the mighty shadow of ancient Rome, which alone lends poetry to the modern city, was not sufficient to compensate for what I was missing. You get quickly accustomed to the monuments that are permanently before your eyes, and in the end they only arouse in your mind ordinary impressions and ideas. I should nevertheless make an exception for the Coliseum; day and night I could never remain unmoved by its sight. St Peter’s also never failed to make me shiver with admiration.
The Colosseum in pictures
Unless otherwise stated, the modern photographs reproduced on this page were taken by Michel Austin in May 2007; other pictures have been scanned from engravings and other documents in our own collection. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin. All rights of reproduction reserved.
1. The Colosseum in times past
The original copy of the following 2 engravings have been donated by us to the Hector Berlioz Museum and they hold the copyright for them.
The Colosseum in 1850
The above engraving was published in the Illustrated London
News, 4 May 1850.
The Colosseum in 1877
The Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine in the 19th century
The Colosseum in the mid-20th century
2. The Colosseum in our time (2007)
The Colosseum in 2007
The Arch of Constantine in 2007
This triumphal arch was dedicated in AD 315 to celebrate Constantine’s victory three years before over his co-emperor Maxentius in a battle at the Milvian Bridge [Ponte Milvio] on the Tiber. Most of the medallions, reliefs and statues were scavenged from earlier monuments.
© (unless otherwise stated) Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb for all the pictures and information on this page.
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