One of the most famous Roman monuments in the world is the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum. It was built by the emperors of the Flavian dynasty. Its construction began under Vespasian in AD 72 and was inaugurated in AD 80 by his son Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Titus’s brother Domitian.
During Rome’s imperial period the Circus Maximus hosted chariot races and the amphitheatre gladiatorial games and the so-called venationes, mock hunting of ferocious exotic animals brought to the city from the faraway provinces of the empire.
The construction of the most famous amphitheatre in the world was funded by the spoils of the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem, conquered by Titus in AD 70. The site of its construction was not chosen randomly. It was on the edge of the Forum in a low valley where Nero had created an artificial lake, on public land, to enhance his grandiose Domus Aurea. Vespasian decided to build the Colosseum on the site of Nero’s lake to return to the people and area of the city which Nero had occupied for his personal use.
The name of the Flavian Amphitheatre is still however linked with perhaps the most despised Roman emperor. The term Colosseum, with which it is famous worldwide and has been known by since the 7th century, originates from a gigantic bronze statue portraying Nero, called “Colosso”, which stood near the site of the amphitheatre.
In the 4th century the Emperor Constantine banned the gladiatorial games and the Colosseum gradually lost its importance. The lack of funds to run the lavish spectacles also contributed to its decline. The last contests were held in AD 523, during the reign of the king of Ostrogoth origin Theodoric.
Starting in the second half of the 6th century, the construction was systematically stripped of its materials: the travertine of the supporting structure, the marble cladding, the tuff blocks, the many bricks and the bronze clamps that held together the stonework, which left numerous pockmarks that still scar the building today.
In 1750, on the occasion of the Jubilee, Pope Benedict XIV forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry and declared it a sacred site where Christians had been martyred. He had a large cross installed in the centre of the arena and the 14 chapels for the Stations of the Cross, still held here every year on Easter Friday.