The Colosseum in Rome was often cited as more worthy of inclusion on the sanctioned list of Wonders than some of the original seven, and in fact it would have fit perfectly with the Ancients, since its construction and centuries of use predated the Middle Ages. Work on the Flavian Amphitheatre, as it was originally called, was begun about 72 a.d. by the emperor Vespasian on the site of a villa that had belonged to Nero. (A nearby 100-foot statue that Nero had erected of himself, known as the colossus, led to the Flavian's popular name, the Colosseum.) And the gladiators last fought in the Colosseum in the year 404 - just a short while from the accepted inception of the Middle Ages - so the great stadium could not be considered a product of that time period.
It was, however, a masterwork of a truly frenzied imagination. We all know that Rome wasn't built in a day, but that this engineering opus was wrapped up in less than a decade verges on the incomprehensible. Sitting on a foundation 42 feet deep, the walls rose 159 feet around an ellipse 615 feet long and 510 feet wide. The infrastructure was of brick, concrete and tufa, and the exterior facade was fashioned from blocks of travertine limestone. As the quarries for the travertine were located a dozen or so miles outside of Rome, and since 3.5 million cubic feet of it were required, the logistical problems alone were Sisyphean.
The three classical columns were represented: Doric on the first floor, Ionic on the second andCorinthian on the third. An attic story boasted Corinthian pilasters and from the attic an awning could be stretched to provide relief for the spectators from the midday sun.
There were 80 entrances: 76 for ticket-holders, two for gladiators, and two for the emperor. At least 50,000 spectators could attend, and one of the many practical achievements of the building is apparent when one learns that the crowd could be evacuated in just 5 minutes.
Vespasian's son Titus dedicated the building in the year 80, setting off a 100-day series of events. Early shows at the Colosseum were often headlined by clashes between different species of animals, but the shows soon became increasingly outr`e. The morning often began with mock, comic sparring, which gave way to wild animal events that culminated in the afternoon with humans pitted against animals or one another. Trained fighters would battle to the death, or occasionally be permitted to live if the warrior had done something special that pleased the crowd. Sometimes the stadium was filled with water, and navel battles were played out.
Rome being a pagan state, Christians along with slaves and criminals were fodder for gladiators.
The entire day's menu was served up with music from flautists, trumpeters, drummers and even a hydraulic organ that kept the death fights humming. Sand on the wooden floor served to soak up bloodshed. And always the theme remained: We who are about to die salute you.
May it suffice to say, the Middle Ages could never have ideated, let alone assembled, something of this scale. Theirs were simpler times, hardly the birthplace of spectacles. In fact, it was during the Middle Ages that the Colosseum was marred by lightning, earthquakes, quarrying of stone for other buildings, and, of course, vandals. But even in it's ruination, the Colosseum remained the largest amphitheater on earth for nearly two millennia.