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Colosseo (interno)

Finally we arrive at the Colosseum, the most popular of the great monuments of Rome and almost the symbol of its immortality. According to the prophecy of the Venerable Beda, as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand: when the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall. Then the world, too, will fall! This incredible structure is 57 metres high and has a circumference of 527 metres with 240 gigantic arcades once decorated with colossal statues and divided into three orders of 80 arcades each. The lower levels contain a labyrinth of halls and store rooms, cages and prisons. It was begun by the Emperor Vespasian upon his return from Jerusalem in 72 B.C. and twelve thousand Jewish prisoners took eight years to construct it. Inaugurated by Titus, it was called the Flavium Amphitheatre by the Emperor, who was part of the Flavian family. Afterwards, however, the name Colosseum was predominant, because of its proximity to the Colossus of Nero. It was inaugurated with solemn festivities lasting 100 days, during which there were fights between gladiators, hunts of wild beasts and naval battles which cost the lives of 3000 gladiators and 5000 beasts. Gladiator fights continued until the year 405, until the sacrifice of the monk Telemacus, who ran into the arena to prevent the fights and was killed by the crowd. Events with wild animals were held until the middle of the 6th century. In medieval times, the monument was transformed into the fortress of the Frangipani and the Annibaldi, who fought over it, and it was also damaged by earthquakes. In 1312 Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg gave it to the Roman people, and it was then stripped of its marble and was used as a source of materials for new construction. Palazzo Venezia, the Cancelleria, Palazzo Barberini, ST. Peter's Basilica, the facade of the church of Sant'Agostino and the Porto di Ripetta were all built with blocks of travertine extracted from the ruins of the Colosseum. A well known saying goes: What the Barbarians didn't do the Barberinis did! Threatened with demolition by Sixtus V for urban reasons, it was finally declared a sacred monument and dedicated to the Passion of Jesus Christ by Benedict XIV. Ever since it has been an object of adoration for the faithful and preserved from further destruction. In fact, the Popes that followed restored and helped keep it consolidated. A cross was placed in it as a symbol of the number of martyrs of the faith. But the stones of the Colosseum were never bathed in martyrs' blood, which instead flowed in torrents in the Circus Maximus and in the Circus of Nero (of which there are no remains). Thus the cross placed in the Colosseum, more than a symbol of the martyrs of the Flavian Amphitheatre is a symbol of all the saints and those beatified who were martyrred in the circuses of Rome. In brief, this is the history of the Colosseum. Let us now try to imagine the immense circus filled with 50000 spectators during one of those spectacles in which the crowd was excited by the blood of gladiators and by the ferocity of wild beasts. The first row of striking marble constituted the podium also included the imperial stand which was solemn and grandiose and surrounded by the court. Here the emperor decided on the life and death of defeated gladiators. Always around Caesar were the senators, the Vestals and the high magistrates who attended the horrendous events in a solemn ritual. Then the three monumental levels of bleachers held the public, and were reserved first for the knights, then for the Roman citizens and then for the people. Above one terrace was an area for standing room only, and an immense purple sail manoeuvred by a part of the Roman fleet from Miseno tinted the marbles of the tribune and the toga bearing masses a vermilion shade. But if we can imagine the pomp of the circus before the competitors were flung into the arena or before those condemned came up from their prisons, with the immense crowd ever more excited and frenetic, and if we can imagine after the event, what must it have been like as the huge crowds of spectators flowed out of the arches like hungry beasts and into the piazzas, streets and bordellos of the city, their appetites and libidos wild and hungry for satisfaction, we cannot conceive of today those competitions for they would offend our sentiments. Perhaps we prefer to think of the Colosseum as we see it today at the end of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, or perhaps even better, from the Temple of Venus and Rome with its noble outline that has been reproduced millions and millions of times throughout the countries of the world. Or perhaps we like to think of the interior as a gigantic dismantled fortress, or on an evening when a full moon fills it with light and shadows in the deep silence and solemn calm of clear Roman nights, so loved by the artists, poets and romantics of the 19th century.