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Thursday, April 24, 2014


ALL it took was the thumb. Those were the days in Roman history when the population gave the verdict, to save or slay, to the fallen after an entertaining match. Should this be the peg of today’s courtroom drama, cases against the accused would be resolved faster, don’t you think?

But the shows held in this Flavian Amphitheater (named after the family of emperors— Vespaian, Titus and Domitian— that created and modified it from 70 AD to 96 AD) weren’t exclusive to gladiatorial matches, the public spectacle included re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology as well as staging mock sea battles and animal hunts involving real sea and land creatures that appear from beneath the ground. How this was executed was due to an impressive and considered to be the greatest Roman architecture and engineering.

The architecture of the Colosseum is impressive, both above and below ground. It’s one of those structural designs that we dissected in an architectural class in college. Long before the Cirque de Soliel can flood and extract tons of water from the scene, and Madonna can magically appear on stage and vanish, the ancient Romans have been delighted with shows staged with early hydraulic mechanisms across the 4,785 square meter oval central arena surrounded by a 5-meter wall, above which rose tiers of seating for 50,000 to 80,000 spectators viewing form their assigned seats, mind you.

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Located at Rome’s city center, this elliptical amphitheater with a base area of 24,000 square meters is not only the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire but the largest in the world. The Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome, one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions, listed as a UNEXSCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Anyone will be in awe of the massive, ancient building— exterior wall scaling up to 48 meters high, three stories of superimposed arcades framed by half columns of the three architectural orders, hundreds of mast corbels around the topmost point used to support a retractable awning that covered two-thirds of the arena, an amphitheater ringed with eighty numbered entrances at ground level (76 were used by ordinary spectators, the northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor, three used by the elite) that directed the spectators to the appropriate section, row and seat.

As to the seating arrangements, the best seats in the house, that providing the best views of the arena, are reserved for the emperor and the Vestal Virgins, flanking it are the areas for the senatorial class. The next tier above was for the non-senatorial noble class, next was for the ordinary citizens with lower section for the wealthy and the upper for the poor. The uppermost section, added during the reign of Domitian, was the gallery for the common poor, slaves and women (lucky still to view the spectacles than the gravediggers, actors and former gladiators who were banned from entering).

The most impressive would be how the arena was designed. What is beneath the then sand-covered wooden floor of the arena is an elaborate underground city called the hypogeum very visible today. The two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages was where the gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Vertical shafts and hinged platforms, elevators and pulleys provided instant access to the arena for animals and props hidden below the arena.

Underground tunnels connect the hypogeum to points outside of Colosseum. Without being seen and avoiding the crowd, animal from its stables, performers, gladiators from their barracks, and the Emperor can access the Colosseum through designated tunnels.

As you are ushered to your assigned seat on the next major concert you catch, keep in mind that the plan of the stadium you’re in and the hydraulic effects on stage was originally conceived during the ancient times.

For its architectural and engineering feat in the early century, we should all put our thumbs up for the Colosseum.

For more travel & lifestyle stories, visit http://jeepneyjinggoy.blogspot.com/ and http://apples-and-lemons.blogspot.com/

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on April 24, 2014.

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