written by: Raunekk•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 1/31/2013
The Roman Colosseum, located in Rome, Italy, is an engineering wonder of the ancient world. With a unique design and constructional plan, the Colosseum was the largest building constructed during Roman Era. Learn more about how this monument was built.
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The Roman Colosseum or Coliseum, one of the largest structures built during the Roman Era, is famous for its unique engineering design and architectural splendor. A huge Amphitheatre with a capacity of seating 45,000 spectators at a time, the Colosseum was then the biggest engineering structure ever built.
The construction of the building was initiated in 72 AD by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and was completed by his son in 80 AD. Located in the center of the city of Rome, Italy, the building took eight years for its completion and was used for conducting various public spectacles such as gladiatorial fights, animal hunting and mock naval battles.
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Constructing the Foundation
In many ways, the architectural style and design of Colosseum surpasses even the brightest engineering designs of the modern era. The site on which the Collosseum stands today was initially the private lake of Emperor Nero’s palace called the “Golden House." The lake was first drained and then the construction process was initiated. A layer of thick concrete was first laid on the lake’s floor to create a solid base. As the base was extremely marshy, the workers had to dig the under the lake’s bed until they reached a solid floor. The ditch was then filled with concrete up to the initial level. The foundation was built on this solid concrete base.
Big travertine stones, rock-like structures formed from calcium carbonate, were brought in from a nearby town called Tivoli for making the base of the building. These stones were set together using iron bars and mortar. Four tunnels were made using these stones, including some concrete chambers. The tunnels and the chambers together form the support for the stadium and the seating arrangements.
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Constructing the Walls
The structure of the Collosseum above the foundation consists of four different floors. The total height of the structure, including the four floors, is around 48 meters, whereas the height of each floor is between 10-14 meters. Out of the four floors, the first three floors consisted of a total of eighty arcades with different columns. The ground, first, and second levels have Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns respectively. The fourth level consisted of a different type of column known as Corinthian Piliasters. The top most level also had eighty chambers with small openings for accommodating the beams for the shade.
Travertine stones were used for the external walls of the building, whereas the internal walls were made from tufa, a kind of volcanic rock which was taken from the old structures of the city. The pedestals throughout the building are made of marble. The huge marbles blocks were initially held together using iron bars, however later mortar was used. Bullock carts were used for shifting the marble blocks.
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Constructing the Arena
The Collosseum covers a total distance of 7.5 acres. The term “Arena" is taken from a Latin word which means “sand." The Arena is covered on an area of 79 by 45 meters and has flooring made from wood and sand. Sand was used on the floor so that the blood of combatants could be easily soaked in and also the gladiators can get a firm grip of the ground. Moreover, strong nets were used to cover the periphery of the area to prevent wild animals from attacking the audience.
The entrance to the arena was from the basement, which could be reached through a staircase. The basement also had quarters where the gladiators were given accommodation or imprisoned. Wild animals were also kept in small chambers below the basement. These wooden floored underground chambers can be reached through a tunnel which opens to the outside of the Collosseum.
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Constructing the Seating Arrangement
It is said that the Collosseum could accommodate a total of fifty thousand spectators. The sitting arrangement was layered one above the other, somewhat similar to the arrangement seen in the modern conventional movie halls and amphitheaters. The arrangement was divided into five levels, and each level was dedicated for the people of a particular stature of the society, a trait which was extremely prevalent in the Roman time.
Society was divided into classes and so was the Collosseum’s seating arrangements. The lowermost level or the level closest to the arena was reserved for the VIPs such as priests, members of the royal families, senators, and diplomats. Two special box arrangements were also made on the same level, on strategic locations, for providing the best view for the King and his Queen.
The next level up consisted of people from the noble class and the knights. The level above it was divided into two sections and was meant for common citizens. The lower section was for the wealthy citizens and the upper section for poor ones. The topmost level was reserved for the people of the lowest class, women, and slaves. The seats on this level were extremely uncomfortable and made from wood.
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There were in total seventy-six entrances provided to the Collosseum so that the people can enter and leave the building quickly and easily. Out of the 76 entrances, four were reserved for the King and VIPs.
Researchers also say that the canals at the basement of the building were used to fill the Collosseum with water for conducting mock naval battles. However, there is no substantial proof to this as the bricks that are used in the walls of the canals are not of water resistant type.