An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part IX

Il Colosseo di Roma (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

Rome is "The Eternal City," and I never get tired of visiting her. What more dramatic symbol to mark my arrival than the Roman Colosseum? But, as beautiful a work of sculpture as il Colosseo remains, it does have a sordid, disturbing history. 

The Colosseum was built between 72 and 80 AD, and underwent various modifications in the century after that. Constructed of travertine limestone, volcanic tuff, and brick-clad cement, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Unlike typical Greek or Roman amphitheaters which were usually built-into a hillside, the Colosseum is a completely free-standing, oval structure. It could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators.

At the inaugural event, in 81 AD, it is estimated that over 9,000 wild animals were killed—many of them exotics imported from Africa. Spectacular gladiatorial contests, animal "hunts," and recreations of famous battles were common offerings. Human executions were also provided for a bloodthirsty audience. Condemned criminals (including those convicted of Christianity) would be placed, naked, at center ring and starved lions or tigers would be released to maul (and eat) the condemned. Sometimes the convict would be forced to act the lead part in an ambitious staged story—only to meet his end with wild animals or being set ablaze for the gratification of a rapacious audience. Today, the site has been embraced by Christians as a place of holy martyrdom. Each year, on Good Friday, the Pope begins a "Way of the Cross" procession from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill. This year, Pope Francis dedicated the procession to the plight of migrants who suffer upon encountering closed doors, intolerance and hardened hearts. It's a good reminder, at a site that once glorified human (and animal) suffering, that many living creatures today still experience lives of pain.

We'll continue our summer holiday tomorrow. 


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