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Duration.: 50 minutes
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A Darlow Smithson production for National Geographic Channel
The Colosseum visits the iconic structure in the heart of Rome to explain how its 1st Century A.D. architects drained a lake the size of five football fields to construct a spectacular arena with a 55,000 capacity for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. The Romans used innovative technology that we still use today, but the money to pay for this grand project enslaved a people and brought a temple crashing down.
The Colosseum was constructed on the site of Nero's Domus Aurea, the grandiose palace he had built for himself after the great fire of A.D. 64. In Rome's eagerness to forget the excesses of Nero, Vespasian found eager acceptance of his plan to demolish the Domus Aurea and replace it with a public work that would actually benefit the public.
Adjacent to the Domus Aurea was a giant bronze statue called the Colossus of Nero. It was renamed Colossus of Helios, and even its size was dwarfed by the amphitheatre that soon took its name - the Colosseum.
A typical Roman theatre had a semicircle of tiered seats for the spectators. The term "amphitheatre" means "double theatre," and a true amphitheatre consists of two semicircles - a full circle - of tiered seats.
The Colosseum's builders made extensive use of two materials in use today - concrete and red brick - more than one million red bricks.
Rome's citizens were admitted to the Colosseum absolutely free of charge. The goal of the Colosseum and the events staged within was not to make money, but to keep the people of Rome satiated.
The fundamental design element of the Colosseum is the Roman arch; the Colosseum can be said to be made of them.
In some ways the design of the Colosseum has not been bettered to this day. 50,000 spectators could exit within half an hour, and a retractable awning called a velarium, made of sails, shielded the crowd from the summer sun.
Gladiator fights were finally outlawed by Emperor Honorius in A.D. 404.
Over the centuries the Colosseum was damaged repeatedly by earthquakes, and was stripped for building materials.
Since 1999, the Colosseum has been lit up whenever a death sentence is commuted anywhere in the world, or a country abolishes the death penalty.
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