We just got back from 13 days in Italy. Have you ever been? It’s been at least 20 years since we were last there and the amazing thing is … it hasn’t changed much. In fact, Rome looked exactly the way it did the first time we went there in 1978.
Living in North America we are so used to new developments. Tearing down “old” buildings to put up something new. New housing developments popping up where there used to be farm fields. In many parts of the US, “heritage” buildings are barely 100 years old.
Italy … not so much. Where we were staying in Tuscany, you aren’t allowed to build new foundations. So, if you want to build a house, you have to find the foundation of a previous dwelling and then you can build on that spot.
And, old structures. Let’s look at probably the most impressive building in Rome, The Colosseum. About six months ago they started guided tours down into the bowels of the structure. We walked on the floor where 2000 years ago thousands of gladiators and prisoners were held, waiting to go into the arena. We stood on the very top where the plebian Roman women sat to watch the games. It’s so high up that the people and animals in the arena looked like miniatures. These were truly the ‘nosebleed’ seats. We saw the underground water system that was used to flood the arena for reenactments of famous ship battles.
Here are some of the things we learned on the tour.
- The Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater after the founder of the Flavian dynasty, Emperor Vespasian. The name ‘Colosseum’ is derived from the Latin word ‘colosseus’ meaning colossal. This was in reference to the gigantic 120 foot bronze statue of the Emperor Nero which had been previously erected near the site of the Colosseum.
- This elliptical building is 1,788 ft. in circumference, 187 ft. high, 615 ft. long and 510 ft. wide. It has 80 entrances and can accommodate between 50,000 and 75,000 spectators.
- Construction was started in AD 72 and was completed a mere 8 years later in AD 80.
- Above the ground are four stories, the upper story contained seating for women. The lowest story, which, like our stadiums were the best seats, was preserved for prominent citizens. Below ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.
- The Colosseum was the first covered stadium. It was covered with an enormous awning known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes. A team of some 1,000 men was used to install the awning.
There is much to be learned from old cultures and old things and there are a huge number of interesting facts about the Colosseum (click here if you’re interested) but some thoughts that came to us as we toured this amazing structure and other parts of the city were:
- If the Romans could build the Colosseum in a mere 8 years, what could we achieve if we really focused? Admittedly the labor was provided by slaves but the project management, the infrastructure, the innovative technology and craftsmanship needed to raise this structure are a testament to focus and determination.
- The foundations and innovations of ancient societies include many things that we use and practice today. Democracy, architecture, philosophy, building and construction innovations, art, literature, city planning, language, medicine, military configurations, and astronomy are just a few of the areas that we take for granted today that were directly influenced by the Greek and Roman worlds.
- There are “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome; history’s only other absolute superpower. In Rome, as in America today, we are stuck in an expensive and unpopular war in the Middle East that we cannot win on our terms. We have a debt and mortgage crisis as bad as what Rome had and any solution to this problem is hindered by bitter partisan politics. In Rome, the two political parties were so bitterly hateful of one another that they would rather see the freedom of Rome perish than one or other of the parties triumph.
Each of us have within ourselves the ability and opportunity to focus our attention towards a positive and uplifting future; both for ourselves and our families and our nations … let’s do that!