The design of the Colosseum has had great impact on western architecture. The impact of the design can be seen in many modern buildings such as the western arena, the use of keystones and arches in buildings (i.e. churches, banks, etc.) and even in the building material used in buildings, and the façade of these western buildings all take shape due to the Colosseum. In order to know the full extent of this impact, and the influence of art period’s architecture, a look into the design of the Colosseum must be given. The following paper will seek to provide background information of the Colosseum, its structural design, history, and the ways in which other famous architecture works emulate it in Western culture.
In this strive for achieving perfection another architectural feat of the Romans is the Colosseum built in 72 A.D..
The Colosseum was a place of praise for the Roman past time of games. The Coloseeum is more appropriately entitled the Flavian amphitheatre for the Flavian dynasty in which it was built. The Colosseum is a testament to how much the Romans enjoy leisure time as well as the triumph of the human body against various forces of nature such as animals, battle, and other elemental factors.
The structure of the Colosseum was mainly built of marble,
The marble that originally covered the façade was burned to make quicklime. During the Renaissance, but mostly in the Baroque age, the ruling Roman families (from which many popes came) used it as a source of marble for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica and the private Palazzi. A famous description is in the saying Quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecerunt Barberini; “What the Barbarians weren’t able to do, was done by the Barberinis” (one such family). (Roman Architecture)
The interior of the Colosseum consisted of three main parts: the arena, the podium, and the cavea. The Colosseum stands mostly in ruins as a testament to the greatness of the Roman Empire.
Arena is Latin for sand. Sand covered the entire floor of the building as it was a great device in the absorbing of blood, which was spilt frequently during the brutal battles that occurred the games. The similarity of this structure to western architecture is found in the simplest of forms, the ability of movement within the structures. The Colosseum is structured so that it may be empty of people in five minutes time, as are modern day football stadiums designed in such a fashion with man exiting and entering doors, sectioned compartments for sitting, and the area of sport is large in scale (although the Colosseum was much larger than the scale of a football stadium). Also, the underneath of the structure housed slaves, gladiators, animals, and other assortments for the viewing pleasure of the audience. The Romans built to impress with this structure. Not only was the building used as a way in which to house games but also to keep the poor people of the city from revolting against the government. The government felt that keeping the citizenry entertained (the Colosseum housed over 100 days of festivities a year) and fed they would be kept happy and therefore less threatened by the government.
The Colosseum was built by the Roman Emperor Vespasian in 72 A.D. The Colosseum was built as a statement of Rome’s power, thus the architecture is a symbol of politics since the building of it on Nero’s garden was a sign of a rebuilding of Rome after Nero’s overthrow. Thus, architecture begins to take a turn into a sign of power. This has been emulated in impressive ways such as palaces and mansions being built to be impressive, and the Colosseum was a gift to the Roman people, and a promise of a great future after the hated Nero’s reign (McDonald paragraph three).
The structure of the Colosseum was mainly built of marble, just as the Pantheon was built of the same material. Unlike the Pantheon’s restructured façade and inside, the Colosseum stands mostly in ruins as a testament to the greatness of the Roman Empire.
The similarity of the structures of these two buildings is found in the simplest of forms, the ability of movement within each structure. The Pantheon is wide and its open space allows for an audience to appreciate the paints on the wall, the adytons, and the dome from the inside. The Colosseum is structured so that it may be empty of people in five minutes time. Also, the underneath of the structure housed slaves, gladiators, animals, and other assortments for the viewing pleasure of the audience. The Romans built to impress with both of these structures.
The Pantheon, although not in its original form, has stood the test of time in that it offers a viewing arena of the genius of Roman engineering, in the shape, construction, and execution of the of the dome. Also, the building materials of marble, wood, and the design of the Pantheon suggest to viewers today that the Romans were building in order not to impress them, but rather to impress an assortment of gods and goddesses and in order to do that, one had to create the best, the biggest and the most outstanding work of architecture possible. The Pantheon rivals even the pyramids of Giza in Egypt in size, construction, and its ability to stand the test of time and be just as impressive today as it was presumable when it was first constructed.
While the Pantheon was a tribute to worshiping gods and goddess of the Roman culture, the Colosseum was a place of praise for the Roman past time of games. The Colosseum is a testament to how much the Romans enjoy leisure time as well as the triumph of the human body against various forces of nature such as animals, battle, and other elemental factors.
The Romans were perfectionists: they sought out this trait in their architecture as is seen with the Pantheon’s dimensions being the same for the diameter of the oculus and the length from the top to the floor. In this strive for achieving perfection another architectural feat of the Romans is the Colosseum built in 72 A.D..
In a more direct way the Colosseum was an influence on the Somerset House by architect William Chambers. The courtyard of the house is designed with many of them emulating the Colosseum and the vaulted passages also resemble those of the Colosseum. The construction of the stories of the Colosseum progress from Doric, to Ionic, Corinthian and finally Composite which in this sequence are also main features of the Somerset House’s exterior storey structure (Cartage.org paragraph 12).
The main influence that the Colosseum has had on western architecture however is in the presentation of the arena. The Colosseum was the first superdome, and as such its influence has been seen in every arena since its construction. The Colosseum was built with 80 doors (as mentioned prior in the paper, this purpose of this was so that the 50,000 or so audience members of the Colosseum could exit and enter with ease), also the Colosseum initiated a ticket system in which audience members would receive their free admission and ticket and find their seat based on the number of the ticket, just as is the case in arenas in this modern age. Also, the Colosseum was set up so that the rich were seated in a different area than the poor; the rich area was closer to the battle for better vantage points of the carnage of the battle, the poor people’s seats would be referred to as being located in the ‘nose bleed’ section, as is the same structure of arena’s today
The Colosseum was ingeniously designed. It has been said that most spectacle venues (stadiums, and similar) have been influenced by features of the Colosseum’s structure, even well into modern times. Seating (cavea) was divided into different sections. The podium, the first level of seating, was for the Roman senators; the emperor’s private, cushioned, marble box was also located on this level. (Uhlig 17).
Another point of contrast that is part of the ingenuity of the engineering of the Colosseum was its wide use of arches. The entire outside façade of the Colosseum utilizes the arch. The keystone of the arch is the pressure point and carries the weight of the material, however, the genius behind this design is that is uses its space wisely. Due to the façade being constructed of this arch support system, not only is it appealing to the eye but it also serves as a functional device; since so many people were cramped into this space, the arches allow for a passage way of air to travel in and out of the Colosseum as well as creating less weight which the columns have to bear. The use of the arch can be seen throughout western architecture in most political buildings and churches. The design of the arch is mainly to lessen the weight of the materials on the columns, and the Colosseum was one of the first to utilize this idea on such a massive scale; this influence can be seen in the Trinity Church in Boston.
In fact the basic staging of the events and the way in which the audience views the battles in a circular fashion instead of a stage in which the audience is centered with the stage and the seats facing eachother, is unique. The Colosseum is not only influential in the architecture of the arena but in the architecture in the arrangement of the audience to the points of action. There was so much occurring in the Colosseum that this circular seating fashion was adequate enough for the audience to always be seeing something of interest. This seating arrangement can also be seen in the sporting event involving the ‘ring’, such as wrestling, or boxing or martial arts. In this situation the architecture has been situated so that the audience may have a vantage point of 360 degrees instead of half of that in a typical stage and audience set up. This architecture is attributed to the Colosseum.
In fact the construction of the Colosseum involved not only marble but also concrete, which was an invention the Romans created and utilized to the best of their ability (it is what has made modern transportation possible: concrete).
The marble that originally covered the façade was burned to make quicklime. During the Renaissance, but mostly in the Baroque age, the ruling Roman families (from which many popes came) used it as a source of marble for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica and the private Palazzi. A famous description is in the saying Quod non fecerunt Barbari, fecerunt Barberini; “What the Barbarians weren’t able to do, was done by the Barberinis” (one such family). (Roman Architecture).
The concrete weighed less than marble and thus made it a palpable material in which the load bearing columns would not have to strain so much. The use of concrete has influenced almost all of western architecture, as it is the most popular form of building material.
The façade of the Colosseum can be seen in western construction of banks, capital buildings and even libraries (the New York Public Library has a façade of archways as well as Corinthian columns which are not used merely as decorative pieces but as load bearing and thus necessary to the architectural design).
Another innovative feature of the Colosseum was its cooling system, known as the valerium, which consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. This roof covered two-thirds of the arena, and sloped down towards the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience. Sailors, standing on special platforms, manipulated the ropes on command. The Colosseum incorporated a number of vomitoria – passageways that open into a tier of seats from below or behind. The vomitoria were designed so that the immense venue could fill in 15 minutes, and be evacuated in as little as 5 minutes. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase (Roman Architecture).
The influence of the Roman Colosseum has had a lasting impact on Western architecture from the modern day arena, building materials, sporting events, and even the way in which a sporting event is seen, has all been made possible because of the Colosseum. Romans did everything on a grand scale, and western architecture has always sought to emulate. The decorative church façades with the use of columns as well as banks, and the architecture in the South with the full length column support has all been an echo of the Colosseum’s grandeur.
The building of the Colosseum was done as a way of unifying the state but also the citizens into a new era of democracy. This is shown by way of the 100 festival days as well as the building location of the Colosseum being built directly on top of Nero’s gardens. The building will be analyzed as Roman genius in architecture and design through the use of marble and concrete as well as the overall construction of the columns, and the 76 entrances. The point of view of the paper will focus on the Colosseum being the first superstructure or superdome of its kind which is an amazing feat to have lasted since 80 A.D.
Cartage.org. Neoclassical Architecture and the Influence of Antiquity. Online. Retrieved 25 March 2008. http://www.cartage.org.lb/en/themes/arts/Architec/TheAgeofRevivals/Neoclassic larchitecture/Neoclassicalarchitecture.htm.
McDonald, W. L. Roman Power/Roman Architecture. Online. Retrieved 25 March 2008.http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth200/politics/roman_archite ture.html
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Roman Colosseum. Online. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
Uhlig, S. The Artistic Influence of Italy. Indiana University. 2006. Online. Retrieved
25 March 2008. http://www.indiana.edu/~westlp1/Lesson%20Plans/Architecture%20of%20Italy/ chitecture%20of%20Italy.pdf