Sunday, February 3, 2008

Superbowl Sunday: Stadiums in Rome

There is not much talk about the Superbowl in Rome. After lunch this afternoon we passed a bar that had this sign posted at the door. It will be open all night and serving free pasta to those who want to come and watch the game starting at 11pm.

Rome has it's own "superbowl" arena, the Colosseum. Games are no longer played there, but when it was built during the 1st Century AD, it held nearly 30,000 spectators. It is the largest amphitheater ever built in the Roman Empire and was used for gladiatorial contests and "public spectacles." It remained in use for nearly 500 years with the last recorded games being held there as late as the 6th century. The "public spectacles" included mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The amphitheater stopped being used for entertainment in the middle ages. Since then it has been used for housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine. Every Good Friday the Pope leads the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum.

We went past the Circo Massimo as we travelled by bus to and from church today. Maybe this is even a better Roman monument to think about on Superbowl Sunday. I remember seeing images of this Roman monument when I was nine years old, during the chariot race scene in the movie Ben Hur. it was built in the 3rd Century BC and could hold about 250,000 people, a quarter of Rome's population at the time. (It was about two football fields wide and seven football fields long.) It was a track used primarily for chariot racing, although it was used on occasion for hunts. mock battles. athletic events and processions. The Circo Massimo also had the ancient equivelant of the skyboxes that we see in modern stadiums. The Emperor had a reserved seat, as did senators, knights, those who financially backed the race, those who presided over the competition, and the jury that awarded the prize to the winners. The last race held at the Circo Massimo was in 549 A.D., nearly a full millenium after the track's construction. (How long do modern stadiums last before they are torn down and rebuilt?) Today only the layout of the original circo can be seen in what is now a large grassland. Most of the original structure has been used as building material for medieval and Renaissance construction projects. Today as the bus went past we could see joggers and walkers, some under umbrellas because it was raining. There are often people playing ball games and sitting and enjoying the large open space.

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