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  • Pompeii's Amphitheater

    By Anthony Parente

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    © Amallia Rascoe
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    © Amallia Rascoe
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    © Amallia Rascoe

    The Amphitheater of Pompeii is one of the oldest surviving Roman amphitheaters in the world and the first known to be made of stone. It was built in 70 BC following Pompeii's induction as a Roman colony with private funds from duoviri (magistrates) Caius Quinctus Valgus and Marcus Porcius, who also had the Odeion built. Just like the city where it is located the amphitheater was also buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

    The amphitheater could accommodate 20,000 spectators from Pompeii and neighboring cities. Built on the southeastern part of the city to facilitate the substantial number of spectators attending and departing the venue. The arena was excavated six meters (19.7 feet) below ground level and the fill was used to support the western half of the building. A wall with buttresses and arches was erected forming the main facade of the amphitheater. The arena is elliptical and surrounded by a two-meter (6.56 feet) parapet, which was decorated with frescoes of the gladiators. The amphitheater was 135 meters by 104 meters (446 feet by 341 feet). The arena measured at 66.7 meters (281.83 feet) by 35.1 meters (115.16 feet). The amphitheater accommodated all social classes and was divided into three areas the ima, media and summa cavea. The ima (lower part) was for the social elites. The media (middle part) was for the general populace. The summa (upper part) was for slaves, women, and the lower classes. Spectators enjoyed gladiator contests, animal hunts, and chariot races. It was central to life in Pompeii.

    In 59 AD during a gladiatorial show a bloody brawl took place between the residents of Pompeii and Nuceria causing numerous deaths and injuries. As a result, the Senate of Rome imposed a 10-year ban on such events. In 62 AD a devastating earthquake struck Pompeii. The amphitheater was the first building to be restored at the expense of Cuspius Caius Pansa showing just how important this was to the people of Pompeii. Following the restoration the ban was lifted. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD did not destroy the amphitheater it buried it under volcanic debris preserving it.

    In 1823 some of the debris was removed exposing the top, but it was not until the twentieth century that it was excavated. Today the amphitheater is an historical landmark and part of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, and it is used for concerts and events. In 1971 From October 4th through the 7th the English rock band Pink Floyd made a concert film at the amphitheater titled: Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii. The band performed a typical live set without an audience except for the film crew. The first public performance was by David Gilmour on July 7th, 2016. Since then, Elton John, King Crimson, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, and Max Gazzé have performed at the venue.

    The amphitheater is not only a reminder of the city's tragic fate but it is a look into the daily life and the importance this architectural marvel played.

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