Roman Ruins

The Roman Empire stretched across Europe and their architectural and engineering legacy still remains. This field trip focuses on the ruins still visible at the heart of the Roman Empire in Rome, Italy.

This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture

View of the Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum View of the Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum (1742–1745) by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)The J. Paul Getty Museum

Roman Empire

The Roman Empire lasted from 27 BCE – 476 CE, but the remnants of the once great empire still remain in the form of architecture. Ruined, but still visible.

The Colosseum ‐ Exterior

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy, was built as a gift to the Roman people by Vespasian, who replaced Emperor Nero. Nero’s terrible leadership left his subjects unhappy; Vespasian wanted to open the amphitheater to help raise their spirits.

People flocked to the Colosseum to see free entertainment, including the gladiator fights (the most popular event), animal hunts, battle re-enactments, and animal fights.

Historical accounts confirm that the Colosseum could even be flooded with water so ships could reenact sea battles.

Some parts fell victim to lightning strikes and earthquakes. Others have been destroyed through neglect and vandalism.

If you wander through the interior of the Colosseum, you will see that some areas have been restored and look like they did in ancient Roman times.

Arco di Constantino

To the Colosseum’s left, you see the Arco di Constantino (Arch of Constantine), built in 315 A.D. to celebrate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius. 

Rome’s largest arch bears many styles of carved reliefs, which were reused from older structures.

The Colosseum

Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum was the largest amphitheater of its time. Built in 80 A.D., the concrete structure could hold up to 80,000 spectators at one time, and features 2 levels of repeated arches.

The Colosseum’s Restoration

Since its heyday, natural and man-made events, including lightning strikes, earthquakes and vandalism, have destroyed parts of the Colosseum. Walk around the exterior and you’ll see that some parts have been rebuilt to look as they did in ancient times.

Entering the Colosseum

If you attended a Colosseum event in ancient times, you would have been handed a piece of broken pottery with a number indicating where to find your seat, instead of a paper ticket. 

Crowds of up to 80,000 people entered and exited quickly and safely, within a matter of minutes.

The building had 80 entrances, plus a series of well-designed corridors and stairways.

The Main Arena

At the center of the arena was a large expanse with a wooden floor covered with sand. Beneath it were underground tunnels and cells, called the hypogeum.

 Today, the flooring is gone, but the brick walls of the hypogeum remain.

Inside the Colosseum

When Vespasian died, his son, Titus, took over as emperor. Within the first months of Titus’s rule, Rome suffered greatly. Mount Vesuvius erupted. A fire raged through Rome for over 3 days. The plague spread through the city.

In 80 A.D., Titus held 100-days of games to celebrate the amphitheater’s completion, and cheer up the masses.

Entertainment included chariot races, morning animal battles in which 5,000 to 9,000 animals were slain, and afternoon executions and gladiator combats.

The Audience

The Colosseum had 3 levels of seating, with luxury boxes located at the north and south ends for the Emperor,  and sections for wealthy foreign dignitaries or priests.

The top tier was for Rome’s poorest people.

Beneath the Main Arena

Beneath the arena’s floor was a series of corridors, rooms, and cells called the hypogeum, where animals and gladiators stayed until appearing in the ring.

Machines allowed cages containing animals like lions to be raised up through the floor. 

Around the Main Arena

Ramps could also be set up for gladiators or animals such as lions or bears to walk up into the arena. This kind of entrance added drama and flair to the events taking place.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon you see today was built by Emperor Hadrian around 188 A.D. on top of the ruins of an earlier temple built by Agrippa around 26 B.C. 

The Pantheon was built as a place to worship every god—and the ancient Romans had plenty of gods. Ironically, the Pantheon was converted into a Christian church in 609 AD by Pope Boniface IV. 

Around 1870, the building was made into a memorial for several Italian kings and artists.

The Fountain

The fountain in the Piazza della Rotonda, by the Pantheon’s entrance, was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII in 1575. Almost 200 years later, Pope Clement XI had the fountain redesigned, adding the carved dolphins and the obelisk of Ramses II.

The Pantheon's Entrance

Above the Pantheon’s Corinthian-style columns you’ll see a Latin inscription that translates to, “It was built by Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time.” While Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon, he wanted to credit the original builder.

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome (c. 1734) by Giovanni Paolo PaniniNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Inside the Pantheon

According to legend, the Pantheon is built in the spot where Romulus, the founder of Rome, died and was carried away to the gods by an eagle. As you step inside the temple, you may suddenly feel as if you’ve shrunken and are in the presence of enormous gods yourself. This is how you were supposed to feel.

PantheonYouth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO

The interior of the Pantheon is one enormous open room, with a dome soaring to a height of 43.3 meters.

Model of the Pantheon in Rome by Georges ChedanneNational Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci

The Rotunda

Weighing over 4,500 tons with a 43.3 meter diameter, the Pantheon’s rotunda, or dome, is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in architectural history.

Dome (2012) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

Gazing upward, you’ll see 5 rings of 28 sunken squares or panels lining the dome.

Interior of the dome (2011) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

Oculus

The oculus is a 9m-wide opening located at the very top of the Pantheon’s dome that lets light in, lightens the load on the dome, and acts as a natural cooling system for the building.

Circulation balcony in the dome (2012) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

Other Oculus Uses

A drainage system beneath the floor manages rain that falls through the enormous hole. If you stood inside the Pantheon for several hours, you’d notice that the light entering the oculus moves around the room in a reverse sundial direction.

Fragment of pavement (2012) by Unknown authorNational Pantheon

The Floor

The large circle and square designs that cover the marble floor beneath your feet echo the design of the concrete dome above, creating a unified style and theme.

Trajan's Market

Not far from the Colosseum are the remains of Trajan’s Market. Built around 100 A.D., the market was a very early version of a shopping mall. When it was going at full swing, it contained more than 150 offices and shops.

Both shops and apartments were housed in the multi-storied semi-circular building. Because the building was built into the bedrock of the hillside, some of the shops at ground level vary in size.

The Tabernae

The tabernae were the shops located in the market’s lower level that sold food, produce, and domestic goods. The tabernae were barrel-vaulted rooms with arched ceilings. It’s thought that customers stood in doorways to make purchases rather than step inside.

The Great Hall

As you can see, the ruins of Trajan’s Market resemble an outdoor theater. The open area in front of the market, which measures 32 meters long and 8 meters high, was actually used for concerts and other performances

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