The big daddy of all Roman Arenas is the Colosseum in Roma, Italy, which had all the events, the fights, the shows, the glamour when the Roman Empire was in it’s peak. For years I always wanted to visit the Colosseum after seeing it in history books or watching old films like Gladiator. My chance came when I first visited the Italian capital back in 2007 on a hot summer’s day, when I came out of the Colosseo metro station and saw this magnificent structure, I was in love in it. From the outside it looks grand, historic and huge and can be seen for quite a distance.
The reason I didn’t enjoy the Colosseum started with the huge queues outside. I arrived first thing in the morning and I know it was tourist season but the queues were moving ever so slowly. Then I walked inside, saw the main arena which was full of old brick stacks everywhere and a lot of areas closed off. I know the historic arena is really old but it really needed some tender loving care. I know other historical places I been to where it need some repair job then the tourist board or local government will put money into a project to keep the building standing, in this case I didn’t see that.
Whilst walking around trying to enjoy my visit, I was shoved by other tourists, I saw others climb the walls when they were not suppose to and graffiti on some bricks (which is a big no no for me). The highlight for me was actually seeing all the cats roaming around but then even they were leaving their waste on the ground. I left the arena with a sense of disappointment and couldn’t really put my finger on it, it just didn’t meet my expectations. At least I could say I have visited the grand daddy of them all.
This still didn’t put me off visiting Roman arenas and since then I have visited some amazing ones, some in very good condition and some with history. Here are my favourites which I think others should visit if into their Roman Empire history.
The amphitheatre in Pula is the only remaining structure to have four side towers and all the structural pillars intact. This arena is in the top six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world and it was a delight to come across it. In fact, this was the first ever arena I visited back in April 2007. Not only I was standing in a fine arena, I was able to walk into the middle and get a sense of how huge this place was. With the summer sun beating down, I bet the gladiators were sweating in here as they prepared for battle. Also when standing at the top of the viewing platform, I managed to get a great view of the sea from here. This is one truly amazing arena worth checking out.
This is by the far the best arena I have come across at the home of the Roman Empire. Located in the northern Italy, not too far from Lake Garda (I am sure the Romans took holidays there) and nearby Venice (which I am pretty sure wasn’t touristy back then), this arena is still in use today. No, not for fights but for opera concerts in the summer season. When I was here, I loved just climbing up and down the seating area (or slabs of rock) and running around like a child. The view over the main square outside is quite a nice one as well. This arena is well preserved and another I recommend to check out.
El Djem, Tunisia
The Roman Empire did spread into North Africa and built this impressive amphitheatre in the city of El Djem, to which the arena is known as El Jem. Built in 238AD, this is one of the biggest arenas in the world which can hold around 35,000. What I love about this arena is, as well as walking around the seating area, getting a view of the centre of the arena, thinking about the fights and shows which were taken place here, visitors can actually walk around the basement of arena. Here is where the gladiators prepare for battle, tigers were held and a lot of wine stored from the African sunshine. What is more impressive is that I was walking around the set of Gladiator (the film which came out 2000AD with Russell Crowe in it).
The Roman Empire did spread northwards and there are actually two amphitheatres very close to each other in the south of France. First one I came across was in Nimes which was built in 70AD but since has been remodeled as a bullring. Still in very good condition and a great place to walk around but apart from that, there is not much to see.
Not to far away from Nimes and built twenty years later, the two-tiered amphitheatre in the town of Arles was more impressive to me and again, in very condition. Again, it was eventually turned into a bullring arena to entertain the locals. Still, it was a great place to explore and a good one for young children to run around the place but as you can see after reading it to here, you get a sense that all the arenas are the same. They are until I found two more further north in Europe.
The amphitheatre in Trier, near the Luxembourg border is probably the northernmost in the world. It as huge as the others I have come across but I love the grassy banks where once the seating areas were. There is also a small underground section where visitors can walk through to see small rooms where the gladiators (if any in this part of the world) would prepare themselves. A little bit of a walk from the centre of Trier but still worth a visit.
The last one I came across is located south of the centre of the French capital. Really? Paris? Oui, you heard me straight, there is an arena in Paris. Arènes de Lutèce is located in the Latin Quarter (nearest metro station: Place Monge), and once used to seat 15,000 people for the regular combats which took place here. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, the arena was partly demolished with the centre of it still there (which was used as a park or gardens) and homes were built around it, literally right up to the arena walls. Then somehow around the 19th century when Paris was getting rebuilt to accommodate new tram lines etc, the arena was discovered around 1860. The plan was for a tram depot to be built where the arena stood but eventually it was saved from demolition.
Today the arena is surrounded by apartment blocks to one side and lots of trees on the other. Part of the seating area is still used by locals and some of the blocks in the seating area are used as tables to play chess on during the warmer months.
After seeing all these other arenas which are less touristy than the grand daddy in Roma, I definitely enjoyed exploring these more. I always thought there was only one arena in the world when I was a child and then on my travels I kept coming across more and more arenas which are in better condition than the Colosseum. I love exploring historical places and when it comes to the Roman Empire in Europe and Northern Africa, there is lots to see. I seen Roman aqueducts, theatre’s, forums but it’s the arenas which are worth checking out. If anyone gets to go to these places I mentioned, I highly recommend them and you won’t be let down. Finding the one in Paris is tricky but it did feel mighty weird to be standing in an arena which has lots of history but surrounded by modern day buildings.
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