Thursday, May 1, 2008

The "Arena" of Verona

The Amphitheatre in Verona one of the biggest and undoubtedly the best conserved of the roman monuments. It is better known as the 'Arena', the Latin word for sand, which was used to cover the area where the games and entertainments were held. It is one of the greatest and most prestigious archaeological monuments in Europe and its size makes it the third largest amphitheatre in Europe, after the Coliseum in Rome and the Amphitheatre Campano in Campania beside Naples . Even though it is known that the Arena was built in the first century A.D. during the last years of the emperor Augustus, neither Historians nor Architects have yet agreed on the exact date of the construction. Originally the Arena was situated outside the initial roman city walls. It has stood the test of time, even though the strength of the construction has been severely tried by earthquakes.

To construct the Arena in such a strong and resistant way, the Romans chiselled in to the Pastello Mountain and laid down cement foundations to form a plateau. A complex sewer system was designed to guarantee reliable drainage; three large circular sewers opened out under the ground of the three concentric tunnels, which made up the supporting structure of the first tier. Two other sewers lay under the principal axes of the building, major and minor, and directed the flow of the whole system towards the river Adige (studies have been carried out on one of these drains as far as 100 metres outside the grounds of the amphitheatre). The drains are of large dimensions, around 2 metres in height and of various widths, built with pebbles bound by mortar, which had horizontal rows of 3 bricks alternating through them. The covers for the drains were obtained by using slabs of stone. This technique is very similar to that used in the drainage system of Verona, which was part of the first urbanistic system of the city and was put into practise straight after 49 A.D. This would also make us be inclined to believe that a specific date for the construction of the Amphitheatre cannot be after the first decades of the imperial age.

The Arena has two tiers of arches and stands in a profound depression of around 2 metres when compared to road level. Originally the surrounding external walls were developed with three tiers of marbled arches. However, on May 21st, 1117 an earthquake caused the external ring of the arena to collapse, leaving only one wing on the northwest of the building. This wing is composed of 5 columns and 4 interposed arches in each of the three tiers. It is more than 30 metres in height, not including the above crowning part of the wall. The remaining wing gives us an indication of the original façade, which consisted of 73 columns made of 'Veronese stone'. This particular stone came from the town land of Sant'Ambrogio in Valpolicella near Verona and was also used to erect the doors and the other monuments referable to the 1st century A.D. Each column had squared sections, with each side of each square measuring 2 metres. Altogether there were 72 vaults on each tier. The arches opened out onto a corridor of nearly four and a half metres in width, which was positioned around the level of the second ring. This corridor/walk-way had passages and staircases leading off from it and was covered over to allow the spectators to position themselves easily on the steps, and to take shelter from the rain and the sun.

The Arena forms an ellipsis with its major internal axes measuring 75,68 m. and its minor one measuring 44,43 m. The external axes, including also the outer wall, which, as was already mentioned, has more or less completely disappeared, reaches 152 and 123 metres. The 45 rows of marble steps in the auditorium, which have an average height of 45 cm, are made up of a block of stone which is 40 metres thick, and are sustained by arches and walls laid out in the form of 4 rings.

The outermost ring served as the façade of the building. This second ring, which is on view today, following the disappearance of the 1st façade, was reinforced with a very resistant conglomerate of cement, pebbles from the river and fragments of bricks or cotta tiles.The Stage erected in the Summer in the Arena is the biggest in the world. It measures 47 metres by 28. Small garrets are positioned around the circumference of the Amphitheatre and those positioned behind the stage are used as changing rooms for the artists, who reach the stage by descending a steep wooden staircase.The good state of preservation of the monument is clearly due to the way it has always been utilized. In the past the amphitheatre was an important venue for culture and entertainment, as well as a harmonious meeting point for society. From the very beginning of its existence, the Arena hosted gladiatorial fights, circuses, jousts, tournaments and equestrian shows. From the 18th century onwards, theatrical performances became a constant feature.
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I have the good fortune to usually end my rides by coming into Piazza Bra where the Arena is located. It's amazing.

1 comment:

  1. Do you still here the screaming crowd demanding blood echoing through the centuries? History and cycling go so well together.