The Arles Roman Amphitheatre

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The Arles Roman Amphitheatre is the world’s largest, best preserved and which has reached our days. Nor was the largest in the Roman Empire. And yet it is one of the amphitheaters that impressed me most.

The Arles Roman

Photography by Andy Hay

The Arles Roman Amphitheatre was built in 90 AD on the north side of the old Roman colony of Arelate thriving in full Provence, and was part of a general plan of expansion and embellishment of the villa. At the time, rivaled in importance Arelate Massilia (Marseille) as a major Roman colony in southern France, and for a time was even more prosperous and important than this, since Arles sided with Julius Caesar, the conqueror of War Civilian Roman Republic while Marseille did with his rival Pompey, and hence suffered the consequences.

The amphitheater at Arles is the twentieth largest Roman amphitheater in the world, and one of the best preserved. This spectacular relic of the old Gallo-Roman still continues to fulfill its original purpose of hosting popular events, gladiators either fight in the beginning or bullfights today.

A vestige of the Roman villa:

The construction of the amphitheater radically changed the topography of Arles. Part of its original wall was demolished, the walls dating from the Augustan period, shortly after the founding of the colony in 46 BC, as testified by the remains of a defensive tower is now in the basement of the amphitheater.

The first amphitheatres:

But before you go, maybe it’s time to explain what is a amphitheater. The amphitheater itself was one of the latest inventions in terms of Roman public buildings. The gladiator fights were organized in Rome to mark important funerals and in the third century BC and the first games took place directly in the Roman Forum, which was adapted for the occasion and then returning to its normal state. It was not until 29 AD, the first amphitheater was built in stone, and Pompey popular custom. The rise of gladiatorial combat and its rapidly growing popularity led to the construction of many arenas in the western part of the Roman Empire.

The Arles Roman Amphitheatre

Photography by http2007

Despite the diversity in the construction of these arenas, due mainly to financial constraints and topography of each case, the Roman Amphitheatre shared many common characteristics. Firstly there is the arena where some of the shows. Oval in shape and covered with earth, was surrounded by a high wall (balteus) that separated the bleachers (CAVE). The wealthier classes were at the lower tiers, and it continued the hierarchy to the highest seats of the amphitheater, where they sat by the poorer classes.

The steps were of stone, and the builders of the amphitheater taking advantage where possible of the original terrain slopes to support such a heavy structure. When this was not possible, weight was supported by an intricate series of pillars that were lengthened in height as they moved away from the center of the amphitheater. After having sand and lists the steps, they proceeded to close the set with the fortified front, which also had a role in helping to distribute to viewers around the stands and the maximum speed trafficking. Finally, the roof of the amphitheater covered with a cloth that protected spectators from the sun, and only left the area clear of sand. This was built to accommodate 21,000 spectators.

The amphitheater at Arles is a large monument, with an area of about 11,500 m2. With a main shaft that measures 136 meters long, and a smaller one of 107 feet, is slightly longer than the amphitheater at Nimes, which was used as a model for its construction. Still, it’s half as big as the Colosseum in Rome, the largest Roman amphitheater in the world.

21 meters in height, the facade consists of two levels of sixty arcades of rounded arches each, separated by massive stone pillars of rectangular section. The original entrance was located on the north side, as it appears today, but it was on the east side of the amphitheater, where there are few remnants of what was a staircase leading to the city. The cavea, consisting of 34 terraces, was divided into four sections (maenaiana) according to social rank. The seats have a uniform width of 0.4 meters, which has made it possible to estimate a total capacity of about 21,000 spectators (the Colosseum in Rome could hold 50,000 spectators).

Arles Roman Amphitheatre

Photography by Aschaf

Currently, the building just in the upper arches of the facade (second floor), but in antiquity the building had more height, and the terraces were extending the podium, topped by the structure supporting the mat that was installed in top of the amphitheater and covered the entire area of the building, except the sand itself.

The maze of galleries:

An amphitheater is basically a complex of roads. Wild animals, gladiators and spectators all had to run safely while ‘en route to their posts’, and the show should be developed smoothly and with maximum comfort for (almost) everyone. An amphitheater is a hollow building is empty. What is essential is that you can not see: the circulation networks. The frames of 21 meters housed ten levels, each with a very specific role, which made spectators, gladiators and wild animals are moved around inside but at no time.

In Roman times, the council gave the public a small disk with the number of his seat and the door they had to go to enter the arena. Today this practice is still used as witty in any sporting event celebrating mass.

Arles amphitheater today is an incomplete building .. Many of the steps that gave the public are gone, its stones were used over time to other structures inside the gallery is first class and only survives on the east side and the top of the stairs (attic) has disappeared in its entirety. Furthermore, the structure has suffered severe alterations over the centuries, as it were installed medieval defense towers when it was transformed into a fortress, or even got to host more than two hundred homes and two churches inside for several centuries until in the nineteenth cleared the arena and proceeded to restore it magna refurbished to accommodate bullfights.

Strategic location of the amphitheater:

Still, considerable work remains to be done to stop the amphitheater at Arles in a more or less similar to its original construction. The restoration of the amphitheater at Arles appear a priori as a problem, but if you look at the restoration projects of the amphitheatres of Nimes and the Roman Colosseum, it should not be impossible.

In any case, the amphitheater of Arles, as it stands today, can be said to be in very good condition. Maybe something better preserved, for example, that the Roman Colosseum, which also suffered from the plunder of centuries and also had to endure two earthquakes that destroyed much of the original facade, which is how we have reached today.

In a future article will discuss how the visit of Arles amphitheater and why it’s a great idea let us fall for this beautiful city if you’re doing a tour of Provence.

Good luck!

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