We end our 3 1\2 month stay in Europe with Rome - the quintessential city. It's big, it's loud, it's old and it's new - it's Rome! We figured we would spend our 4 days here in sequential order (from old to new) . Day one was therefore spent in Ancient Rome.
If you had only one day in Rome and you had only one sight to see in that day it would probably be the Colosseum. How often do you get to see an incredibly engineered structure that is almost 2000 years old? In addition, the Colosseum and it's history tell us so much about the culture of the Roman Empire. The Flavian Amphitheater (it's real name) was built as a political move. The new Emperor, Vespasian, wanted to be well liked by the masses. He therefore had Nero's private palace (the previous emperor who was not well liked) destroyed and replaced it with a public place of entertainment! Built when the Roman Empire was at it's peak in A.D. 80, the Colosseum was an arena for gladiator contests and other public spectacles. It could accommodate 50,000 people, all admitted free, but seated in the arena according to socio-economic status (the "cheap seats" at the top for the poor).
Exotic animals would be imported and exhibited in elaborate set-ups (ala Steven Spielberg). Then there would be gladiator duels with each other or with the wild animals. Death was usually the end result to many gladiators, but no matter, their social standing was so low in Roman terms that it was mearly eliminating trash from their society. While American movies may glamorize the life of a gladiator, they were simply slaves, bidded to entertain people at the risk of death.
While the entertainment was free to the masses, someone had to pay for the exotic animals, the elaborate set-ups, the gladiators and the lunch for 50,000 people. Needless to say, this activity got to be rather costly and eventually, neither the emperors nor the aristocracy could continue to afford these elaborate games. Between the expense, the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christians who protested these barbaric activities, the games eventually ended. The Colosseum was later used as a salvage yard for the building of churches all over Italy. Eventually that practice was also stopped and what remains is now the historical sight that you get to see today.