Loading

Video transcript

VALENTINA FOLLO: Imagine how beautiful it must have been, this square with all these monumental arches, carved with travertine, and all the statues, and beautiful fountains spilling out water, reflecting the light on the travertine. BETH HARRIS: So we might think about this more like the way we think today about Lincoln Center. VALENTINA FOLLO: Exactly. BETH HARRIS: With fountains in the middle and gleaming stone. STEVEN ZUCKER: Should we start off by talking a little bit about the structure and how it was built? VALENTINA FOLLO: You have to imagine the Colosseum as a gigantic donut. You have the inside is the arena. Arena originally in Latin meant sand. On the floor where gladiators were fighting, they used sand to absorb blood and body fluids, like a gigantic cat litter, if you think about it. So between different fights, they could simply clean off very easily. The original name of this building was not Colosseum. Colosseum is a nickname given later, not because it was a colossal monument, but because it was located in the proximity of a colossal statue, originally of Nero, that was part of the decoration of his house. And so with time, the nickname was given by this proximity. Originally, it was actually Flavian Amphitheater. And this is something very typical, even if you think about American monuments. You have the Lincoln Center. You have the Rockefeller Center. They are connected with the name of the family that paid for the building. The Flavian family paid for the building of the Colosseum. Flavian Amphitheater is just a technical name for the shape. It simply means, in Greek, "a double theater." STEVEN ZUCKER: The original Greek theaters were actually semicircles with a flat end by the stage. And so this is really just fitting those two together. VALENTINA FOLLO: By using arches and concrete, Romans were able to build an amphitheater, even a double theater with seats, on a flat surface. The engineering behind it, it's absolutely astonishing, considering that it was only built in 10 years. The Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 people. And if you look at the actual top part of each of the ground-floor arches, you see a Roman number. They are very dark and dilapidated. BETH HARRIS: I see. VALENTINA FOLLO: You can see a 23, and then there's a 24, and there is a 25. They're progressive. And this number would have been written on the ticket and given to the people. It's like a modern stadium. You would have an assigned seat. BETH HARRIS: A gate number. VALENTINA FOLLO: Also, the seat, because it was extremely important for the Romans. And the seats were assigned according to their status. So you had the most important people close to the arena, and the least important-- being the women-- on the top floor. Here, actually see the style of the Colosseum. So you have three stories of arches, and then another story, a fourth floor, with windows. So it's closed with small windows inside it. And if you look at these arches, the arches are framed by columns. At the bottom part, you have what's called Tuscanic. It's similar to Doric, but it's more a local, Italic style. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's even a little simpler than Doric, it seems. VALENTINA FOLLO: Yeah, it's also the base. Doric columns do not have a base, while Tuscanic columns do have a base. STEVEN ZUCKER: And they're not fluted, as well. VALENTINA FOLLO: No. Then you go to the Ionic columns, on the second story. And the Ionic columns, actually, were considered the most feminine of the columns. Their proportions were more slender with these volutes on the top. STEVEN ZUCKER: And the women sat higher, as well. VALENTINA FOLLO: Exactly. On the top floor, you've got the Corinthian. They are based on the acanthus plant. And it's indigenous in Rome. You can find it in many gardens. It's very nice with these green leaves. And so it's an imitation of a piece of stone covered with leaves of grass. Inside of each of the arches on the second and third floor, there would be a statue. And on the top floor, there would have been probably bronze shields on top, alternating the windows. Again, we imagine the Colosseum as a donut. The outside circle was done with blocks of travertine. The inside of the donut was done with a core of concrete. STEVEN ZUCKER: The Romans had really perfected concrete, really were the first to use it as this real structural material. And that was critical for their ability to create structures of this size. Also something like the Pantheon. VALENTINA FOLLO: The development of concrete was crucial for two main reasons. The first one is if you work with cut stone-- marble, travertine, even tufa stone-- you need specialized workers, because you need to know how to cut the stone. If you get it the wrong way, the stone will crumble into your hands. With concrete, it made it possible for not specialized workers to produce something that's more sturdy. At the same time, it's less expensive. To quarry blocks of marble, it's not the cheapest. Concrete could be assembled everywhere. You just need a little mortar and few pieces of stone to make aggregate and water. So it's very easy, but at the same time, it's more elastic. With concrete, you get a sort of elasticity and then [? later, ?] you can mold space. Because it's something liquid, you can simply mold it the way you want it. BETH HARRIS: And so the idea would be to take a wooden framework that framed out the space that you wanted, and then to pour concrete into that wooden mold. VALENTINA FOLLO: Exactly. And then it would be covered with the decoration. It could be bricks, stucco, whatever you wanted. STEVEN ZUCKER: So it really allowed for far more monumental structures. And that would then be economically, and physically, feasible. VALENTINA FOLLO: And less expensive and quick. You know, 10 years to build the Colosseum is quite an accomplishment, because they used mostly concrete. BETH HARRIS: And also thinking about architecture in a new way, in terms of shaping an interior space. VALENTINA FOLLO: Particularly interior, because if you look at Greek architecture, you look at the temples, the inside of the temple is quite narrow. If you think the Pantheon, you just are in this amazing sphere. And that's why they really invented it. They are molding not the outside, but inside, to be able to produce a vault that could permit to have a space free of standing columns in the middle to support the roof. BETH HARRIS: Moving away from post and lintel architecture to an interior space. STEVEN ZUCKER: Which really, in a sense, almost doubled the architectural vocabulary and created an advancement over a system that had existed for thousands of years. VALENTINA FOLLO: Romans employed concrete on such a scale that permitted them to build wherever they wanted. They were not forced by the space. Greeks could not build a theater whereever they wanted. They needed a slope. So what if you were living in a city without slopes? No theater for you, right? Romans were able to create a theater, or an amphitheater, or a circus, or a bath complex wherever they wanted. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's true that the Greeks seemed to use natural features in a more passive way, whereas the Romans seemed to shape the landscape much more aggressively. You talked about the fact that there had been a lake here. Let's drain the lake. We're putting a building here. That is, nature becomes in the service of man, rather than vice versa. VALENTINA FOLLO: That's actually a very good point. The fact is that they wanted to be able to shape their space. BETH HARRIS: So the idea of urban planning. That you could build a city the way you wanted to, and not just be subject to the landscape that was there. STEVEN ZUCKER: But I think there's this really important way in which the Romans were thinking of themselves as powers in the landscape, having that sort of dominance. It seems to me that the Romans shaped, in a way, that speaks that notion of their own inherent strength. VALENTINA FOLLO: What was different about the Roman society-- they were not racist in the sense they were looking at the color of your skin. They didn't care less about that. It was a multicultural society. There were Romans from Africa, Romans from Turkey, Romans from Germany. What made it different was were you a citizen or not. If you were not a citizen, you were nobody. But if you were a citizen, then the color of your skin was not important. STEVEN ZUCKER: But there were fine distinctions, even within citizenship? VALENTINA FOLLO: Of course, there were social classes. An interesting aspect was that you could move along the social scale. While for Greeks, you could not even acquire citizenship. It was extremely rare to obtain citizenship. For the Romans, even a slave could become first a free man. And then his children will become full citizen for Rome. It's like America, if you think about America, like second-generation immigrants. It's the same idea. They realized that just being able to move and being able to give people a chance in life could make all the difference in the economy.