A Roman Amphitheater All to Yourself

May 8, 2008 / Art & Archaeology
S.Maria Capua Vetere
Two thousand three hundred years ago, the Via Appia (or Appian Way) was built to connect Rome with the ancient city of Capua – now S. Maria Capua Vetere (‘vetere’= vecchio = old). The road departed in Rome from Porta Capena, one of the rare cases where the gate bears the name of the place to which it is headed – an indication of Capua’s wealth and strategic importance to the Republic.

Due to this wealth, Capua was also home to one of the most important gladiator schools, made famous by Spartacus who exercised and fought here, and from which he organized the slave rebellion of 73 BC. The current arena, second biggest after the Roman Colosseum, was built in the 2nd century AD by the Emperor Hadrian.

Stairways and ramps run throughout what remains of the original four tiers, similar to the Colosseum, while below the arena floor lie vast subterranean passages with vaulted ceilings and a network of tunnels 170 meters long and 140 meters wide. Here the scenery and props, gladiators, and animals waited to be lifted by elevators into the arena . . (literally “sand” in Latin, as in the sand which covered the floor of the fighting area).

The amphitheater is both spectacular and evocative, not only for its beauty and magnificence, but because there are so few visitors. One can’t help but feel like an 18th century traveler, rediscovering long forgotten ruins under a warm, clear blue sky. Nowadays you can wander here for hours without seeing more than 4 or 5 people, a far cry from the 50,000 spectators that would fill the amphitheater regularly 2000 years ago.

Barbara Goldfield

by Barbara Goldfield

Owner of “Savour The Sannio”, www.savourthesannio.com, a travel consultancy for central and southern Italy.

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