Saturday, December 11, 2010

One image: Colosseum hypogeum

This is the other view of the Colosseum that evoked a strong response in me: looking down in to the hypogeum, the area below the ground level of the arena.

I can only imagine how these spaces would have assaulted the senses of those unlucky enough to be there. It would have been dark and smoky, stinking of the fear and desperation of humans and animals, full of the noise of those below and the crowds above.

There were two levels down here, full of corridors and cages. Eighty shafts opened up into the arena, and elevators operated by pulleys moved people, animals and scenery up through the arena floor.

A number of tunnels connected the hypogeum to areas outside the Colosseum - private entries for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, tunnels linking to gladiators' barracks, and tunnels to animal stables. You might have been down there in the dark for some time before it was your turn in the arena, and to emerge disoriented into the sunlight and noise, in a place you'd probably never seen before, and knowing that you were unlikely to survive, must have been a horrifying experience.

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