The Verona Arena is a Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra in Verona, Italy built in 30 AD. It is still in use today and is internationally famous for the large-scale opera performances given there. It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind. In ancient times, the arena’s capacity was nearly 30,000 people. . . . The building itself was built in AD 30 on a site which was then beyond the city walls. The ludi (shows and games) staged there were so famous that spectators came from many other places, often far away, to witness them. The amphitheatre could host more than 30,000 spectators in ancient times. The round facade of the building was originally composed of white and pink limestone from Valpolicella, but after a major earthquake in 1117, which almost completely destroyed the structure’s outer ring, except for the so-called “ala” (wing), the stone was quarried for re-use in other buildings. Nevertheless, it impressed medieval visitors to the city, one of whom considered it to have been a labyrinth, without ingress or egress. Ciriaco d’Ancona was filled with admiration for the way it had been built and Giovanni Antonio Panteo’s civic panegyric De laudibus veronae, 1483, remarked that it struck the viewer as a construction that was more than human.
Amfitheater van Verona, Fratelli Alinari, c. 1880 – c. 1895 (from Rijksmuseum).
The Roman amphitheatre, the Arena, is the most renowned Veronese monument. Today the Arena is set in the historical centre and acts as a backdrop for Piazza. But once upon a time, when the Romans built it, the monument was located at the margins of the urban area, outside the circle of the walls. The Arena summarises in itself almost twenty centuries of local history. Through time, it has become the very symbol of the city. Its cult has far away roots, that go back to Carolingian humanism. The fame that the amphitheatre has enjoyed in the civic consciousness of the Veronese has gradually led the monument to increasingly assume the character of the very symbol of ancient nobility. From here the measures for its conservation and many deep restorations originate. The Arena has always served the special purpose of spectacular events. During Roman times, for example, it was used for spectacles of gladiator fighting. In Medieval times and until the mid eighteenths century, games and tournaments were common events at the Arena.
Amphitheatre at Verona, 1898 (from Wikimedia Commons)
The Verona Arena dates back to the I century, built during Augustus’ Empire. Its central area is composed by sand (hence the name Arena, which in Latin means sand). All around there are 45 big stone steps “bleachers”, which can contain 30.000 viewers. After the Roman period, the Arena hoted games, tournaments and celebrations, but also trials and public executions. In 1183 an earthquake destroyed the external order of arches that surrounded the Arena. Today only a small part of it still stands. The interior perimeter of 72 arches is in perfect conditions. During the Middle Ages legal disputes were resolved here: each defendant could choose a trial by combat (yes, like in Game of Thrones) using professional wrestlers. Even Dante witnessed one of these trials and mentioned it in his Inferno. In the nineteenth century the Verona Arena hosted mostly equestrianisms, races, gymnastics, comedies and tombola games. In 1805 Napoleon assisted a bullfighting and in 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph participated to a tombola game.
My Corner of Italy