There, lifted high above us, to the right is the break in the top of the wall with the two steps leading down to it which we saw when looking from near the Arch of Titus. Thus we can see, then, that we are looking to the amphitheater’s northern side. The buildings seen through the arcades on the right are on the Esquiline Hill.
The arena itself rested upon those broken upright walls which you behold at our very feet. Besides acting as a support for the arena, these walls were used to divide the space beneath into subterranean stalls or dens for beasts, and the remains of the vaulted doorways may be seen in them. The circular modern railing is built upon the remains of the wall surrounding the arena, a wall high enough to protect the spectators from infuriated wild beasts. The foremost seats just above that wall or railing of the arena were called the ” podium ” and were reserved as places of honor for the Emperor, the Vestal Virgins and the senators, also foreign ambassadors. Above those are three divisions of seats, the first of which, being nearest the ” podium,” belong to knights, and have fourteen rows. Above this was the row for the citizens, and the topmost row was reserved for the common people. Entrances and staircases were so constructed that each person could gain his seat without trouble or confusion. On the roof of the colonnade, near the summit of the wall, were stationed sailors belonging to the imperial fleet whose duty it was to stretch a sail cloth over the vast enclosure for the purpose of excluding the rays of the sun.
The number of people who could range themselves about these walls has been variously estimated at from fifty to one hundred thousand, but probably the smaller figure is nearer correct.
The first Christian to suffer martyrdom here for his faith was St. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostle John. It was in this arena that he cried, as the lions were let loose, ” I am the grain of the field and must needs be ground by the teeth of lions to become as bread fit for the Master’s table.” His martyrdom was followed soon afterward by that of one hundred and fifty Christians, who were pierced through with arrows. The list of those who perished here for their faith is an appalling one.
Once, when I was in the Colosseum, the excavations of the débris between the walls beneath the arena (for centuries this was the dumping-ground as well the quarry of Rome) were not quite completed. As it was the noon hour, and the laborers had gone to their midday meal, I tumbled down one of the embankments and, digging under the dirt, dislodged a Roman tile that had certainly not seen the light of day for more than a thousand years. It was foot-worn and hoof-dented and stained almost black with blood, but I treasure it among my souvenirs of Rome, and I do not find it difficult, when I hold it in my hand and gaze upon this scene, to repeople again these vacant spaces and imagine the arena filled once more with ferocious beasts and still more ferocious men, and hear that strange hush out from which steals a low murmur, and then the hoarse shouts of the vast multitude occupying seats tier above tier upon these arches, while, now and then, above all this mighty roar and confusion rise the piercing cries of the struggling and the dying.
Surely Benvenuto Cellini could not have selected a more suitable place of rendezvous when he invited his companions in necromancy to assemble at midnight among these ruins. In such a place, with its weird, quivering shadows and everywhere a shivering gloom, it would not be a difficult task to call up spirits, if one had any imagination at all.
We are not surprised that, in the turbulent days of medieval Rome, this Colosseum was transformed into a giant fortress and, later on, Italian banditti found a safe hiding-place within these walls ; to-day, the Romans have a strange superstition about this king of ruins. They say that, in sunlight, all is silence and calm, and on starlit nights these continue ; but, when the night is dark, and wildest storms beat down upon the ruin, and gales of wind howl through its crumbling arches and empty galleries, then the mighty monument, like a reanimated monster, becomes itself again ; the old scenes are re-enacted, and those who once sat upon these benches and long since left the world, occupy them again, and above the screeching of the gale, their voices ring out in mad, delirious cries.
We are told that the Colosseum is crumbling away an inch a year, and in this it seems to have a kinship to the whole creation, and even to the very Alps them-selves. Perhaps the prophecy of the Anglo-Saxon pilgrim may yet prove true :
“While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand ; When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall, And, when Rome falls, the world.”
Nevertheless, as we look upon it, we can but be conscious of its dark and troubled past, which would cause us to exclaim with Dickens, as our eyes wander over the structure, ” God be thanked ; a ruin!”
A few feet below that highest row of windows, and to our left, you will see a short section of modern railing similar to that which we see below us surrounding the arena. We shall climb now to that point and look to the Palatine Hill behind us and to our left. Our field of vision from that point is given on the map by the lines, with the number 32 attached, which branch from the northern side of the Colosseum toward the southwest.