- Archaeologists in the Spanish city of Cordoba have uncovered
Europe's biggest Roman amphitheatre after the Coliseum.
- Experts reckon the find is of "transcendental importance".
The site dates from the 1st century AD, when the city was the provincial
capital of Betica, modern Andalusia, in imperial Hispania.
- "We initially thought it was a circus, the circular
arena the Romans used for horse races and chariot rides," says Desiderio
Vaquerizo, professor of architecture at Cordoba University. "But we
discovered it was an immense oval amphi-theatre - 178m by 145m and up to
20m high - that would have been used for gladiatorial contests and other
- The find reveals Cordoba as an imperial city built in
- "The amphitheatre shows that Cordoba symbolised
Rome's authority in the west: it was the setting for imperial ceremonies,
the place where the emperor showed himself to the common people and displayed
all his power and authority in front of 50,000 spectators," Vaquerizo
- Less than a tenth of the arena is visible, but archaeologists
plan to uncover a sixth of it - 2,000m2 - in coming years.
- The rest of the vast stadium - bigger, and more sophisticated
and elegant, even than that at Italica outside Seville - is likely to remain
buried under buildings piled on over the centuries.
- In bloodsoaked contests popular between the 1st and 4th
centuries, gladiators were set against each other, or against lions or
other wild beasts, or - with the huge space flooded with water - against
each other in gigantic naval battles.
- Archaeologists have found a plaque marking the seats
reserved for a prominent Cordoban family honoured by imperial Rome.
- They also found 20 carved gravestones of fallen gladiators,
the biggest such collection outside Rome, prompting experts to conclude
that Cordoba was an important training school for gladiators.
- "Combatants were between 20 and 25, and their comrades,
their concubines or their families carved epigraphs on stone tablets laid
on the graves where the fallen were buried inside the amphitheatre,"
- The inscriptions record the category of the gladiator,
his victories, the laurels and prizes awarded, and the age he died.
- Cordoba's amphitheatre was abandoned in the 4th century
when Emperor Constantine, influenced by Christianity, banned the murderous
sports as immoral.
- Then, in 711, Muslims originally from Damascus occupied
Cordoba and, for the next 200 years, built an entire neighbourhood upon
the curved terraces, plundering the stonework for buildings of their own.
- "The discovery is of transcendental importance for
the city. It recovers the importance of Roman games, a key aspect of popular
daily life," Vaquerizo said. "It shows the continuity of mass
spectator sports from the Roman empire to today's fiestas and bullfights.
- "The bullring originated in an amphitheatre; it
is the historical thread linking today's popular fiestas to ancient times."
- The university and the city authorities plan to turn
the site into an archaeological park.
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