Hometo doThe Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre

Roundabout, Des Arènes,
04 90 49 59 05
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Date: late 1st century AD
Era: Antiquity
Type: Public leisure architecture
Status: Property of the town of Arles, listed as a Historic Monument in 1840 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.
Aerial view of the amphitheatre
The amphitheatre was the most important monument in the former Roman colony and can still be admired today, some two thousand years after its construction.
Its architecture was designed entirely in relation to its vocation as the venue of large events with vast numbers of spectators.
When they were originally constructed, the rows could seat some 21,000 spectators, who were efficiently organised by a network of gates, galleries and staircases on several floors.
In the early Middle Ages, the building became a veritable closed, fortified town and was not cleared until the 19th century.
It then partially regained its original function, and has been used primarily for bull-fighting, which has earned it its current name of 'Arènes'.
It is now the most visited monument in the town, carrying the image of Arles throughout the world.
With a major axis of 136 metres and a small axis of 107 m, Arles Amphitheatre is slightly larger than the one in Nîmes and the 20th largest in the Roman world. It is in the shape of an ellipsis.
The façade has two levels of sixty semi-circular arches, separated by vast rectangular side-walls. A larger opening distinguishes the ends of the monument's two axes. The main entrance was not originally to the north, as it is today, but to the west where it is possible to see the remains of a staircase overlooking the town.
The cavea, a space reserved for spectators, comprised 34 rows of seats divided into four series called the maeniana, where the spectators were divided according to their social rank. The initial capacity of the monument is estimated at 21,000 people. An ingenious system of circular galleries, horizontal walkways and alternate staircases allowed visitors to reach the different rows
The exterior gallery on the ground floor is particularly remarkable, as it is covered with large monolithic blocks. It provided access to an interior semi-circular vaulted gallery, which opened onto the first maeniarium and the lower part of the second. From the exterior gallery, staircases also allowed access to the first mezzanine level, from where both the second maenanium and the outside first floor gallery could be accessed. This system of vertical and horizontal movement made it possible to reach the highest level of the construction. On top of the façade was an attic level, which has since disappeared; that was where the masts were kept which were used to suspend a velum to protect spectators from the sun.
The central section, reserved for the games and combats (the amphitheatre itself), was separated from the rows of seating by a carefully constructed wall, the podium wall, which was covered with stone slabs. The floor of the central section was approximately 2 metres higher than the current level. It was actually formed of a wooden floor, whose laths rested on a layer of stone at the top of the lower part of the podium. The machinery required for the spectacles was housed between the walls and the bases which ensured the stability of the amphitheatre.

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