The Afterlife of Roman Amphitheaters in Italy And Their Role in Shaping the City

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Toth, Anna
Hollengreen, Laura
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The amphitheater stands out as the most recognizable among all the Roman building types for public spectacles. Serving as a venue for gladiatorial contests, the amphitheater became a symbol of Roman entertainment and grandeur. Its colossal scale and innovative design distinguish it from other structures of its time, making it a cornerstone in understanding ancient Rome’s architectural expertise and cultural impact. These buildings of secular entertainment were significantly affected by the decline of the Roman Empire, leading to fundamental changes in social, religious, and cultural life in Italy and beyond. The fading tradition of public entertainment contributed to the deterioration of the buildings, often subjected to spoliation. In some contemporary cities, such as Rome or Verona, within the Roman Empire’s territory, we can easily identify these ancient structures, which still possess the monumental impact they once embodied. However, in cities like Florence, centuries of transformations have seemingly erased these constructions from the urban landscape. Nevertheless, a careful analysis of urban morphology can trace the lingering effects of the amphitheaters that used to adorn the most important Roman cities. In some cases, the gradual fragmentation of ruins, as seen in Lucca, was interrupted by the re-employment of the structure, providing it with a new function. The reactivation process visibly affected not only the building itself but also its surrounding area. This dissertation explores the relationship between the reutilization of Roman amphitheaters and the transformation of their urban context, emphasizing the evolution of architectural structure and the re-imagination of public space. Rather than treating amphitheaters as discrete objects, the analysis places them and the large voids they contained within the changing post-antique cityscape. It seeks to interpret their role in the dynamics of urban transformation. The presented case studies reveal how the evolution of this building type in various cities had different implications for the continued public vitality of the sites. The study goes beyond mere description, analyzing these urban artifacts to determine if they act as propelling or pathological elements in their urban context. The conclusions center on the architectural attributes, historical circumstances, and topological factors contributing to the amphitheater’s ongoing urban presence and public identity.
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