Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Into the Arena-the Amphitheater at Arles

Into the Arena-the Amphitheater at Arles

A visit to the impressive remains of Roman amphitheaters in southern France poses many challenges.  It is difficult to be brief, as both the subject and the structures are huge.  And it is also difficult to do them justice photographically, again due to the scale.  Better cameras, aerial views etc can help.  If you want to see good photos of Roman amphitheaters go here.  If you just want to see lots of photos, read on.

The amphitheater at Arles dates to AD 78-80.  When intact it had two complete tiers of seating and could hold 21,000 people.

 The second level of seating has mostly been lost, replaced here by modern bleachers as the site is still in use as a bull fighting venue.

In Roman times there were definite social strata.  The slaves and women sat in the now vanished cheap seats.  Middle status seating looked like this:

The better seats look a bit more comfortable.  Relatively speaking of course, it is still stone. But I suspect there were some seat cushions involved. note the carved pattern lower center.  some kind of row marker. As in the Theater, the best seats were down front.  The local worthies were on display there, sitting in front of inscriptions reminding everyone of their generosity.  Here is a surviving fragment that proclaims that a certain C. Junius Priscus paid for the podium, a gold statue to Neptune, four bronze statues and two days of games with a banquet!

In Roman times the wealthy were expected to maintain their social status by lavishing public buildings and related benefits to their communities.  In modern times the magnates of the sports world instead rather Visigothically shake down their cities for money to build stadiums!

In the overview you can see various exits, or vomitoria.  These were arranged so that patrons in the better seats never mixed with the lower orders.  Each had their own exits.  Here is a view showing the stone slabs that allowed exit from the upper levels:

Most of these gang ways have collapsed over time, it is felt to be a design flaw and a number probably went down in antiquity under the weight of spectators.  In that particular instance it would have been better not to be a member of high society!

Here is another view of the interior galleries, for once I caught the light just right.

Once you pay admission you are free to just wander about.  There are lots of enigmatic little features:
Some kind of wooden structure must have been anchored here.

Someone named AC carved their name into the stone on December 19, 1943.  This was during the Nazi occupation.  Is AC still telling tales of it in some French nursing home?

Most of the amphitheater survived because it was incorporated into the city defenses in the post Roman era.  It in fact became an impressive fortress.  Here is one of the towers added in medieval times:

And lastly a view of the site in the 1600s.  Note the arches bricked over for defense, and the self contained community, complete with church, that developed as the defensive role for the place waned.