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Ancient Rome Photograph by Marianna Safronova

Photograph by Marianna Safronova

While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand

When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall;

And when Rome falls – the World.

quote by Lord Byron

Even today, in a world of skyscrapers, the Colosseum is hugely impressive. It stands as a glorious but troubling monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty. Inside it, behind those serried ranks of arches and columns, Romans for centuries cold-bloodedly killed literally thousands of people whom they saw as criminals, as well as professional fighters and animals.

Indeed, it was the amphitheatre’s reputation as a sacred spot where Christian martyrs had met their fate that saved the Colosseum from further depredations by Roman popes and aristocrats – anxious to use its once glistening stone for their palaces and churches. The cathedrals of St Peter and St John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and the Tiber’s river defences, for example, all exploited the Colosseum as a convenient quarry.

Read more: BBC – History – The Colosseum: Emblem of Rome