On This Day – The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

Without doubt the most important and most impressive building in Pula is the first century Roman Amphitheatre.  It is the sixth largest in the world and one of the best-preserved examples of its kind.

The Coliseum in Rome was built at about the same time and is the biggest Roman Amphitheatre and could seat a massive fifty-thousand spectators (Some estimates suggest eighty thousand but generally about fifty thousand is the agreed capacity of the stadium), the second largest was Capua, also in Italy but now sadly in ruin, which had only a slightly smaller capacity, and the third was in El Djem in Tunisia with a capacity of thirty-five thousand.

The Amphitheatre in Pula was designed for about twenty-five thousand and there were similar sized stadiums in Verona in Italy and at Nimes and Arles in Southern France so this was more of a Championship rather than a Premiership Ground.

I say this but it seems that no one can be absolutely sure about which was the largest in terms of capacity and it is generally agreed that this was the Coliseum but we can be more certain about physical size and there was a plaque nearby that claimed that this was the third largest in the Roman Empire. Interestingly that using this particular criteria the plaque only listed the Coliseum as second largest but it’s like I have always said – size isn’t the most important thing!

We walked around the external walls and I was immediately struck by the grandeur and magnificence of the building.

I have been to Rome and seen the Coliseum and in my opinion nothing can compare with that but this magnificent building made that assessment a close run thing. It towered mightily above us stretching up into the clear blue sky and looking proud and strong. The area around it is open and accessible and that makes viewing it in many ways easier than looking at the Coliseum surrounded as that is by a busy main road and a constant throng of tourists jostling for photographic opportunities.

There are over two hundred surviving Roman amphitheatres across what was the Roman Empire and this is one of the best to see. There is still a lot missing however as parts of it had been dismantled over the years to provide ready prepared paving for roads and a convenient supply of building materials for later construction projects such as the Venetian fortress built nearby.

Thankfully most of the vandalism was restricted to the internal seating and terracing and the external walls with their towering arches are still left in place to see today. Underneath the arena there is a small museum housed in the underground corridors where exotic animals and gladiators waited their turn to be raised to the stadium for their part in the bloody show and one can only try to imagine what a brutal and thoroughly unpleasant place this might once have been.

The amphitheatre was built on sloping ground so that the part facing the sea has three levels and the other side facing the land has two. The great plinths which form the base are visible, along with two orders of arches divided by pilasters and an attic of rectangular windows.

The amphitheatre was part of the primary gladiator circuit and remained in use until the fifth century and in that time it is impossible to imagine how many men and animals died in this place.

When it was in use large beams supported awnings which protected the spectators from the sun or the rain. Four towers around the perimeter had cisterns containing perfumed water that could be sprinkled on the crowd because the smell of animals, butchered bodies and fear must have been rather distressing even for a blood-thirsty mob. Under the fifteen entrances was a ditch served by elevators for beasts, people and stage sets to be moved easily about.

It was late afternoon now so having completed our tour of the amphitheatre and the underground museum it was time to leave and drive to our hotel which was in the nearby fishing village of Fažana.

36 responses to “On This Day – The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

  1. Fascinating facts. I have yet to get to Pula and know I should. I was very impressed with Arles & Orange when I saw those but cannot remember too much about Nimes..

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  2. Istria is the one major area of Croatia which we didn’t get to on our trip last year, though it would first choice if and when we return. Funnily enough, having mentioned it yesterday, Tarragona is also wonderful location for Roman ruins including a cliff top amphitheatre, not on the Pula scale but impressive enough. It is also one of very few cities which was for a while the Papal base when one of the Popes (I forget which) was exiled from Rome.

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  3. The gory details are always a bit offputting. I’d need the scented water and to cover my eyes 🙂 🙂 In fact, I’d probably just stay outside!

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  4. ” exotic animals”…apparently they even managed to get polar bears on occasion, and even made the Barbary Lion a very rare beast.

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  5. An excellent tour round amazing history

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  6. It looks pretty impressive…. Arles and Nîmes I have seen, but I’ve never been to Rome!!

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  7. Pula looks well worth a visit, especially because there seems to be the space around it to appreciate its presence without a press of tourists at every turn.

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  8. I do love a good amphitheatre, and that’s a seriously good one!

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  9. You have certainly travelled to some very interesting places Andrew.

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  10. I’ve never been to Pula but a friend recently sent me a lovely short MP3 of a cello player in the amphitheatre there. I would attach it if I knew how but my technological skills end at sending attachments via email, I’m afraid.

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  11. So much violence amidst so much grandeur is hard to compute, Andrew. And yet, I can’t help but think of a modern American football stadium with its equivalent gladiators. We are still addicted to blood and circuses, even if the blood is somewhat limited and the injuries rarely so permanent. –Curt

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  12. In the neck of the woods where I was born . . . but I’ll probably never see it.

    Interesting stuff.

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