A Walk through the Ancient Roman Amphitheater in Lucca

The city of Lucca is a commune in Tuscany that is perched on the river Serchio. While famed for its resilient Renaissance-era walls, it is one of the important Roman colonies in 180 BC. Though it has been plundered and conquered several times, many of its original glory remains. One look at the ruins of its famed amphitheater in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is bound to confirm this.

Piero Masia Flickr Commons

Piero Masia Flickr Commons

The amphitheater was constructed under Emperor Claudius in the 1st century AD, but it was not until the Flavian period that construction was concluded. According to an honorary inscription uncovered in the 1800s, Quintus Vibius, a rich citizen with a knight’s rank, generously donated 10,000 sestertii over ten years to complete the project. Once inaugurated, the structure allowed up to 10,000 spectators to watch gladiators and beasts fight till the death. Experts believe that it had two rows of arches adorned with marble and columns.

However, it did not take long for the Romans to change its purpose later on. The Romans feared that the amphitheater’s size and position outside the city would threaten the well-being of the town if it fell in the enemy’s hands. Therefore, during the Byzantine invasions, Lucca’s Roman amphitheater was transformed into a fortress. All of its embellishments disappeared and its outer arches were shut.

During the medieval times, the structure’s foundations were used for making houses and the arena itself became home to multiple vegetable lots used for domestic use. Later on, the amphitheater was used as a prison and then a salt warehouse. By the beginning of the 18th century, it was Lucca’s public slaughterhouse. Luckily, Carlo Ludovico decided to spare the one-glorified structure and commissioned famous architect Lorenzo Nottolini to restore the square to the ancient Roman attraction.

The buildings created in the arena were demolished and an oval space with the same perimeter and volumes of the ancient building was constructed. Dedicated to the town market, the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro retained the original amphitheater’s structures two meters below the road surface whereas arches and vaults emerged at the shops facing the plaza. However, the area is bustling with life thanks to numerous shops and cafes, making it the center of cultural activities and music festivals. International performers such as Van Morrison and The Eagles have had their concerts in the area.

Due to the numerous restoration efforts across the amphitheater, visitors may be disappointed at the lack of ruins. However, if you close your eyes long enough, you can hear some of the echoes of the past, including the lions and gladiators fighting.

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Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture.  More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.

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