The Roman amphitheatre of Catania, the heritage of the archaeological area of Catania is located in the current Piazza Stesicoro and is only partially visible today. Its admission is free. It is the largest amphitheatre in the world after the Colosseum. The construction of the Amphitheater dates back to the 2nd century AD. and the construction area was the northern area of the Montevergine hill, the same one on which the Benedictine monastery stands.
The construction of the Amphitheater dates back to the 2nd century AD. and the construction area was the northern area of the Montevergine hill, the same one on which the Benedictine monastery stands. The building was mainly used for fights between gladiators but also between gladiators and animals, especially wild beasts. It is estimated that it could accommodate up to 15,000 seated spectators as well as double this number in standing places.
Elliptical in shape, the building had a circumference of the arena of approximately 192 meters. The large arches and vaults supported the bleachers. It is thought that naumachie, or real naval battles, also took place inside it, conveying the waters of the Roman aqueduct. However, this data is not yet totally certain. Almost certainly, however, a cover with large sheets was provided for shelter from the wind or in case of rain, the so-called velarium. The cavea for spectators then had 14 steps.
The building materials
The main construction material is lava stone, as well as minimally white marble, granite and cooked brick, used above all for the arches. Thanks to the large percentage of volcanic rock used, its nickname is “the Black Colosseum”. The Amphitheater is now part of the Greco-Roman Archaeological Park of Catania. It is located almost entirely below the modern urban fabric (between via Neve, via Manzoni and via Penninello), while the rest was absorbed over the years by the numerous lava flows of Etna. One of these dates back to 252-253 AD. approx. and it is said that at that time it was precisely the veil of Sant’Agata that stopped the magma, which came to touch the building. The inhabitants of Catania call this area, precisely because of its aura of antiquity, old Catania.
The parts visible today
Of the large public building, part of the cavea (the area once intended for spectators) remains visible today, walking through Piazza Stesicoro. Furthermore, some of the ladders, the corridors and even a part of the orchestra are still visible. Furthermore, at the entrance, there is a decorated iron door, built in the modern age, to which sides there are two marble columns. The columns support two Ionic capitals and part of an architrave with an epigraph that reads: “AMPHITEATRVM INSIGNE”.
The excavations of the prince of Biscari
In the 19th century, the Prince of Biscari, Ignazio Paternò Castello, by making a large sum of money available, had excavations carried out in the Amphitheater area.
Legends: During the excavation period it is said that a school group visiting the ancient building, entering from the entrance on Via del Colosseo, got lost in the tunnels of the amphitheatre and was never able to return.
Due to problems related to the infiltration of wastewater from the sewers of the adjacent houses, the monument was subjected to continuous closures and reopenings during the 1990s. In 2014, due to the report of an imminent collapse of the structure, the researchers of the ITlab CNR carried out a study aimed at safeguarding this heritage, so that it would not be lost. Click here to view the result of this work.
For information, contact:
Greco-Roman Archaeological Park of Catania, located in Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 266 – 95124 – Catania.
tel. 0957150508 – fax 095311004