The Campano Amphitheater
of Gerardo Iorio
I wanted to highlight the beauty of one of the most characteristic monuments of my territory.
The Campanian amphitheater of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, the second largest of these types of monuments in ancient Italy after the Colosseum (165 meters on the major axis, 135 meters on the smaller one at the level of the arena), It was built between the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD in place of the less capacious arena dating back to the Graccana period, whose remains have been identified in the South-East.
Of his building history informs an inscription dedicated by Antonino Pio, partly preserved at the Provincial Museum Campano, which mentions the restoration of the colonnade and the new sculptural furniture made by Emperor Hadrian.
The building, generally used for the gladiatorial shows, originally presented the four canonical orders (ima, media and summa cavea, attic) of terraces, accessible through internal and external stairs, set on as many levels of galleries in opus latericium em> communicating, and opened on the façade with eighty arches made of limestone blocks of the same width except for those placed at the four cardinal points, coinciding with the main entrances.
They were emphasized by the presence of semi-columns resting on the pillars in Tuscan order, like those partly preserved at the eastern entrance. The arched keys of the first two orders of arches of the façade were enriched with 240 relief busts of deities, among them: Jupiter, Juno, Demeter, Diana, Mercury, Minerva, Volturno, Apollo, and Mithras, as well as heads of Pan, satyrs and theatrical masks, in the third order; only 20 of them are preserved on site, a few others at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples and at the Provincial Museum of Campania, while most of them were then reused as materials of counting.
The outer perimeter of the pit surrounding the building, made of limestone blocks in concentric bands, was bounded by smooth and sculpted stones, of which only one is preserved with the relief image of Hercules on the facade towards the amphitheater and another with Silvano on the external façade; hurdles were installed between the stones to separate the sidewalk from the surrounding area.
The steps of the cavea were covered in marble and the summa cavea em> was dominated by a portico adorned with statues and columns. The ornamental parts were almost all lost except for a Venus, c.d. Adonis and the group of Love and Psyche; on the other hand, the frontal plutei and the balustrade of the vomitoria have been preserved (access passages to the stands). The former, originally placed on the architrave of the door, show mythological and commemorative scenes in relief; the others, placed as a handrail on the sides of the last steps, were carved on both sides with exotic animals or with hunting scenes among animals. The floor of the arena consisted of wooden planks sprinkled with sand to allow the fighting to take place, below which the undergrounds developed, communicating with each other through corridors and accessible through four steps in the service areas, located behind the podium and used for machinery and scenic equipment. The main entrance that allowed to reach the basement and to lead the cages of the animals without going through the porticos is instead placed on the western side. On the eastern side there was also a connecting pipe to a cistern built in opus reticulatum em>, in which water was collected for the underground cleaning. In the 5th-6th century AD, moreover, a chapel was built in the second nave north of the western entrance.
The amphitheater in 456 AD it suffered ruinous destruction during the sacking of Genseric, but was repaired in 530 AD. During the Gothic and Longobard domination the building continued to function as an arena; then, after the destruction of the city in 841 AD by the Saracens, it was transformed into a fortress. From the period of the Swabian domination it became a quarry for the extraction of stone materials reused in the construction of the buildings of the city. Partially excavated between 1811 and 1860, it was definitively freed from enormous clusters of land between 1920 and 1930, with numerous subsequent restoration interventions over time.