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Bill Thayer

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The amphitheatre of Rusellae

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In the two hours I spent in Rusellae on New Year's Day 1997, I had this peaceful spot all to myself. The amphitheatre is the most evocative place in town, at least to this layman: but it's back behind a small hill and far from the car park, so the three or four families visiting that day never saw it.


[image ALT: a ruined masonry arch leading into a snowy area; thru it in the background, another one]

The south pedestrian entrance with a line of sight across the minor axis of the amphitheatre to the north entrance.


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The north entrance from inside the amphitheatre. No superstructure survives, and it doesn't look like there were any outside stairs up to entrances on the spectator level (as in the amphitheatre at Pompeii); since there is no cavea (the complex basements as in the Colosseum in Rome), apparently people walked in onto the field then up to their seats. Then the performers must have come in from the outside, probably via the main entrance, below. There must surely have been wooden gates in the pedestrian entrances to allow people to enter and leave during the show. I would not like to share the floor of an arena with a tiger.


[image ALT: a 15 m-long passage between 2 low walls of opus reticulatum, almost completely barred off in the foreground by a large rectangular stone]

This was the main entrance on the west, and the only one set up for vehicles; notice the threshold.


[image ALT: a good view of most of the amphitheatre]

View of the amphitheatre from just above the main entrance. Clearly visible on the left, as well as in the next image, good examples of "opus reticulatum": literally, "net-work", from the attractive gridlike pattern of the stones, which are placed edgewise for greater solidity.


[image ALT: A sort of niche about 3 m long and 1 m wide, of opus reticulatum, and of an odd shape. It is part of the Roman amphitheatre of Rusellae, near Roselle (Tuscany).]

According to the careful written explanations provided at the site by the Soprintendenza (an attractive, unobtrusive and useful signposting system, by the way), no one knows what this structure was for. This one is in the northeast corner of the field, and there is another in the northwest corner. To me, it looks like a concession stand: a thermopolium, to give it its Latin name.

Another element that seems to be missing: latrines. Remember that this was not countryside as it is now, but a built-up area!

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Page updated: 22 Oct 01