1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Roman Temples, Theatres, Amphitheatres

(Part 74)

Roman Temples, Theatres, Amphitheatres

Roman Temples

Whatever forms were adopted from the Greeks by the Romans were rapidly altered by the latter. The temples, for example, were, no doubt, constructed, in the main, after the Greek model. But we find three-quarter columns used in the flanks, as at the temple of Fortuna Virilis at Rome and at Nismes [Nîmes], in place of the open peristyle or the plain flat wall. These three-quarter columns were, it is true, used at the rear of the Erechtheum and at the temple of the Giants at Agrigentum. But these were quite exceptions. Then, in the portico of the Pantheon (Plate XVI. Fig. 4) the Romans availed themselves of the properties of the arch to effect an immense change in the internal design and appearance.

From the forest of columns, as at the Parthenon, all placed at equal distances, or nearly so, the Romans boldly removed four rows (two in centre and one at each side, as at the Pantheon, Plate XVI. Fig. 5), arched over the space thus left, and so obtained a pictureques effect quite unknown to the Greeks. Then the ends were rounded off into apses, and the same was done at the temple of Venus and Rome. In each of the above cases the exterior still conformed almost entirely to the outlines of the Greeks. But we now come to the circular edifices, as the temple of Minerva Medica, 110 feet in diameter, and the Pantheon, 139. As to the age of these and their purpose there is some doubt; but there can be none as to the temples of Vesta at Tivoli and Rome, which have an external peristyle of columns, and thus present an entirely new form. Whether these temples were finished with domes or not is doubtful . In any case the exterior would probably have shown merely a sloping roof, as has been common enough in Italy down to late times.

Roman Theatres

The best remaining specimens of Roman theatres are those of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Like those of the Greeks, they rest on the side of a hill, but instead of being hewn out of the hill they are built on it. Others in a more or less ruined state remain in Italy, France, Sicily, &c., e.g. at Rome, Verona, Pola, Taormina, and Arles. At first they were of wood, and one by Aemilius Scaurus, 58 B.C., is said to have held 80,000 spectators. That they were copied mainly from the Greeks there can be not doubt. In fact, one built by Pompey is expressly stated to have been copied from another at Mytilene, and their general form is very similar to that of the Greek theatre. But the Roman theatre received a greater degree of architectural decoration than the Greek. Of this the theatre of Marcellus, in Rome, is an example; for though otherwise destroyed, its external wall remains and presents columnar ordinances, with intervening arches in stories, according to the practice of the Roman school.

Roman Amphitheatres

These are altogether Roman in general design. The first is said to have been built by Julius Caesar, and others were afterwards built by Caligula and Nero. The first of stone is said to have been the Colosseum, built by Vespasian and Titus, and so called from the Colossus of Nero which stood near. It was injured and then restored under Severus and Decius, in whose time it is probable that the upper row was added. As to the awning, we know that the main portion at least of the audience was protected from the fierce rays of the sun by a strong velarium. This was supported on the outside by heavy masts, which passed through holes still existing in the top cornice, and steeped down on to the corbels, which show to conspicuously in the top order. Recent excavations have disclosed the original arena, about 20 feet below the present level of the ground. Evidence has also been obtained that the arena was sometimes a movable platform. To obtain an approximate idea of the size of this enormous structure, we must remember that the Albert Hall (the largest diameter of which is 276 feet) could have been placed in the arena alone of the Colosseum, the exterior of which measures 622 feet by 528 (Plate XVI. Fig. 1). Other amphitheatres of great size were constructed in the various towns of the empire. Amongst them we may mention that at Verona, 500 feet by 404, and Nismes [Nîmes] (still used for public shows), 434 by 340. Extensive remains of another, 376 feet by 220, have been discovered recently at El-Djemm, in Tunis. (see AMPHITHEATRE, vol. I pp. 774-776).

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