Pula’s amphitheater is remarkable because of its size, and unavoidable because of its position in the center of the city of Pula, only a few hundred meters from the sea. It is a must-see for visitors, along with the Temple of Augustus.
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The largest amphitheater outside Italy
The amphitheater was built at the same time as the Colosseum in Rome, during Augustus and Vespasian’s reign in the 1st century (from 27 to 68 AD). The monument is shaped like an ellipse and is 133 m long and 105 m wide, with three floors totalling 35 m in height. The central arena is 68 m long and 41 m wide.
The building features 72 arches, 64 rectangular openings, 15 doors and 4 towers with cisterns that could spray perfumed water on the spectators in case of high temperatures. Large sails (velarii) could also be stretched to protect the public from the rain or sun.
The monument is one of the largest amphitheaters built by the Roman Empire, as it could accommodate almost 24,000 people. The audience could watch the performances from the limestone bleachers made from local quarries or from the remaining seats in the galleries. The amphitheater was built outside the city walls in order to take advantage of the slightly sloping terrain and also because of the huge area it occupied.
The entire structure has resisted the ravages of time very well and the three floors of the imposing building are still in very good condition. The amphitheater of Pula is certainly the best preserved Roman monument of Croatia.
The amphitheater of Pula over the centuries
Circus games were a common occurrence in Roman times, and the underground passages, now transformed into a museum, were used by gladiators to enter the arena. Later, the amphitheater was used for knightly tournaments and fairs throughout the Middle Ages. In 1583, the amphitheater was almost dismantled to be rebuilt in Venice, fortunately this proposal was never carried out.
Over the centuries, the building’s stones have been used occasionally as building materials. The exterior appearance has changed little and the interior steps have disappeared. Limestone blocks from the amphitheater can be found in the foundations of the city walls and in the city cathedral. Restoration work began at the beginning of the 18th century and the amphitheater, of a rare historical value, is now preserved.
Today, the site still hosts events. Great shows and various events take place there throughout the year. 5,000 people can now enjoy the magical atmosphere of this place, which combines history and contemporary activities.
A permanent exhibition on the theme of viticulture and oyster farming in antiquity has been set up in the basement. It exhibits amphorae, agricultural utensils and other reproductions to better understand how wine, oil and products of the land and sea were transported in the Roman Empire and Istria.
Tips for visiting the amphitheater
The amphitheater is regularly used for events, so it is not rare to see a lot of activity in the arena (stage set-up, chairs, sound system, moving equipment). This slightly alters the charm of the building and can be unfortunate for souvenir photos.
The best time to visit is in the early morning or at sunset, when the amphitheater’s walls are full of light and shadow. At nightfall, the place is highlighted by a specific lighting. The interior will appeal to Roman history enthusiasts or visitors who want to imagine gladiators fighting. A simple walk around the building is quite pleasant.