The base of the Colossus, next to the Colosseum, in 1920

The Roma Ieri Oggi site is a vast resource of old and wonderful photographs of Rome.  It’s rather a pity that these are being embedded in an on-site “viewer”, to make it hard to download the things.  But in them we see Rome before Mussolini made his necessary but destructive changes.

Today he posted a very useful item, showing something which I have long wanted to see.  It’s a photograph of the Colosseum, from 1920, from an unusual angle:

Today much of the stuff on the right is gone, demolished by Mussolini and replaced by the Via del foro imperiali.

But notice the platform, against the wall to the right of the Colosseum:

The pedestal of the Colossus of Nero. Rome, 1920. Via Roma Ieri Oggi.

This is – this must be – the base of the colossal statue of Nero, from which the Flavian Amphitheatre drew its name of “Colosseum”.  The statue was 100 foot tall, and was erected outside of Nero’s Golden House.  Of course it is long gone – it was converted into a statue of Sol, after Nero’s fall, and resited here, and was melted down at some unknown date thereafter.

The base also is gone today, demolished by Mussolini; but there it is in the photograph; and we owe Roma Ieri Oggi a great debt for allowing us to see it!

A Japanese Edo-period woodblock image of the Roman forum

Here’s a curiosity!  Have you ever wondered what Rome would look like, to someone from the alien cultures of China or Japan?

David Blocker kindly emailed me the following image, which he found on Wikipedia here.  It was made by a Japanese artist who had never seen Rome, and to whom a ruined stone city was utterly alien since he lived in a world constructed mostly of wood.


I learn from Wikipedia that the artist was Utagawa Toyoharu (d. 1814), and is based on an 18th century western print of various monuments of Rome.  It belongs to the Edo period, when Japan was closed to westerners.

Fascinating.  Thank you David!

Two postcards of the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus (and the Meta Sudans)

I found two 19th century postcards, taken from the Palatine, looking towards the Colosseum, at this site, which also includes many other interesting images.

Note how the Basilica of Maxentius is enclosed in some now demolished building!


And this:


An 18th century image of the Meta Sudans in a prospect of the Colosseum

I came across an image on Twitter which shows the Colosseum, but also the ruined fountain that used to stand next to it, the Meta Sudans.  Here it is (click to enlarge):


The tweeter had found it online “somewhere”.  Fortunately it is not too hard to locate: this is Prospetto dell’anfiteatro Flavio … detto volgarmente il Colosseo, 1703, by Alessandro Specchi (1668-1729).[1]  There is even a page about it here at the University of Munich, complete with an image, although, infuriatingly, a low-quality one.

I was unable to locate online any quality image, so this is about as good as it gets for the Meta Sudans (obtained by zooming my browser at this site):


It clearly shows the Meta Sudans at twice the height that we see in photographs from the 19th century.  The upper section must have become very ruinous, and been demolished.  No doubt some Italian source could tell us when and why this happened; but such knowledge has not reached me.

Delightful to see another picture of this vanished monument, all the same.

  1. [1]So this art site.  This other site adds that is is an engraving, published by Domenico de Rossi, 1703. 48 x 67.5cm.

A couple more photographs of the Meta Sudans and base of the Colossus

A couple more interesting pictures appeared on Twitter tonight.

The first of these was posted by Ste Trombetti, and shows the Arch of Titus in 1848 (!).  The photo is in the Getty archive, and was taken by Count Jean-François-Charles-André Flachéron (French, 1813-1883).  Through the arch, the Meta Sudans is visible, in its truncated 19th century state.

Here it is:

Arch of Titus, Meta Sudans, and Colosseum. Flacheron, 1848.
Arch of Titus, Meta Sudans, and Colosseum. Flacheron, 1848.

The next item is a photograph which was found by searching on “Collina della Velia”, i.e. the little Velian hill.  This hill was completely levelled by Mussolini, in building the Via del Foro Imperiali.  This old photograph shows the black base of the Colossus of Nero, which existed until Mussolini removed it.  The black item below the Colosseum is the base.

I found it on Flickr here. Here it is:

Collina della Velia.  Note the base of the Colossus of Nero.
Collina della Velia. Note the base of the Colossus of Nero.

Finally let’s include an aerial view of the whole region, from a 2009 exhibition here.  Click on it to get a very large photo!


The base of the Colossus is in the shade of the Colosseum, but I think the rectangle can be made out if you zoom:

Zoomed area of the aerial photo of the base of the Colossus of Nero
Zoomed area of the aerial photo of the base of the Colossus of Nero

There seem to be very few photographs of this obscure item.

Photos of the base of the Colossus of Nero, and Mussolini’s alterations to the Colosseum area

While looking for material about the Meta Sudans, I stumbled across something which very few people know.

Most people will know that the Colosseum is named after a colossal statue of Nero that used to stand nearby.  Originally cast in bronze and stood outside the Domus Aurea, it was changed into a statue of the Sun by the Flavians, and moved slightly to stand near their new amphitheatre.

The bronze status is long gone.  But how many people know that the base on which it stood still existed well into the 20th century?  I certainly did not!  Indeed there are photographs of it.  It was demolished by Mussolini, in the course of constructing the Via del foro imperiali.

A modern Italian website identifies its location in red:

Location of the base of the Colossus in red.
Location of the base of the Colossus in red.

Let’s have a look at some of those photographs.

First, an aerial photograph from the Beniculturali website, taken about 1895:

Aerial view of the valley of the Amphitheatre with the base of the Colossus of Nero, the Meta Sudans and the Arch of Constantine in a picture from about 1895.
Aerial view of the valley of the Amphitheatre with the base of the Colossus of Nero, the Meta Sudans and the Arch of Constantine in a picture from about 1895.

In the middle of the left hand side of the Colosseum is a dark rectangular base.  This is where the Colossus stood.  Note that the modern Via del foro imperiali is not on this photograph – it had yet to be built.

Next, a slightly fuzzy ground level photograph from the Wellcome Library, from about 1929:

M0000104 Base of the Colossus of Nero, Coliseum, Rome, Italy Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Base of the Colossus of Nero, Coliseum, Rome, Italy Photograph 1929 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
Wellcome Library M0000104. Base of the Colossus of Nero, Coliseum, Rome, Italy. 1929

The hill behind the base is the Velian Hill, and it isn’t there today: Mussolini bulldozed it.  If we stood in the same location today, we would have the Colosseum at our back, and a view straight down the Via del Foro Imperiali to the Victor Emmanuel monument in front of us.

Next a couple of photos of the base from different angles, from a montage found online here in a set of flash cards:


A look at the area indicates just what alterations Mussolini made.  This photograph shows that the Colosseum actually stood in a hollow of the hills, approached from the Circus Maximus:


The whole area was rather different:


Mussolini certainly changed all that.

Some may wish to know what the Colossus itself looked like.  We have a medallion of Gordian III, which we already used for the Meta Sudans, which shows the Colossus standing behind it (via here):

Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting the Colosseum and Meta Sudans
Medallion of Gordian III, ca. 240, depicting the Colosseum and Meta Sudans

Better than this is a depiction in a gem:

Amethyst gem (1-2nd c. AD) in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin. Antikensammlung inv. FG 2665: Bergmann 1993, 11, pl. 2.3. Via Albertson, p.106-7.

There is a useful 2001 article by Albertson on the Colossus which is available on JSTOR.[1]  He calculates that the Colossus was about 100 feet tall (31.524 m).  The statue had a radiate crown, was nude, with the right hip jutting to the side, and the right arm supported by a rudder, while the  left leans on a pillar.   A globe supports the rudder.

The National Geographic reconstruction of the statue and base looks fairly accurate, therefore (although the background should be the Velian Hill, as we have seen):

National Geographic reconstruction of the Colossus of Nero
National Geographic reconstruction of the Colossus of Nero
  1. [1]Fred C. Albertson, ‘Zenodorus’s “Colossus of Nero”‘, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 46 (2001), pp. 95-118.  Online here.

Images of vanished Rome : the Septizonium and the Meta Sudans

Ste. Trombetti has been busily searching the online site of the Spanish National Library, and posting the results on Twitter.

First of these is a view of the Septizonium, the vanished facade of the Palatine, built by Severus at the end of the Appian Way and demolished in the 16th century for materials to build New St Peter’s basilica.  This shot is particularly valuable, as it is more or less end-on, from the south, and shows the main structure consisted of two parallel walls, connected at intervals, with the facade on the front.  It can be found here (click to enlarge):

Italian, Anon. 1530-40?
Italian, Anon. 1530-40?

Next up is an old photograph of the Colosseum, with a particularly nice image of the Meta Sudans, the fountain just inside the arch of Constantine.  Its from here:

Vista Panoramica (1858-65)?
Vista Panoramica (1858-65)?

A detail shows the fountain clearly:


The same view is shown in an older drawing by Isidro Velazquez, made between 1792-96.  Note that in this drawing the Meta Sudans is perceptibly taller, and appears to have a second stage atop the first.  It’s from here:

Velasquez, Colosseum with Meta Sudans
Velasquez, Colosseum with Meta Sudans

Another image from the same period is an anonymous Spanish painting, “Anfiteatro Flavio, detto il Coloseo”, 1790-99.  Here too the Meta Sudans appears taller, and with a bulbous top.  From here:

Amphitheatro Flavio (1790-99)
Amphitheatro Flavio (1790-99)

Very interesting to see and compare!