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:
Let’s have a look at some of those photographs.
First, an aerial photograph from the Beniculturali website, taken 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:
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):
Better than this is a depiction in a gem:
There is a useful 2001 article by Albertson on the Colossus which is available on JSTOR. 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):