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The Arena, Pula

The Arena - a three storey high Roman amphitheatre. In terms of architectural conception, size and preservation, this is the most outstanding monument remaining from ancient Pula. It is the sixth largest remaining amphitheatre in the world. The four-storied Coliseum in Rome and the amphitheatres in Capua Verona, ArIes and Catania are larger. Since the amphitheatre in Pula is in better condition than the one in Verona, and higher than those in Capua, Arles and Catania, it could be said that, after the Coliseum in Rome, it is the most magnificent structure of its kind in the world.

The Arena (the word comes from the Latin "arena" meaning sand) is circular, 132.45 m x 105 m and 32.45 m in height. It is built of Istrian stone. The central part of the Arena measures 67.90 x 41.60m. The outer wall consists of foundation stones, then two storeys of arcades of 72 arches. The upper storey has 67 square windows and on top there is a cornice made of blocks of stone. At its peak it held 23,000 spectators. It was not only the scene of staged fights for the entertainment of the masses, but also a place for business, social life and entertainment. It is thought that the foundations of the first, smaller amphitheatre were laid by Emperor Augustus at the beginning of this reign. They were extended by Emperor Claudius, and the final version dates from the reign of Flavius (AD 69-81). Old legends have it that the Arena was finished and decorated by Emperor Vespasian to fulfil the wishes of his lover in Pula, Antonia Cenida. Croatian folk legends tell how the Arena was built by fairies (hence the old name "Divic-grad", the town of the fairies) during the night, and when they heard the cock crow they left it unfinished, which is why the Arena has no roof. Some special features of the Arena are the four stone towers, and on the northwest side, a reservoir with water to supply the fountains. In AD 404 gladiator fights were banned and the arena became a cattle market. In the Middle Ages it was a source of building materials for medieval Pula and the surrounding villages. In 1583 the Great Venetian Senate decided to demolish the amphitheatre, take the stones to Venice and reconstruct it there. The demolition was prevented by the Venetian Senator Gabriele Emo, to whom a plaque was placed on the north western tower as a sign of gratitude.
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