We’ve been in the peak season of the kick-the-ball game since June 12. For sure, the hottest place now is Brazil but this time the Brazilian Carnival is not on the agenda. The whole world and all continents are grabbed and engaged by another carnival, the football (soccer), in which 32 national teams demonstrate football art and skills, a passion and a will to play in finals. The stadiums are full of exalted fans and tifosi supporting their favourites by waving national flags and symbols, dancing and singing with coulorfully painted faces while the footballers do their best to cover the 600 feet.
Yeap. The 600 feet. This was a measure of length called a stadion in Ellada which the word stadium comes from. The length of one foot varied from place to place and depending on the century but on average one stadion or 600 feet was equal to 180m in ancient Greece.
In ancient Rome, people used almost the same measure but they called it by the Roman word passus. Ancient Roman stadiums (or stadia –it is the other valid plural of the word) were 125 passi in length or again equal to about 185m.
And which was the first world stadium? Olympia stadium. It was built in the 8th century BC in Elis on the Peloponnesos peninsula. It’s well known to have been the site for holding the first Olympic Games where about 45 000 spectators could watch them. Over time the Olympic Games became popular and spread out in the ancient Greek world more and more. Stadiums were built in other city-states as well alongside with hippodromes. The usual practice was to build them in the form of an elongated “U”. If I have to give you examples, certainly, I will mention Panathenaic stadium in Athens. The latter hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and then the “beautifully marbled” stadium was the site of the finish of the Marathon of the Olympic Games 2004 in the Hellenic capital.
In the Greco-Roman period two other typological models were established, i.e. theatres and amphitheatres, thus shifting from the elongated U-shape open stadiums. They were public facilities but at the same time they were used for performances (comedies and tragedies, entertainment and sports).
The tiers in ancient Greek theatres were built on a natural slope facing the scene as well as beautiful surroundings. Actually, the beautiful natural views behind the site of performance were an integral part of the theatres in Ellada (as opposed to the Roman ones). Another distinguishing feature of classical Greek theatres was their construction in a semicircle. The most fascinating examples for me are Epidaurus Theatre in the mountains of Peloponnesos (Greece) for 15 000 spectators and the Hellenistic Theatre in Taormina (in Sicily, Italy) for 5 400 spectators.
Maybe it would not be very correct and proper to say it this way but at least it would be clearer. If I am wrong, please, accept my sincere apologies. So, the ancient Greeks had theatres (there are also examples of ancient Roman theatres of course) while the ancient Romans built mainly amphitheatres which were oval or circular and seats and seating tiers encompassed the central performance site, i.e. the scene. Thus spectators could focus better on the main central arena. By the way, the word amphitheatre is of Greek origin and means “on both sides/around the place for viewing” (amphi – around and théātron – place for viewing). Surely, upon hearing amphitheatre, we immediately can enumerate at least four world famous arenas mainly used for gladiators’ fights – the Flavian Amphitheatre (or better known as the Colosseum), the Verona Arena (or Arena di Verona), the Pula Arena (in Pula, Croatia) and the Arles Amphitheatre (in Arles, France). Just for the record, these well preserved arenas welcomed and hosted: 50 000 – 80 000 spectators (the Colosseum), 30 000 (Arena di Verona), 23 000 (the amphitheatre in Pula) and 20 000 (the Arena of Arles).
At the time of transition from theatres to amphitheatres the tradition of building sports facilities was moved from Greek polis to the Roman world. The ancient Romans imposed a new type of public entertainment places, i.e. a circus. The building of these prototypes of today’s stadiums started in the II and I centuries BC. They were constructed near walls and they were always adjacent to the Emperor’s palace because thus they ensured a direct and easy access to it for the ruler, court and noblemen (although the proximity of that new type of arena often disturbed emperors’ quietness and sleep early in the morning when ruck and ordinary people gathered around). Very often circuses were used for various other public activities, the arcades of some of them featured workshops and that’s why the new type of arena became an integral and inevitable part of any city and citizens’ life.
The best known example is, of course, Circus Maximus. It was built in Rome in the 1st century. It was (and actually, it’s still been) the largest circus and “stadium” both of Antiquity and even modern centuries. It was 600m x 200m and welcomed about 150 000 spectators (according to some sources even 200 000). The greatest use of Circus Maximus was for horse races and its proximity to Tiber favoured the staging of naumachia shows because it was easy to fill it with the nearby river waters.
I mentioned it’s still been the biggest stadium. Its capacity of about 150 000 seats exceeds that of our modern stadiums. It’s double or almost double in comparison to some Italian stadiums like Giuseppe Meazza (or San Siro) in Milan (80 000 seats), San Paolo in Naples (76 000) and Olimpico in Rome (73 000). And if we go outside Italy, we shall see that it’s even bigger than the world famous football stadiums like Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro (for 160 00 spectators but with only 95 000 seats), Camp Nou in Barcelona (98 000), Azteca in Mexico City (101 000), Allianz Arena in Munich (70 000), Wembley in London (90 000) and so on.
Finally, I would say only one thing as a conclusion of the topic. May the best football team win this year. 🙂