The city of Pula, found on the southern end of the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, is an enjoyable city often visited by tourists. The city is home to the sixth largest Roman amphitheater in the world, the Pula Amphitheater, also known as the Pula Arena. It is the best-preserved ancient monument found in Croatia and is the only surviving Roman amphitheater that has all four side-towers still intact.
The Pula Arena was built outside the town walls along the Via Flavia, the road from Pula to Rome. The first amphitheater in Pula was built in timber during the reign of emperor Augustus. It was replaced by a small stone amphitheater under emperor Claudius, enlarged by emperor Claudius and finally completed in 81 AD under emperor Titus. It was equipped with underground tunnels connecting one area of the arena to another. It has gone through many structural changes and renovations since then.
Until the fifth century, the arena was used for gladiator fights. Legal proceedings took place in the Pula Arena as well as punishment of murderers, mutineers and bandits. These punishments often consisted of bringing the convicts into the arena where they attempted to win a fight with each other or a wild animal. During this time, Christians were also martyred in the amphitheaters. The arena held up to 20,000 spectators.
Emperor Honorius prohibited the gladiator fights in the fifth century. In 681, the fights between convicts and wild animals were forbidden. Until the 13th century, the arena was in disuse, and builders removed many of its stones to construct other buildings in Pula. After that time, the further removal of stones from the arena was forbidden. In the Middle Ages, the Pula Arena was used for knights’ tournaments as well as medieval fairs. At times, the interior of the arena was also used for grazing.
Archaeological study of the Pula Arena began in the 18th century and restoration and conservation of the site are still taking place today. It is one of the best examples of ancient Roman building techniques, and for those interested in this field, the Pula Arena an excellent place to visit. The exterior wall is constructed in limestone and has two levels of 72 arches. One part of the wall has an extra level of 64 rectangular openings since the amphitheater was built on a slope. The seats, which were separated from the arena by iron gates, rest directly on the sloping ground. It is the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have four side towers. Each tower contained a reservoir with perfumed water to supply the fountains. Spectators were further accommodated by large sails to protected them from the rain and sun.
However, the Pula Arena is not just an archaeological site. Today, the arena is again used as an entertainment venue, but not the lethal entertainment that was popular in the early centuries. The arena has been used for filming, such as the movie Titus, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Titus Andronicus. Many concerts have taken place in the Pula Arena because of the excellent acoustics of the site. Performers have included Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Elton John and Sting, to name just a few. During the summer, it is home to a Film Festival, an Equestrian Festival and the Opera, in addition to other various concerts. In 2012, there were even two professional hockey games played in the arena.
Like the arena, the underground passageways have been restored, and are now home to an exhibition on olive growing and viticulture, or growing grapes for making wine. There are examples of machines used during the ancient times to produce olive oil and wine, such as presses, mills and the containers used to hold the finished products, called amphorae. In addition, there is information on the trade of the wine and olive oil and the commerce in the area.
The Pula Arena is a wonderful example of Roman architecture. However, it is more than a historic site. This arena continues to be a part of the life of all those who have the opportunity to enjoy it, whether for the ancient architecture or the modern day concerts. When in Croatia, the Pula Arena is a site that everyone should take time to visit.