As famous as Romeo and Juliet and smaller only than the Colosseum and the Amphitheatre of Capua, the Arena of Verona was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, in the Augustan period. Its name comes from its central area, which was covered with sand, precisely arena in Latin. As in all amphitheatres, the famous gladiator fights were held here, as too were the venationes, the hunts of fierce exotic animals.
The amphitheatre was originally built outside Verona's city walls, primarily for logistical reasons, so that it could be easily reached by people arriving from outside the city (not by chance the gates porta Leoni and porta Borsari were rebuilt, to ensure a proper movement of the people). But the external positioning was also due to public order considerations, as such a densely crowded building could become a source of fights and riots.
The structure is, however, perfectly in line with the city's road network, as if to emphasise its perfect integration with the town centre.
The Arena was included in the walls only through the work of the Emperor Gallienus in the 3rd century, as happened elsewhere at the time of the barbaric invasions, when the imposing spectacle buildings were included in the city walls to strengthen them and, while they lost their ancient splendour and the function for which they had been built, they nevertheless became an irreplaceable element for defence.
In the following centuries, as was the medieval custom, the amphitheatre became an enormous, extremely rich source of recycled construction materials, which were essential for creating new buildings in the city.
The Arena, as it stands today, is the result of the constant removal of materials, but also of the terrible earthquake that struck the city in the 12th century leaving indelible traces on the monument. Only four arches are left of the outer circle, which was the real, utterly sumptuous, façade.
The lost part had three rows of arches in Tuscanic style (the same style as the fourth row at the Colosseum), which rose to a height of 31 metres. The main entrance, the most imposing, was the one facing Porta Borsari, the arrival point of the via Postuma.
The inner ring has only two rows with 72 arches, all built in local white and pink stone. Access was through 64 openings, the "vomitori", but today both the cavea and the terraces have been restructured, so that they no longer give an idea of what the amphitheatre must have been like originally: a structure that could hold about 30 thousand people!
Excavations under the structure have brought to light a complex hydraulic system which enabled water to be brought inside the amphitheatre, both for spectacular water games and to clean up the arena after the cruel fights held there.
The Arena's vocation for shows and public functions has never been exhausted over the centuries. At the time of he Communes and under the Scaligeri, trials were held, with judicial disputes being resolved by hand-to-hand fights; jousts and tournaments were held in the Middle Ages and up to the 18th century and still today the Arena is the famous setting for Verona's spectacular opera season.