When the Colosseum in Rome Became the Home of Hundreds of Exotic Plant Species

The Colos­se­um is one of the most pop­u­lar tourist attrac­tions in Italy, and thus one of the most pop­u­lar tourist attrac­tions in all of Europe. But the nature of its appeal to its many vis­i­tors has changed over the cen­turies. In the Atlantic, nov­el­ist and pod­cast­er Paul Coop­er notes that, “the belief that Chris­t­ian mar­tyrs had once been fed to the lions in the are­na,” for exam­ple, once made it a renowned site of reli­gious pil­grim­age. (This “despite lit­tle evi­dence that Chris­tians were ever actu­al­ly killed in the are­na.”) But in that same era, the Colos­se­um was also a site of botan­ic pil­grim­age: amid its ruins grew “420 species of plant,” includ­ing some rare exam­ples “found nowhere else in Europe.”

Notable tourists who took note of the Colos­se­um’s rich plant life include Charles Dick­ens, who beheld its “walls and arch­es over­grown with green,” and Per­cy Bysshe Shel­ley, who wrote of how “the copse­wood over­shad­ows you as you wan­der through its labyrinths, and the wild weeds of this cli­mate of flow­ers bloom under your feet.”

Coop­er quotes from these writ­ings in his Atlantic piece, and in an asso­ci­at­ed Twit­ter thread also includes plen­ty of ren­der­ings of the Colos­se­um as it then looked dur­ing the 18th and 19th cen­turies. He even select­ed images from Flo­ra of the Colos­se­um of Rome, or, Illus­tra­tions and descrip­tions of four hun­dred and twen­ty plants grow­ing spon­ta­neous­ly upon the ruins of the Colos­se­um of Rome (read­able free online at the Inter­net Archive), the 1855 work of a less well-known Eng­lish­man named Richard Deakin.

A botanist, Deakin did the hard work of cat­a­loging those hun­dreds of plant species grow­ing in the Colos­se­um back in the 1850s. The inter­ven­ing 170 or so years have tak­en their toll on this bio­di­ver­si­ty: as Nature report­ed it, only 242 of these species were still present in the ear­ly 2000s, due in part to “a shift towards species that pre­fer a warmer, dri­er cli­mate” and the growth of the sur­round­ing city. In its hey­day in the first cen­turies of the last mil­len­ni­um, the are­na lay on the out­skirts of Rome, where­as it feels cen­tral today. Pay it a vis­it, and you both will and will not see the Colos­se­um that Dick­ens and Shel­ley did; but then, they nev­er knew it as, say, Titus or Domit­ian did. In recent years there have been moves to restore and even improve ancient fea­tures like the retractable floor; why not dou­ble down on the exot­ic flo­ra while we’re at it?

via The Atlantic

Relat­ed con­tent:

Rome’s Colos­se­um Will Get a New Retractable Floor by 2023 — Just as It Had in Ancient Times

The Roman Colos­se­um Has a Twin in Tunisia: Dis­cov­er the Amphithe­ater of El Jem, One of the Best-Pre­served Roman Ruins in the World

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 CE: Explore Stun­ning Recre­ations of The Forum, Colos­se­um and Oth­er Mon­u­ments

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

Build­ing The Colos­se­um: The Icon of Rome

With 9,036 Pieces, the Roman Colos­se­um Is the Largest Lego Set Ever

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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