The Pula Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved. It is among the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the World. A rare example among the 200 surviving Roman amphitheatres, it is also the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.

The Arena was built between 27 BC and 68 AD, as the city of Pula became a regional centre of Roman rule, called Pietas Julia. The name was derived from the sand that, since antiquity, covered the inner space. It was built outside the town walls along the Via Flavia, the road from Pula to Aquileia and Rome.

The amphitheatre was first built in timber during the reign of Augustus (2–14 AD). It was replaced by a small stone amphitheatre during the reign of emperor Claudius. In 79 AD it was enlarged to accommodate gladiator fights by Vespasian and to be completed in 81 AD under emperor Titus. This was confirmed by the discovery of a Vespasian coin in the malting.

The amphitheatre remained in use until the 5th century, when emperor Honorius prohibited gladiatorial combats. It was not until 681 that combat between convicts, particularly those sentenced to death, and wild animals was forbidden. In the 5th century the amphitheatre began to see its stone plundered by the local populace.

In the Middle Ages the interior of the Arena was used for grazing, occasional tournaments by the Knights of Malta and medieval fairs. In 1583 the Venetian Senate proposed dismantling the arena and rebuilding it within Venice. The proposals were rejected. Today, a headstone celebrating the Venetian senator Gabriele Emo's opposition to the plan is currently visible on the second tower.

In 1709, stone was taken from Pula arena for the belfry foundations at Pula Cathedral. This was the last time the arena was used as a source of stone.

General Auguste de Marmont, as French governor of the Illyrian Provinces, started the restoration of the arena. This was continued in 1816 by the Ticinese architect Pietro Nobile, commissioned by the emperor Francis I of Austria.

In 1932, the arena was adapted for theatre productions, military ceremonies and public meetings. In its present state, seating capacity is around 7000 and 12,500 for all standing events.

The arena is today used as a venue for many concerts.

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Founded: 27 BC - 68 AD
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Croatia

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