Lucca houses one of the earliest Roman civilization remains in the form of Piazza Anfiteatro, a structure that was once a platform for mortal combats and extreme forms of entertainment.
The large and circular Piazza dell'Anfiteatro is located in Lucca, Italy. The square is surrounded by a ring formed by buildings, and the shape is similar to the shape of a 2nd-century amphitheater that was located at the same place. In ancient times when the Roman Empire used to flourish in the area, this amphitheater and entertainment center was a platform where beasts and gladiators engaged with each other in deadly mortal combats. It is now a very popular tourist destination and has many cafes and restaurants. The center symbolized the ancient Roman city Lucca’s vitality and energy. Its elliptical shaped plaza is unique in itself. Medieval houses surround the plaza, and the place is alive at all times now.
At the time of its creation, the amphitheater was huge, grand and very impressive. It had around 54 arches and also had a Cavea, a structure used in ancient times for storing animals who were later to be engaged in combats. The structures were built in a comprehensive manner and could hold around 10,000 spectators at a time. It had columns and marbles for beautification and decoration. The construction of Piazza dell'Anfiteatro was started by Emperor Claudius (the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy) in 1st Century AD. The entertainment was built completely in the Flavian period. The center was converted to a plaza during middle ages and was called Parlascio in Italian. Parlare means to talk. The word denotes popular assembly, as in Parliament.
Abandoning and Revamp
The medieval period saw many war sieges, and many of them were long. Because of the sieges many ancient Roman structures were transformed/converted into fortresses. The amphitheater also had the same fate. All its outside arches were closed to make it impenetrable. It was also abandoned at some point in time because of repeated barbaric invasions. Later, the ruins were covered by terraced houses. Next, other structures emerged at the place that included a prison (called as Grotte), a salt store and other structures like shops and more.
The Modern Plaza
In the 18th century, an architect by the name Lorenzo Nottolini restored the place to its original amphitheater form in a way that the theater became one of the fundamental structured of the urban town. The buildings within the inside area of the place were demolished and a new and beautiful Via dell'Anfiteatro was built. The new structure surrounded the old Roman amphitheater. Lucca from then on wards had a new oval area/space that had the same dimensions as the ancient Roman amphitheater. The new center was not dedicated to entertainment and mortal combat but was for a shopping market. It also had a new name and was called as "Piazza del Mercato".
Hence, Lorenzo gave the plan and shape of "Piazza dell'Anfiteatro" that it has until today. He maintained buildings that had varying heights and also opened up a new road/street in the area. Some of the structures of the original amphitheater still retain their positions below 2 meters of the surface of the road. Some shops that face the plaza have the ancient structures emerging out in the form of vaults and arches. The part of the ancient Roman amphitheater that is viewed by tourists directly is the left arch through which the tourists enter the new square. All the arches now found in the square have been constructed in the last century.
The beautiful square now is adorned with cafes and shops. To explore, spend some time wandering around. You will feel like getting back in time and will also see and find some hidden archaeological gems.