The most famous and important monument, the starting and ending point of every sightseeing tour is the Amphitheater, popularly called the Arena of Pula, which was once the site of gladiator fights. It was built in the 1st century AD during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, at the same time as the magnificent Colosseum in Rome.
The ground plan is elliptical, the longer axis measuring about 130 m and the shorter one about 100 m. Gladiator fights took place in the central flat area called the arena, while the spectators could sit on the stone tiers or stand in the gallery. It is believed that the Amphitheater could seat about 20,000 spectators. Local limestone was used for its construction. In the Middle Ages it was the site of knights tournaments and fairs.
Today it is the venue for summer performances - the Film Festival, Opera Season, Equestrian Festival, concerts, ... which can seat about 5,000 spectators. The underground passages, once used by the gladiators, nowadays host a regular exhibition of viticulture and olive growing in Istria in ancient times. The exhibits include reconstructions of machines once used for the production of olive oil and wine (mills, presses, vessels) and amphorae used for storing and transporting olive oil and wine.
The Amphitheater is situated outside the old city walls because of its size and geographical configuration. The road that leads to the center was constructed during Emperor Vespasian, after whom it was named - Via Flavia. Even today it represents one of the main city roads.
Arena is also the largest and well-preserved monument of ancient architecture in Croatia constructed in the mid-1st century B.C. The legend claims that the Amphitheatre in Pula was built by Emperor Vespasian honoring his mistress Antonia Cenida who owned estates in Pula.The Amphitheatre in its present shape was actually built during the period of Titus Flavius Vespasian’s rule (69-79 A.D.). However, it is presumed that another similar but smaller building existed on the same site as early as the rule of Emperor Augustus at the beginning of the 1st century, which was subsequently enlarged and completely constructed in stone by the Flavii family (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitianus). In fact, some parts had originally been built of wood.
At the time, the amphitheatre in Pula could seat as many as up to 20.000 spectators who could watch gladiatorial or similar fights from the stone steps surrounding the entire central flat area- arena. The fights were usually organized by state officials for entertainment and dance as part of the state policy panem et circenses ("bread and games"), meaning that the distribution of grain, wine and similar, and entertainment on the other hand were meant to divert the attention of common people from their everyday problems. The very name "amphitheatre" denotes its shape of double theatre, double semicircular auditorium of the Roman and the Greek theatre. In fact, the layout is elliptic with the longer north-south axis 130 meters long and the shorter east-west axis about 100 meters long. The external wall comprises 72 arched openings both at ground level and on the first floor, while the second floor is articulated in square openings. Blocs are connected with iron rods cast with lead. In the period after the fall of the Roman Empire and the general decline of development and civilization, iron rods were massively extracted from ancient buildings and the stone blocs were used for the construction of houses and other facilities.
Fortunately, the Arena in Pula was nevertheless preserved as the heritage of future generations...