The third largest amphitheatre in Italy is tucked away in the tiny heart of Pozzuoli, outside of Naples. It is an absolute disgrace compared to other archaeological sites in Italy, which is exactly why people should visit it before it changes. It is not a huge tourist attraction and many interesting artifacts are lying around for you to peruse and even touch. It is a much more hands-on experience than many attractions in Italy.
I spent an afternoon at the amphitheatre simply because I could and because I had the entire thing to myself the entire time I was there. Even the staff went on their lunch break while I was exploring and left me the alone in the stadium.
The amphitheatre has been in constant use for most of Pozzuoli’s history. It was built when Pozzuoli was the colony of Puteoli, sometime in the first century BC. It takes its name from the Flavian period, to which it is dated, and could hold 20,000 people when it was built. It has remained a central structure In Pozzuoli since its construction. The location is important to locals because according to legend, the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro, was martyred there.
It hosted extremely elaborate battles and hunts during its hay-day. It had a series of trap doors called “maneuvering shafts” that lead to the underground chambers and allowed sets, men, and animals to be lifted into the arena. Entire forests are said to have been constructed within the arena for some events, complete with caves from which the animals would emerge.
The amphitheatre was abandoned for its intended use when the games became unpopular as a result in the rise of Christian ideas. After it fell out of use as an arena, it was incorporated into the other structures of the city. Stone was taken from the stadium to build other structures and locals took up residence within the arches of the amphitheatre.
Soil washed down to the arena from the Solfaterra uphill. Over time, this created a mineral-rich accumulation of earth on the area floor that was used to cultivate a vineyard. The soil also filled the underground tunnels, burrying columns that were dumped in the underground structures as people took up residence.
Excavation on the amphitheatre began in 1839 but was not completed until the underground tunnels were completely excavated in 1955.
In front of the south entrance to the amphitheatre is a large collection of artifacts that were gathered in excavations in and around Pozzuoli. They are stored there in the open air and underneath some of the outer archways of the structure.
Pozzuoli is a very short train ride from Naples and the Amphitheatre is located very close to the train station. The entire trip including round trip train ticket and entry fee will cost you only 6 Euro and you may have the entire place to yourself!