It’s hard to imagine just how vast the Ancient Roman Empire was in its heyday. Economist Michael Kremer notes that at its peak, the empire’s population was estimated to be between 50 to 90 million. That’s roughly 20% of the world’s population at the time and they were scattered across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Two thousand years later, we’re left with monuments of the empire’s former glory, with ruins, pottery, and stone-etched records as the only basis of what life was like during those times.
History and travel buffs will be delighted to know that there’s so much of the Roman legacy to be found across Europe. Everyone’s heard of the Coliseum and Pantheon—but have you heard of these Ancient Roman sites outside of Italy?
Situated in the northern area of Croatia’s coast, Pula is known for two things: the city’s glittering coastline and magnificent Ancient Roman buildings. An important provincial center of the Roman Empire, Pula’s collection of Roman structures are some of the most impressive in Europe. The most famous and well preserved of these is the Pula Arena, which was constructed in 27 BC-68 AD. The Croatia Traveller reports that this 20,000-seater arena is the only Roman amphitheater in the world that still has a complete circle wall and all three levels preserved. Today, the amphitheater is a popular venue for concerts and events.
While you’re in the city, don’t pass up the chance to see the Arch of Serguii, the Temple of Rome and Augustus, and the Augustan Forum.
Often referred to as French Rome, Nîmes is a city located in southern France and home to several famous Ancient Roman monuments. The most famous among these is the fantastically preserved Maison Carreé, a Corinthian temple that once dominated the city’s forum.
Another remarkable site is the Nîmes Amphitheater, one of the largest of its kind in Roman Gaul and the best-preserved Roman arena in all of France. The 24,000-seater amphitheater has been used for Spanish-style bullfighting since 1863, but recent years have seen a resurgence of reenactments of Ancient Roman entertainment through the Les Grands Jeux Romains (Great Roman Games). The company had featured Hannibal, Cleopatra, and Boudicca in their sold-out performances over the past few years. And last April, they begun to devote their shows to the rebel leader Spartacus.
After centuries, the former gladiator and escaped slave leader continues to captivate the imagination of history buffs and casual visitors alike, with all manner of performances and media continuing to immortalize his character. Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) coined the iconic one-liner, “I’m Spartacus!” that many future depictions would repeat. More recently, the Threcian military leader also inspired video games, like the free-to-play Spartacus Legends. The character appears on the Spartacus slot game on Foxy Bingo as well, which focuses on the fighter’s life in the gladiator pits. The fast-paced game features a shouting crowd and the clash of metal-on-metal, providing an engaging experience to players interested in Ancient Rome’s brutal form of entertainment. These media adaptations signify the continuing popularity of key movers and shakers of the Ancient Roman Empire, as well as the fascinating history that we can now only hope to get a taste of in the ruins that remain.
The Ancient Roman monuments scattered across modern-day Mérida – more than any other city in Spain – is a testament to its prominent status as the capitol of the then-thriving Lusitania province. It is for this reason that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
Like the previous two cities, Mérida is home to ancient arenas and amphitheaters of its own. The Merida Roman Theater still holds theater performances, while the amphitheater once hosted gladiator combats as well. If you’re ever visiting this city, be sure to bask in the beauty of the Merida Puente Romano, a 2,000-year-old bridge that still looks marvelous and strong, aside from being the longest of its kind.