THE COLOSSEUM VS. CHARTRES CATHEDRAL From the ancient city of Rome to the elaborate stained glass windows in France, two famous architectural works of art display the differences between architectural structures in the different time periods of history. By comparing and contrasting the Colosseum with the Chartres Cathedral we can gain an understanding of how architecture has not only improved throughout time, but also where certain architectural concepts started. Although the two structures were built over 1,100 years apart they still share similar architectural characteristics and explanations for why these similarities and differences exist. The construction of the Colosseum began in 72 CE and finished in 80 CE, in Rome, Italy. Sharing similar iconography with Chartres Cathedral, built between 1194-1250 CE in France, both the Colosseum and Cathedral practice the use of groin vaults. The Colosseum consists of 80 barrel vaults along each level of the structure and when they intersect and the barrel ring they create groin vaults which are also used in the Cathedral. Although both structures use groin vaults, Chartres Cathedral differs from the Colosseum by using a different type of groin vault, which is referred to as a rib vault. A rib vault uses extra masonry, known as ribs, that are used to reinforce the groins of the cathedral but can also be purely decorative.1 In addition to the differing vaults, the Colosseum also lacks any type of glass, or stained glass in its design, unlike Chartres Cathedral that contains 135 different stained glass windows that are used to tell narratives. The Colosseum's barrel vaults also lack a tympanum at the top of the arches unlike the Cathedral which has tympanums along the tops of the arches on the west facade or Royal Portal. Engaged columns are used to support the friezes between the levels of the Colosseum
Michael W. Cothern and Marilyn Stokstad, Art: A Brief History, 4th ed., (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2010), 661.
and also support the entire structure in order to create multiple levels. Chartres Cathedral also uses columns, but these are more for decoration than support. Columns used in the cathedral are more decorative due to the jamb statues along the exterior of the column and flying buttresses are added for support. In addition to jamb statues adding decoration to the cathedral, pinnacles and finials are placed along the structure to add more decoration to the exterior of the cathedral. The colosseum lacks both flying buttresses for support and pinnacles for decoration. The functions of the Colosseum and Chartres Cathedral are alike because they were both used to hold large crowds of people and often times could act as a plaza. In addition to their likeness in crowd gathering, both the structures tower over their cities and can be seen for miles within their cities. Although both supported large crowds of people, the reasons the people were gathering differed. The Colosseum's primary function was built for the purpose of athletic games consisting of gladiators and wild animals. These matches lasted 100 days and an average of 9,000 wild animals died as well as 2,000 gladiators within this time frame. People gathered for pure enjoyment as opposed to the cathedral which was a place built for religious purposes consisting of chapels and religious artwork among the building. The cathedral could at times could also be used as a marketplace. In terms of their formal content, both the Colosseum and Chartes contain three different levels. In most gothic churches, three-story elevation occurs with a triforium between the nave arcade and a clerestory.2 The Colosseum’s three levels use a different architectural order and the decoration becomes more elaborate with each level, because the less weight that needs to be supported the more decorative the architect can be. The ground level of the Colosseum uses an