Fact is stranger than fiction as 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre is brought back to life

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The Independent Online

A Roman amphitheatre, where Londoners flocked nearly 2,000 years ago to watch gladiators fight a succession of slaves, criminals and wild beasts, opened to the public yesterday.

A Roman amphitheatre, where Londoners flocked nearly 2,000 years ago to watch gladiators fight a succession of slaves, criminals and wild beasts, opened to the public yesterday.

The arena was discovered at the site of Guildhall Yard in the City in 1988, and ranks as one of the most important finds of the last century. Restoration has been going on since then, and now only the eastern gate remains are visible.

Built in the shape of an ellipse, and measuring 100 metres by 85 metres, original work began in AD70 lasting until the 4th century. The amphitheatre was open for 250 years and was the most important sports stadium in Roman Britain.

It seated about 6,000 of the 20,000 to 30,000 people believed to have been living in London at the time. But it was still small compared to the Colosseum in Rome which seated at least 50,000 spectators.

Nick Bateman, senior projects manager for the Museum of London Archaeology Service, said: "Everybody comes here having some kind of idea about what an amphitheatre is like. For once, fact is actually stranger than fiction."

He added: "We have found animal bones. We have actually found the leg bone of a bear. They were not a common sight in London and it was likely it was fighting in the arena." In later years, dogs were used in baiting bears in pits.

Work on the site has also revealed wooden drains used to run off water and blood from the arena.

The exhibition centres on the ruins and includes three-dimensional graphics of the arena in action.

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