Arena could be described as a building for sports or entertainment and usually represents a construction with a large central area surrounded by seats. The biggest in the world is called "Philippine Arena," in the Philippines. It is used as a multipurpose indoor arena - hosting sport events, concerts, etc. – and has a capacity of 55,000 people.
"Rupp Arena" is the largest venue of that type in U.S. It is located in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, and could hold up to 23,500 spectators. Although designed specifically for basketball, the place regularly hosts concerts, conventions, and shows.
An arena is an enclosed area with often circular or oval shape and that feature derives from one of its key characteristics – to show an event in its lowest point providing maximum visibility for all.
Ensuring great point of view is what ancient Roman buildings known as amphitheaters did best. In fact, the Roman amphitheater was an improvement of the Greek theater. The term comes from the Greek “amphi” (ἀμφί) – “on both sides” and “theatron”(θέατρον) – “theater” and describes a building that has a seat on both sides; in contrast with the Greek theaters having seats only on one side.
Arena was part of the equipment of the Roman amphitheaters and consisted of…sand. The Latin word “harena” (hărēna) meant exactly “sand.” It also denoted sandy place, or shore of a sea, beach. Special fine sand was used to cover the ground of the Roman amphitheaters during gladiatorial combats. That sand was said to be particularly smooth, so it could soak up the spilled blood on the stage. It was regularly changed as it absorbed the gore and the blood streaming not only from the fighters but from the animals on the stage too; sometimes quite an impressive number.
The "h" in “harena” was pronounced in the early periods of the Latin. In the later stages of the language, it was dropped down, and the word received its today’s form – arena.
Circus Maximus in Rome, Courtesy of the model (second picture up, from left to right)
Circus is a company of performance that includes clowns, acrobats, trained animals, musicians, etc. Often it is a traveling show operating under a big tent (marquee), and its artistic diversity has given another meaning of the word - a busy, lively event that could be quite confusing and attracting attention.
The first modern circus - as we know it today – was opened by Philip Astley in 1768 in England. The early circuses were almost exclusively demonstrations of horsemanship performances, and that linked them to the very origin of the circus.
The word came into English from the Latin “circus” which was a romanized form of the Greek “kirkos” (κίρκος); itself a metathesis (switching of sounds in a word) of the Homeric “krikos” (κρίκος), that meant “circle, ring.” The Roman circus was very close to what ancient Greeks called “hippodromes” (horse riding places), although, in Rome, it could serve for more various events.
Ancient Roman circuses were circular or with semi-circular ends constructions where staged battles, gladiatorial combats and displays (and even fights) of trained animals occurred. The most popular performances though were exhibitions of horses and chariot races. Those races were part of annual public games known as “ludi circenses” and represented one of the most popular sports in Rome.
The first circus in the city of Rome was the Circus Maximus. It was built in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills, where in earlier times chariot races took place on the open ground, having only appointed turning posts and banks for the spectators. Circus Maximus could seat 250,000 people. Its architectural plan spread out all over the Roman Empire where circuses with different measures and sizes appeared.
Newly reopened Domus Aurea in Rome, picture on left courtesy of Wiki Commons & Pufacz
A large and impressive building is usually called a palace. It is very often the official home of a person with a high rank such as emperor, king or president. The word came into English from Old French; “palais” still being the French word for such imposing building. The prime source of the word "palace" is the Latin “Mons Palatinus” which is the name of the Palatine Hill; one of the seven hills of the city of Rome, that was first built upon. According to some scientists, the Romans took that name from the Etruscans as it was connected to the goddess Pales – an Italic deity protector of shepherds and cattle.
The first, “original” palace belonged to Emperor Augustus Caesar and stood on the Palatine hill, right next to the Circus Maximus. Augustus’ residence was quite modest and not a splendid construction, but it laid the foundation of the Palatine Hill as a seat of the imperial power of Rome. A large number of the latter emperors lived at the same spot redecorating and enlarging the place until it took up the hill top. The most impressive works were done by Emperor Nero, who ordered a stunning construction of bricks and concrete ornate with extensive gold leaf, frescoed walls, and stuccoed ceilings faced with semi-precious stones and ivory veneers. The palace was named “Domus Aurea” – the Golden House. Thus, the name of the Palatine hill, where emperor’s households initially appeared, gave the name of their type of residences – palaces.
The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantin in Rome
When a basilica is mentioned, often one thinks of a church. Today, Roman Catholic basilicas function as pilgrimage sites receiving millions of visitors every year. Nevertheless, the initial purpose of that building was not meant to serve religious practices but rather jurisdictional. The name of that establishment came from the Greek "Basilike Stoa" (Βασιλική Στοά), meaning Royal Stoa (Royal Portico). It was constructed in Athens in the 5th century BC in the Athenian Agora and operated as a headquarter of the King Archon and the high Court of Appeal for criminal and civil cases known as Areios Pagos. A statue of Themis (the goddess representing the divine law and the justice) stood in front of the stoa where the city laws were kept.
The Romans adopted the basilica along with its name and its main use. It functioned as a court building, a tribunal chamber and every Roman city had such establishment located usually in an immediate proximity of the local forum.
The basilica had a very specific architectural plan. It represented an oblong building ending in a semi-circular apse. After adopting the Christianity, many basilicas were turned into a religious building. They were often constructed over ancient Roman basilicas (the court chambers) preserving the initial architectural plan. When new Christian basilicas were erected, they followed the same plan – a building with central nave and aisles.
Nowadays, the term basilica is only applied for a Christian religious construction. It came to refer specifically to a large and important church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope.
Capitol building, Washington, U.S.
Capitol is the building where U.S. Congress meets in Washington, D.C. It also could be referred to as the place in which a state legislative body meets. (39 of the 50 U.S. states have facilities named "State Capitol").
Capitol took its name from the Latin word "Capitolium" which described the temple of the supreme Roman deity Jupiter Optimus Maximus (Jupiter the Best and the Greatest). The temple was located on the smallest of the seven hills of the ancient Rome – Capitoline Hill – and was considered as the religious nucleus of the Eternal City. As much as the Palatine hill embodied the idea of the residence of the imperial power, the Capitoline Hill represented the Roman religious foundations.
In that case, it is not surprising that in its early days, the Capitol building in the United States was not only used for governmental functions but for religious too. On Sundays, church services were regularly held there - a practice that continued until after the Civil War.
Often, the legislative branch of the U. S. federal government is mentioned not only as Capitol but even as Capitol Hill. It has absorbed the ancient Roman believes that the temple and the hill are one and indestructible thing and as such - a symbol of eternity.