Elegant Padova -- known in English as Padua -- is home to an ancient university, a Basilica that is an important centre for pilgrims and a chapel containing one of the world’s greatest art treasures. Use this website to help you plan a visit to this fascinating northern Italian city and find your way to the other beautiful towns and villages in the Veneto that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Padua’s Roman Arena

See what remains of the city of Patavium

Some remains of the Roman amphiteatre are still visible in the Giardino dell'Arena
Some remains of the Roman amphiteatre are
still visible in the Giardino dell'Arena
Padua is believed to be one of the oldest cities in northern Italy. It was founded in about 1183 BC by the Trojan prince, Antenor.

The Roman writer, Livy, records an attempted invasion of the city by the Spartans in 302 BC. Later attempts at invasions were made unsuccessfully by the Etruscans and Gauls. The city formed an alliance with Rome against their common enemies and it became a Roman municipium in about 49BC. By the end of the first century BC, Padua was the wealthiest city in Italy, apart from Rome.

The Roman name for Padua was Patavium. There isn’t much of Roman Patavium left now, but to get some idea of what it would have looked like, it is worth stopping off to see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre, or Arena as it was known, which is in Padua’s Giardino dell’Arena, a beautiful public park.

If you leave the railway station, or bus station, and walk towards the city centre along the Corso del Popolo and Corso Garibaldi, you will pass the Giardino dell’Arena on the left-hand side where you will see the remains of one of the original elliptical walls of the Arena. It was probably built during the time of the Emperor Claudius, between about 60 and 70 AD.

The Scrovegni family built a chapel in gardens, decorated by Giotto
The Scrovegni family built a chapel in
gardens, decorated by Giotto
An archaeological project to uncover the remains of the Arena began in 1881 and the area was cleared of weeds and a wall was demolished to provide a better view of what was still standing.

The main entrance would have been near the present-day Piazza Eremitani and on the opposite side would have been the porta libitensis, the door of the dead, through which the bodies of the dead gladiators would have been taken.

Within the elliptical wall, which originally had 80 arches, would have been a circle supported by a barrel vault on which the steps of the auditorium were arranged. Its style and dimensions are believed to have been similar to those of the Roman Arena in Verona.

In the 14th century the site was acquired by the Scrovegni family who had a chapel built on it in their name. They commissioned the artist, Giotto, to decorate it with his wonderful frescoes depicting events in the life of the Virgin May and Christ. Today these frescoes are considered to be some of the greatest works of art in the world.

The Arena is open for visitors to look round it every day from 7.00 am, but the site closes earlier in the winter than in the summer.