This curious structure, the Theater of Marcellus, has been a major feature of the city for millennia. It was completed in 13 BC, in the late Republic, and was named for the emperor Augustus's nephew, who died before its completion. The space was actually cleared by his predecessor, Julius Caesar, who, of course, did not live to see construction on the site. It was more than 300 feet in diameter, making it the largest and most important theater in Rome, as it could hold up to 20,000 spectators at a time, a significant number before the days of the Colosseum. It was composed primarily of tufa and concrete faced with stones in the opus reticulatum pattern, then covered in white travertine. It was no longer being used for its primary purpose by the fourth century, however, and it began to be stripped, most notably for the Pons Cestius in 370. Some statues inside were restored by Petronius Maximus in 421 when it was used as a fortress. At the end of the eleventh century, when it was called the templum Marcelli, it began to be used as a fortress, which probably saved it from destruction. It really changed form in the sixteenth century when it became the residence of the Orsini. The new addition was designed by Baldassare Peruzzi. What's perhaps most remarkable is that this is a structure within a structure where people still live. The upper part consists of a series of apartments, while the surroundings are still used as a venue for concerts. I think this is a good metaphor for the city of Rome in general: the present exists, albeit somewhat changed in form and function, side by side with its illustrious past, such that the memory of what was is never far away.
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