Just up the hill from the port of Pozzuoli and the city’s first marketplace, the Temple of Serapis, sits the third largest amphitheater (149 x 116m) in Italy after the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheater at Capua.

Like its Roman counterpart, it is known as the Flavian Amphitheater or Amphitheatrum Flavium (Latin), presumably because it was constructed during the reign of the Flavian Dynasty (69 – 96 AD) and designed by the same architects responsible for the Colosseum. Some sources however attribute the amphitheater to Nero (Roman Emperor 54 to 68), dating its completion to sometime around 66 AD.

One of two amphitheaters constructed in the ancient port town of Puteoli, the Flavian Amphitheater was the city’s prime venue for gladiator games, chariot races, animal slayings, and executions, and in its heyday, it held some 20,000 spectators.

One has to wonder how many spectators showed up on a fateful day in 305 AD for the “execution by wild beast” of seven men who were convicted of the crime of Christianity. Carried out by local authorities during the final days of the Diocletianic Persecutions, among the seven were: two laymen; two lectors; two Deacons, one of which would become San Procolo (Saint Proculus), Pozzuoli’s Patron Saint; and a Bishop from Benevento, who would become Naples Patron Saint, San Gennaro.

All seven were cast to wild beasts; but when the animals came near the Saints, they fell affectionately at their feet and refused to harm them.

The beasts it would seem were uncooperative, but the city’s thirst for blood would not go unquenched, and when the beasts didn’t kill them, they were beheaded at Solfatara.

Excavated in the 19th century, much of the elliptical amphitheater’s structure is still intact today, the most impressive of which is the amphitheater’s well preserved subterranean passageways. Open to the public, you can wander the amphitheater’s underground at your leisure where you’ll find ancient Roman arches, thick brick walls, fallen marble columns, and dark inlets which once housed the gladiators, their elaborate props, and of course, caged the wild beasts.

Parking around the amphitheatre is limited so you might want to consider using public transportation. A ten minutes walk from the metro, take Metro Line 2 to the Pozzuoli Solfatara station, head right out of the station, then head right down the hill.