Rome’s Colosseum opens its underground for public viewing for the first time ever6 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
The Colosseum was not built in a day!
The year was 68 ACE, and Emperor Nero had just died. Rome saw four rulers take up the throne in the year following the death with the fourth ruler lasting for ten years. Now, Nero had made Rome into his own personal playground creating a huge palace for himself in the heart of the city. But the new ruler wanted to return Rome to the public.
The year was somewhere around 70-72 ACE, and Emperor Vespanian decided to gift the people of Rome an amphitheatre. His son, Titus, opened the Colossuem, officially called the Flavian Amphitheatre, for the first time in 80 ACE with hundred days of games! And these games included violent combats between wild animals and humans.
Remember Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii? That happened during Titus’ reign. But he made sure Rome bounced back, and became a crowd favourite for that.
A tour of the Colosseum
You can take a virtual on-foot tour of the Colosseum here:
The Colosseum, which is 620 by 513 feet, could hold close to 50,000 people who would flock to watch can be called violent wrestling matches, between animals and humans. The participating people were called gladiators.
A gladiator was an armed combatant (usually a slave, a prisoner of war or a criminal) who fought an animal (like a tiger), or another gladiator or a convicted criminal in the amphitheatre for the amusement of the audience.
For four centuries this bizarre (and brutal) mode of entertainment continued but after that public taste began to change and the Colosseum became a secluded megastructure in the heart of Rome. But it continued to excite visitors for its grandiose and twisted history! Before the pandemic, it saw close to five million visitors every year!
And now in a post-lockdown twist to the Colosseum’s long cultural tale, its underground is now open to public for the first time in 2,000 years!. This is where the gladiators and animals waited before going to the main arena for the fight.
Visitors can now walk the passageways on a wooden platform to watch the corridors and archways that connected the waiting rooms with the elevators that took the combatants to the main arena for the fight. With the original ground surface destroyed, the hypogea or the underground, that was candle-lit now gets filtered sunlight.
Restoration is in vogue
The restoration work was started by the Italian fashion brand Tod’s CEO Diego Della Valle and Rome’s Archaeological Heritage Department in 2011. The fashion house has given 30 million USD to the project. The restoration of the hypogea started in 2018 but was slowed down by the pandemic.
A team of restorers, archaeologists, engineers, and architects worked together to restore the glory of the monument by washing away centuries of dust and dirt off its surface. The restorers also found a way to control water infiltration, which is regarded as the biggest reason for decay.
“It is time to restart — to move forward — because there is a lot of work to be done…When private businesses work well with the public art heritage, things happen.”— Diego Della Valle, CNN
Why is the underground special?
Apart from the fact that undergrounds are always the coolest parts of historical buildings (you never know what you will find), the hypogea of the Colosseum helps reconstruct its history. Not only does it help in envisioning the scene before the spectacle but also acquaints the visitor with the technology that was available then. The underground was equipped with elevators, and cargo lifts, to propel people, animals, and props to the arena.
The opening up of the Colosseum marks the end of the restoration project but there is more for the amphitheatre to offer!
In May, the Ministry of Culture announced plans to build wooden planks around the arena so people can experience what it was like to be a member of the audience back in the day. The new arena will also host concerts and other cultural events.
Can you imagine a BTS concert in the Colosseum!?
The Colosseum is one of the most astounding pieces of Roman architecture. Let’s see how many of these you can identify:
The Colosseum, with all its history, is also a place with a history of violence and animal cruelty. Do you think it is alright to celebrate a place that has seen so much violence? Is there a way to do this ethically? If you were the tour-guide to the Colosseum, how would you talk about the Colosseum? Let Owliver know in the comments, below.