Photo by S.Borisov/Shutterstock
In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s underground network of tunnels, ramps, and lifts was hidden beneath a wooden, sand-covered arena floor.
Italian officials have plans to restore a key element of the ancient amphitheater, a floor devised by the Romans to conceal an underground network of tunnels and cages during the gladiator era.
Ancient Rome’s Colosseum hosted grisly gladiator clashes, battle re-enactments, and other (often violent) public spectacles for crowds of more than 50,000 onlookers. To facilitate a suspenseful show, the Romans devised a network of tunnels, ramps, and lifts hidden beneath the amphitheater’s wooden, sand-covered floor. This underground labyrinth, called the hypogeum, allowed for competing fighters, performers, and caged animals to emerge by surprise onto the expansive arena floor.
Nearly 2,000 years after it was constructed, little remains of the Colosseum’s original arena floor (the hypogeum is almost entirely exposed). Now, however, the Italian government plans to renovate the ancient landmark with a historically accurate recreation of its retractable floor, allowing visitors to experience the UNESCO World Heritage site as it was in its gladiator-era glory.
The new, retractable floor will be designed to open and close above the hypogeum to reveal the trapdoors, lifts, and other engineering elements used in the original Colosseum. The renovation will also allow visitors to stand in the center of the ancient arena, offering an incredible view of the amphitheater’s surrounding 157-foot-tall walls.
Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities is currently taking proposals for the roughly $22.5 million project, due February 1. Italian officials hope to complete the work by 2023.
Once the landmark’s retractable floor is installed, the Roman arena will also be used to stage concerts and theater, Colosseum officials say. Now history buffs, live performance lovers, and overall Italy enthusiasts alike will have something major to look forward to in a postpandemic world.
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