Without a shadow of a doubt, the Colosseum is one of the most important landmarks in Italy and the largest amphitheatre ever built anywhere in the World!
This magnificent oval-shaped building, comprised of a mixture of travertine limestone, volcanic rock (Tuff), and brick-faced concrete (Opus testaceum) was constructed in a time-span of 10 years, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian between the years 69-79 AD. It was inaugurated in 80 AD, one year after his son Titus inherited the title of Emperor and modified a few years later by Titus’s younger brother Domitian. All three rulers belonged to the Flavius Dynastic bloodline, which is why it was also named the Flavian Amphitheatre (Amphitheatrum Flavium).
At the time, the Colosseum (and any other amphitheatre, for that matter) was the heart of entertainment for the Romans until the 5th Century. With a capacity to accommodate 50,000 to 80,000 spectators upon its cavea (seating sections), all eyes were focused on the arena. Public shows included gladiator battles (Munera), wild beast hunts (Venatio), re-enactments of triumphant battles, theatre performances based on Roman mythology and executions. Even for a short period of time, naval battles with flat-bottomed vessels were staged at the centre of the arena, where its shallow basin was filled with water for Roman ships to combat against their rivals (guess who usually won?).
The labyrinth of mechanisms, tunnels and sets of chambers underneath the arena helped to prepare for the spectacle above. This underground system of passages was basically the backstage of entertainment for Imperial Rome! Originally, the arena had a wooden, sand-covered floor, but it’s been more than 1000 years since the floor perished, and nowadays the underground chambers are visible from afar.
The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism is currently planning an €18.5 million renovation project to install a retractable floor and is expecting a starting date in 2022 and completion by 2023.
Until next month (February 1st), they are taking bids from archaeological engineers and designers to fabricate a portal that can be closed and retracted quickly, in order to keep the subterranean chambers safe from the rain. The prospected floor for the arena is said to include hidden lifts and trap doors beneath the ground, and theatre productions, concerts and cultural shows above at full view. This will allow visitors a time-travelling experience of the Colosseum, taking them back to the heights of the Roman Empire, although certainly with less blood and cruelty.
The Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini notes that “It will be a major technological intervention that will offer visitors the opportunity to, not only see the underground rooms, but also appreciate the beauty of the Colosseum while standing in the centre of the arena“.
“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.” – Caesar Augustus