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Rome Colosseum Tunnels Open to the Public

Friday, July 30, 2021

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For the first time in its history, the area where gladiators and animals waited before combat—also known at the bowels—within Rome’s Colosseum opened to the public.


The official late-June opening follows a three-part, $29.8 million restoration.


Colosseum History & Restoration Plans


Under Emperor Vespasian, construction on the Colosseum (originally call the Flavian Amphitheater) began in 72 AD and was completed some eight years later. For four centuries, the site would serve as the world’s largest amphitheater, showing animal hunts, theatrical productions, gladiator contests and executions, among other public spectacles.


In its prime, the Colosseum could house more than 50,000 people. Today, it is one of Rome’s most popular attractions, boasting more than 6 million visitors a year.


Below the structure’s floor is a hypogea—an area composed of subterranean pathways—where human and animal combatants would await their turn to fight in front of vast audiences.


In 2013, the Italian government launched the first phase of a three-phase restoration project for the Colosseum, which involved the cleaning of the monument’s facade.


Some time later, in 2017, it was reported that maintaining the site, alongside Italy’s many other ancient treasures, was becoming a financial burden for the government. To mediate these financial issues, the government announced that it would be relying on donations from businesses to keep its cultural legacy intact.

By thew following year, upon receiving a generous $29.8 million gift from Italian fashion brand, Tod’s, a team of some 80 experts made up of archeologists, architects, conservators, engineers and geologists, got involved with the monument’s restoration.


However, what should have been good news didn’t come without some controversy.


“I was shocked and indignant to see that, in the face of an Italian company committed to allocating such an important sum to the protection of the country’s cultural heritage, controversy arose instead of general applause,” recalled Dario Franceschini, Italy’s Minister of Culture, at the recent unveiling ceremony. “The great Italian companies, beyond what they export to the world, have Italy, its art, and its beauty behind them.” 


“It shows that when public and private want to do something together, things can happen,” Diego Della Valle, the Founder of Tod’s, added.


In January of this year, the Italian government announced that it was seeking bids from engineers to rebuild the floor and return the 2,000-year-old landmark to its former glory. AT the time, the flooring rebuild project was expected to cost $22.5 million.


While at the time of the call for bids the Colosseum had no floor, visitors were able to look down and view the hypogea’s network of tunnels. Underneath what used to be a wood and sand-covered floor was a labyrinth which included staging areas as well as systems of ramps, pulleys, ropes, an elevator and other mechanisms workers used to make prisoners and gladiators suddenly appear.


In a statement from Franceschini, he said that the new floor would “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 center of the arena.”


Although, the ministry added that the designs for the floor—should they also include trap doors or mechanical components­—must be able to close quickly so that the underground spaces can be protected from weathering and rain.


Work on this portion of the Colosseum’s restoration is expected to start next year, with construction wrapping up sometime in 2023. Following the project’s completion, the ministry said cultural events, such as concerts and theaters, could potentially be held in the Colosseum.


Recent Hypogea Unveiling


Following an extensive renovation to the hypogea, an unveiling ceremony was hosted in late-June, revealing the latest installation of 525 feet of wooden walkways throughout the underground structure. The latest renovation now makes the area accessible to tourists and other visitors for the first time in the Colosseum’s nearly 2,000-year history.


“We need pride in these weeks of reboot,” Franceschini said during the unveiling. “Our people have always given their best in times of difficulty. Our predecessors demonstrated this in the immediate post-war period, when they rolled up their sleeves in a divided and torn country, making it an industrial power in a few years.” 


“We will return to demonstrate it now,” he added, “and I am happy that this is happening in the name of culture.”


Alfonsina Russo, Director of the Colosseum and its archaeological park, also chimed in, calling the hypogea  “a monument within a monument.”


Russo went on to further explain that the newly opened section would help reveal the secrets of the site to both academics and the public alike. “Each stone here is a witness of everything that occurred under the great arena of the Colosseum, from its inauguration in AD 80 to its final performance in AD 523,” he’s said.


Tagged categories: Architectural history; EU; Europe; Floors; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance + Renovation; Ongoing projects; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Renovation

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (8/3/2021, 10:08 PM)


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