Rome Offers Visitors An Underground Gladiatorial Experience
Rome's famous 2,000-year-old Colosseum has a vast underground world called the “hypogeum” and it’s now open to the public for the first time.
The Colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheater, was a gigantic structure that opened in 80 AD to provide entertainment to 50,000 of Rome’s population. According to Rome.net, construction of the Colosseum began under Emperor Vespasianin in 72 AD and was completed eight years later when Emperor Titus ruled the Roman Empire. It is written that to celebrate his completion of the gigantic monument, Titus held 100 days of games that saw more than 2,000 gladiators die in the arena. The Colosseum was used for more than 500 years.
Costing around $30 million euros and taking two years to complete, deep beneath the 50,000 person stadium, tourists can now explore the blood-stained darkened dungeons that once held brave gladiators, terrified prisoners and wild beasts like lions and tigers. A Daily Mail article says six million tourists visit this iconic ancient site each year, but now, for the first time, visitors can walk the 525 feet of underground passages seeing what so many people saw before they departed this world, most often in the most awful ways imaginable.
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Diego della Valle, chairman of Tod´s, Italian fashion group that greatly funded the restoration work, told Reuters that almost 100 architects, archaeologists and reconstruction engineers worked together to make the spectacular subterranean hypogeum safe for millions of people to experience. And what this new facility essentially does, is reveal an aspect of the stone amphitheater that had until now only ever been seen by Italian authorities.
This is the first time the 525 feet walkway will be open to the public and the tour features part of the stone amphitheater that was previously blocked to tourists. Furthermore, visitors to the Colosseum can see rooms that were built with windows for air circulation “for slaves who were tasked with feeding the wild animals kept in cages” according to the article in Daily Mail.
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Last December I wrote an Ancient Origins news article about what I called “Rome ’s famous blood bath” and the plans to install a €10 million euro ($12.3 million) high-tech retractable floor giving visitors an insight into the lives of ancient gladiators. The gladiators, prisoners and slaves must have been terrified as all the wood and rope elevators and pulleys opened and closed trap doors in a great theatrical production where gladiators and animals “magically appeared on the main floor” according to Diego della ValleDella.
He added that this new tourist facility is “not only entertainment but an important business” in Italy, like it has always been. In March 2021 Dario Franceschini announced a $22 million contract to restore the arena floor, allowing visitors to walk in the center of the monument and stand in the same place as fighters did thousands of years ago. The floor of the Colosseum is now under construction and plans for 2023 include offering tourists a gladiator's eye view of the arena, after Ingengneria engineering complete their new high-tech, retractable wooden floor by 2023.
There, below the sand and blood strewn battlefield of the upper arena, thousands of people waited in cages below 36 trapdoors, readying their minds, bodies and weapons for the terror storm above, where the blood thirst of the wild and exotic animals was only shadowed by that of the 50,000 feral spectators. It is expected that with these new attractions maybe seven or eight million might people a year might visit the site, which will most likely come with a major cash boost for pre-Covid Rome.
Top image: Colosseum underground. Source: David Carillet / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie