It’s difficult to imagine Rome’s Colosseum in its prime when reading about the extraordinary forms of entertainment that went on within its walls. Even if you’ve had the opportunity to tour the historic ruins, envisioning what it was like with crowds cheering on gladiator battles or mock naval battles is challenging. However, in just a few short years, it will be easier to visualise the Colosseum as it was hundreds of years ago as Italy has announced plans to install a retractable floor.
The Italian cultural ministry has put forth an international call for proposals for a new Colosseum floor that will be easily retractable but still allow visitors to view the intricate web of rooms below. €10 million has been set aside for the project and submissions are to be received within the next month. Work is expected to begin next year and it is hoped that the project would be completed by 2023.
The Colosseum was inaugurated in 80AD and until the fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the fifth century, it was a crown jewel. After the empire was broken up, the original wooden floor, which could slide open, boasted trap doors, and had lifts to bring animals into the arena, rotted away, exposing the maze of rooms below. For more than 1,000 years, the Colosseum has been without a floor, and excavations began in the 19th century to preserve the rooms that once held beasts and gladiators.
For all its beauty and intrigue in its present form, the addition of a floor to the Colosseum would not only give visitors a better understanding of the ancient site, but it would be practical as well. An easily retractable floor would offer much needed protection to the rooms that are currently exposed to the elements. The floor would also open the Colosseum back up for its original purpose: entertainment. While (mock) gladiator battles might remain a thing of the past, the ancient ruins would become a venue for concerts and theatre performances, according to Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum.
According to The Times, “a high technology solution that will give the visitor the chance to see the subterranean rooms, as today, but also be able to appreciate the beauty of the Colosseum while standing in the center of the arena,” is what Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini is looking for in the winning design. Russo also hopes that lifts make their way back to the Colosseum. In 2015, experts were able to recreate the kind of lift used by the Romans to bring massive animals into the arena, which would make for a good addition. Such inclusions would “lift the lid on the secrets of the complex organizational machine behind the shows,” added Franceschini.
“We want to give an idea of how it was,” said Russo, and in just a few short years, this vision will be a reality offering visitors a glimpse into the past like never before.