Rome’s Colosseum to get state-of-the-art floor like in gladiator times

Imagining yourself as a gladiator on the arena of Rome's ancient amphitheatre will soon be possible thanks to plans to build a high-tech retractable floor over the ruins at the base of the iconic site.

Rome's Colosseum to get state-of-the-art floor like in gladiator times
The retractable floor won't spell the return of gladiator shows, the Colosseum's director has clarified. Painting: Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872

If you’ve ever visited Rome’s Colosseum, you’ll know that fully accessing the arena's stage area – where everything from gladiator battles to executions and countless other public spectacles took place – hasn’t been possible since ancient times. 

Through a combination of earthquakes, stone pillaging and natural erosion, the arena level of Il Colosseo is no more, revealing instead the underground part of the world’s largest amphitheatre, where beasts were caged and gladiators prepared themselves to fight to the death.

The underground level of the Colosseum was known as the Hypogeum. Photo: Bengt Nyman/Flickr

Incredibly, getting a life-like view of what it must’ve been like for anyone stepping into the arena to face a crowd of 35,000 boisterous Romans (and quite possibly a pack of lions or tigers) will soon be possible.

Italian officials are currently planning to build a state-of-the-art floor that will mimic some of the features of the original arena, as well as being quickly retractable to offer more flexibility to visitors and protect the underground ruins when there’s bad weather.

It may seem hard to believe now but during Roman times the Colosseum had an intricate stage system of tunnels, cages, and trap doors that allowed participants in the spectacle to make a surprise appearance in the arena via hidden portals in the floor under the sand.

There was also a system of lifts and pulleys which raised and lowered scenery and props and the Romans even managed to successfully flood the arena to re-enact famous ship battles at sea. 

“We want to give people an idea of how it was and we are seeking proposals from around the world,” Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Colosseum, told The Times.

“The arena will be used for high culture, meaning concerts or theatre…but no gladiator shows.”

Currently there's only a non-retractable small platform in one corner of the Colosseum's arena level. Photo: Ichigo121212/Pixabay

Italy’s government will subsidise the project with a grant of €10 million and all international proposals are due by February 1.

The plan is for the high-tech retractable floor to be completed by 2023.

It’s not the first time Italy has earmarked a refurbishment of the Colosseum’s floor, having allocated €18million in 2018 for a project that didn’t come to fruition.

The cost of the project has also sparked debate in the past, with critics such as Salvatore Settis, a professor of classical archaeology and former head of Italy's cultural heritage council, saying Italy couldn’t afford projects of this sort.

Will this be the year the Colosseum’s floor finally gets the thumbs up? 

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‘High-tech and green’: The new restoration plan for Rome’s Colosseum

Visitors will soon be able to stand in the centre of Rome's famed Colosseum following a revamp using "super technological and green" materials, according to plans unveiled at the weekend.

'High-tech and green': The new restoration plan for Rome's Colosseum
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

As anyone who has ever visited Rome’s Colosseum will know, the arena – where everything from gladiator battles to executions and countless other public spectacles took place – is not accessible.

But that’s about to change, and visitors will soon be able to see the ancient amphitheatre as the gladiators did, with plans to build a high-tech retractable floor over the ruined central area.

The Italian minister of culture announced the winning bid to restore the arena on Sunday, a project that will allow visitors to view the archeological wonder from ground level as soon as 2023. 

The 2,000 year old structure is currently floorless other than a small platform.

Rome’s landmark Colosseum is currently without a floor, other than a small platform, which is occasionally used for concerts. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

The ruins of the underground levels’ walls and tunnels are exposed due to a combination of earthquakes, stone pillaging and natural erosion. 

The new floor will also enable these underground chambers, where gladiators and wild animals awaited their ascension to the killing floor, to be properly ventilated for the first time.

A Milan engineering firm beat 10 competitors who answered a 2020 call for submissions with its vision involving rotating wooden slats.

“It is an ambitious project that will help better conserve and safeguard the archaeological structures,” said culture minister Dario Franceschini.

Franceschini plans to host the Rome G20 culture summit at the Colosseum in July and it may serve as a venue for other major cultural events.

The Colosseum’s executive archaeologist Alfonsina Russo said construction of the arena – which will be the subject of a Europe-wide call for bids of about 15 million euros – should begin by the end of the year or early 2022.

She said the new 3,000 square metre (32,300 square foot) floor should be ready for visitors in 2023.

Before the pandemic around 25,000 people toured the world-famous monument daily, and some 18.5 million euros have been set aside for the project.

The plan presented on Sunday consists of an entirely removable structure made of accoya, a modified, durable wood.

The slats will be rigged with a rotation system meant to permit light and air to circulate to underground passages below the area.

The rainwater that currently pools there will be collected and used to supply the toilets of Rome’s most visited monument.