For the first time, the bowels under the Colosseum in Rome, where gladiators and animals waited before the fight, are open to the public.
Following a major renovation, the hypogeum, as the area comprising the underground tracks is called, was unveiled in a ceremony on Friday. Now, 525 feet of wooden walkways have been installed throughout the underground structure, making it accessible to tourists and other visitors for the first time in the Colosseum’s nearly 2,000-year history.
Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum and its archaeological park, called the hypogeum a “monument within a monument” and explained that the newly opened section would help reveal the site’s secrets to academics and the public. “Each stone here is a witness to everything that happened under the great arena of the Colosseum, from its inauguration in AD 80 to its final performance in AD 523.”
A team of some 80 experts, including archaeologists, architects, curators, engineers and geologists, participated in the restoration effort, which began in 2018, the second part of a larger three-phase project. financed with an amount of 25 million euros (29.8 million) gift from the Italian fashion brand Tod’s.
The first phase, launched in 2013, involved cleaning the facade of the monument, while the third part will renovate its galleries.
Tod’s engagement proved controversial when it was first announced nearly a decade ago, with opponents saying cultural heritage and private money shouldn’t mix. Dario Franceschini, Italian Minister of Culture, recalled this reaction in a speech he himself gave on Friday.
“I was shocked and outraged to see that, faced with an Italian company committed to allocating such a large sum to the protection of the country’s cultural heritage, a controversy erupted instead of general applause”, he said. declared. “The big Italian companies, beyond what they export to the world, have behind them Italy, its art and its beauty.
“It shows that when the public and the private want to do something together, things can happen,” added Diego Della Valle, the founder of Tod’s.
Construction of the Colosseum began in AD 72 under Emperor Vespasian and ended about eight years later. For four and a half centuries, the world’s largest amphitheater served as a site for animal hunts, theatrical productions, gladiatorial contests, macabre executions, and other public performances.
Fighters, humans and animals alike, waited in the hypogeums for their turn in front of the crowd, while invisible workers staged them by the light of oil lamps and torches.
“We have to be proud of these reboot weeks,” Franceschini said during the unveiling. “Our people have always done their best in difficult times. Our predecessors demonstrated this immediately after the war, when they rolled up their sleeves in a divided and torn country, making it an industrial power within a few years.
“We will come back and demonstrate it now,” he added, “and I am happy that this is happening in the name of culture.”
See more photos of the newly opened hypogeum below.
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