For the first time, visitors will be able to visit the underground levels of the Colosseum in Rome. These are the spaces, the “hypogea,” that held gladiators and animals that fought in the arena.
Construction of the giant amphitheater, similar to modern sports arenas, was begun around the year 70 in the reign of the emperor Vespasian. The Colosseum, unlike earlier structures, is freestanding. It seated around 50,000 spectators who were protected from the sun by a huge retractable awning. It was the setting of thousands of contests, or combat, between gladiators or between animals and men, and even of mock naval battles. Mobile platforms and elevators were used to haul, or catapult, the performers and scenery from the hypogea to the stage level. Spectators were forbidden from visiting this underground “backstage” area.
Over the centuries time, weather, vandalism and pollution have damaged the massive amphitheater. Restoration of the entire structure has been ongoing for years, starting with cleaning and shoring up the facade. Now, work to restore the underground area has been completed and the public will be able to explore parts of the corridors and chambers of the hypogea.