ROME – A sight that gladiators would one day experience in preparation for a deadly battle: staring at the crowds of the Colosseum, perhaps under the gaze of the mighty Roman emperor himself.
Nearly 2,000 years later, visitors to the Colosseum will once again be able to stand in almost the same place and imagine the roar of spectators after the Italian Ministry of Culture announced on Sunday the winning project in a competition to build a spare floor for Rome’s landmark.
The selected design has a grille of specially treated wooden slats that can rotate to allow air to circulate and expose the hive to the underground corridors. It was created by a team led by Milan Ingegneria, an engineering consulting company, and is expected to cost about 1
Currently, most of the underground chambers are exposed to visibility, with only a small part of the floor at one end. This section – about 650 square meters, or 7,000 square meters – was installed in 2000 and was used for the first time that year to stage Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
Alfonsina Rousseau, director of the Colosseum and its archeological park, said the latest renovation would allow visitors to experience the effects of standing in the middle of the arena.
“By tying the thread of time, we are finally bringing back to the public the same point of view that people had from the stage of the monument in antiquity,” she told a news conference announcing the winner on Sunday.
Before the pandemic brought global travel to a standstill and closed many monuments and museums, the Colosseum was the most visited site in Italy, with more than 7.6 million people taking their glory in 2019 alone.
Some experts and archaeologists question the need for coverage. Art historian and essayist Tomaso Montanari said: “From the point of view of cultural policy, it has no purpose.”
He criticized “the idea that the monument as it is is not enough and should be transformed into a place for something else.”
“Monuments are not things that need to be filled,” he added. “Everything is very ridiculous, Italy can be seen through Las Vegas.”
Sergio Rinaldi Tufi, a retired archaeologist working at the University of Urbino, also expressed skepticism. He said that the section of the arena built in 2000 “already gives a good idea of the connection between the auditorium, the arena and the underground area” and that there is no need to create a “fake arena”.
Visitors to the Colosseum today have the privilege of seeing its underground area, he added. “It’s unique in the world,” he said. “It would be a shame to cover it.”
But Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told a news conference that the “grandeur of the monument” could be more fully perceived from the center of the arena. He called the Colosseum “a symbol of Italy in the world.”
Mr Franceschini acknowledged the debate over the suitability of the plans – “It’s natural”, he said, but said the project combined “sustainability, conservation, improved protection and technological innovation” and had “great value”. The renovation is a “significant challenge for Italy”, he added.
The underground corridor lawn, which is currently on display, would form the bustling backstage of the Colosseum, with cages and wildlife pens and underground rollers to raise the beasts to the arena floor. These and other areas were buried until the end of the 19th century, when the hypogeum or underground zone began to be excavated.
Mr Franceschini noted that the floor of the arena was intact at the time and referred to a photograph from around 1870 which showed that the hypogeum was completely covered.
The new surface will be installed at the level of the original pavement of the monument, which was discovered around 80 AD. Among the innovations of the selected project, one of the 11 considered projects, rainwater will be collected for the public baths of monument.
Referring to the winning design, Ms. Rousseau, director of the Colosseum, said: “The construction is light and resembles both in shape and as a function of the original plan of the wooden arena at the time it was first used.” added that the project took into account the requirements for the protection of the monument and for environmental sustainability.