In ancient Rome, tens of thousands gathered at the Colosseum to watch enslaved men, condemned criminals and wild animals fight to death.
These grisly gladiator (a man trained to fight with weapons against other men or wild animals) clashes required great feats of engineering. To make caged creatures and prize fighters emerge from underground as if by magic, the Romans devised a labyrinth of secret tunnels beneath the arena’s wooden, sand-covered floor.
The Colosseum was the largest amphitheater of the Roman empire. But with the collapse of the Roman Empire, it fell into disrepair and is now one of the main tourist attractions in Italy. For many centuries, the Colosseum has been on lists of the seven wonders of the world. Shaped like a nearly perfect cylindrical drum, it is one of the very first things to amaze a newcomer in Rome.
The Colosseum might be closed now, but Italian officials are already imagining a post-pandemic world where tourists can enjoy concerts, theatre, and even stand in the center of a space that once hosted the famous gladiator shows of Rome.
According to sources, the Italian government is seeking proposals from engineers to install a $22.5 million retractable floor for the Colosseum. Proposals are due February 1, and the Italian officials hope to complete the ambitious project by 2023.
“It will be a major technological intervention that will offer visitors the opportunity to, not only see the underground rooms but also appreciate the beauty of the Colosseum while standing in the center of the arena,” Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said.
The Colosseum, as it is now, has no floor. Instead, tourists see the underground maze of tunnels and the system of pulleys and trap doors once used by the gladiators of Rome and the wild animals they fought against. For hundreds of years, the network has been exposed to the elements of nature.
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.
The floor would close during cold or wet weather and to create space for concerts and other live performances. Gladiators will not be returning, Colosseum Director Alfonsina Russo said. “The arena will be used for high culture, meaning concerts or theater,” he added.
The Colosseum closed in March as Italy shut down most of its economy to stem the spread of COVID-19. It reopened in June but closed again in November as a second coronavirus wave tightened its grip on Europe.