For the first time ever visitors can now tour the subterranean levels of the Colosseum, where once only gladiators and animals ventured.
1. A previously unexplored world
The underground levels of the famous Colosseum in Rome, Italy, were originally only ever entered into by the gladiators and animals who waited there before going into combat. However, now the area, or ‘hypogea’, is not only open for the first time in 2,000 years but for the first time in the monument’s history the public will be welcomed inside. Tourists will be able to follow a wooden platform walkway through the passageways of the hypogea, admiring the corridors and archways which interconnected the gladiators’ and animals’ rooms, before entering the elevators which used to catapult them onto the arena for their fight. Back in its day the hypogea was lit by candlelight, but as the arena’s original ground level has long been destroyed, the area is visible from the Colosseum’s upper levels and so is lit by sunlight.
2. The restoration project
The restoration of the vaults and passageways were part of a huge restoration project which has seen the entire Colosseum restored over the past decade. The project was started by Italian fashion brand Tod’s CEO Diego Della Valle and Rome’s Archaeological Heritage Department back in 2011 and the fashion house has contributed €25 million to the operation. It has been carried out in three major phases, starting with a thorough clean of the monument’s façade, and then moving to the underground areas. Whilst a small part of the hypogea was opened to the public in 2016, the major restoration works to this started in 2018, although were of course delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teams of archaeologists, restorers, engineers and architects as well as other experts worked to bring the landmark as close to its former glory as possible, using tools such as photographic surveys and surface mapping, and slowly and meticulously washing away centuries of dirt, deposits and microorganisms. In some areas they also had to remove leftovers of previous restorations, replacing them with what they describe as more authentic materials. The restorers also installed a system designed to reduce the infiltration of water into the stonework, which is one of the main causes of decay to the Colosseum.
3. The unveiling
The official unveiling of the restoration works was done by Italy’s Ministry of Culture Dario Franceschini and Tod’s CEO Diego Della Valle also attended. During the ceremony, Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said that the works will allow people to understand better how the Colosseum used to function, whilst Della Valle spoke briefly about the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the country, which was the first one in Europe to be affected. Describing it as a ‘tragedy’, he said ‘It is time to restart — to move forward — because there is a lot of work to be done’ and urged other businesses to invest in restoring Italy’s heritage. ‘When private businesses work well with the public art heritage, things happen’ he added. Although the opening of the underground section marks the end of the Tod’s restoration project, it is certainly not the end of the works on the Colosseum. In May the Ministry of Culture announced plans to build a wooden arena over the hypogea which will enable visitors to get an idea of how the Colosseum used to be, as well as hosting concerts and other types of cultural events.