Rome announces plans for restoring the Colosseum, with a retractable floor

Italy's Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities has announced a call for bids to conserve and restore the hypogeum of the Colosseum, and enclose it with a 'reversible solution'.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Jan 14, 2021

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but what Rome built has now lasted for centuries as definitive wonders of the world, and remnants of an ancient, all-powerful civilisation. The Romans were especially known for their architectural and engineering prowess, and the Colosseum, the Flavian Amphitheatre, is a fine testament to that feat, the very symbol of the Roman capital. Our best shot at experiencing the former glory of the Roman Colosseum has been through digitally restorative means: in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator most notably, and two of the many Assassin’s Creed video games set during the time. However, owing to the Roman government’s and Culture Ministry’s move to “make the surface of the Colosseum arena floor usable again and to identify a compatible and reversible technological solution for covering the underground areas”, according to an official release, the Colosseum will now be prepped towards unveiling another aspect of the former gladiatorial ring’s operation in all theatricality: it’s hypogeum. 

The Colosseum is an important historical and urban landmark for Rome and Italy | Roman Colosseum Restoration and Conservation | Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism | STIRworld
The Colosseum is an important historical and urban landmark for Rome and Italy Image: Courtesy of Unsplash

Moving away from its brutal roots as the championing space of an inhuman practice, where often slaves fought to death for the entertainment of the Roman crowds, the call for the Colosseum’s restoration is seen as an intervention for the economic and cultural enhancement of the iconic Italian monument. The restoration of the imposing monument would primarily focus on the arena itself, which will be made accessible to the public again through advanced technological and integrated solutions that would guide the visitor to discover the mechanisms lying underneath the arena. Much like the catacombs, the hypogeum of the Colosseum too housed complex machinery for the shows and games that took place there in its glory days.

The hypogeum was a complex underground network of tunnels, cages and lifts beneath the Colosseum floor | Roman Colosseum Restoration and Conservation | Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism | STIRworld
The hypogeum was a complex underground network of tunnels, cages and lifts beneath the Colosseum floor Image: Courtesy of Unsplash

Historically speaking, the Colosseum was a symbol of power, even if meant for recreation: a monument of pomp and show. However, the practices it was associated with during the time were less than glorious. The hypogeum was the “backstage” for the show put on for Roman mobs to cheer, from where surprises would often spring up to joust gladiators and contestants. In a way, it lead to surprise and suspense and gasps from the audience, all through theatrics. The fighter in the pit wouldn’t know where the next fighter would emerge from, or even a wild animal, including lions. The comprehensive network of tunnels, cages and lifts beneath the Colosseum floor made this possible for the organisers, and for the Colosseum to be a perfect venue for such events. The Culture Ministry’s claims to restore the Colosseum to its former glory is thankfully far from that, but the floor could potentially be open for events such as concerts and theatres in the future.

The current fixed floor serves as a viewing platform to the rest of the underground structures | Roman Colosseum Restoration and Conservation | Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism | STIRworld
The current fixed floor serves as a viewing platform to the rest of the underground structures Image: Courtesy of Unsplash

The intervention is reportedly strongly desired by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities for the Colosseum Archaeological Park. "The reconstruction of the Colosseum arena is a great idea, which has been around the world. It will be a major technological intervention that will offer visitors the opportunity not only to see the underground, as today, but to contemplate the beauty of the Colosseum from the centre of the arena,” commented Dario Franceschini, the Minister for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism. The tender procedure for the award of design services was published a few weeks ago by Invitalia, in its capacity as the National Development Agency.

A side view of the Colosseum seating stand ruins | Roman Colosseum Restoration and Conservation | Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism | STIRworld
A side view of the Colosseum seating stand ruins Image: Courtesy of Unsplash

The comprehensive brief states the assignment for the “definitive, executive design and safety coordination” in the design phases of the consolidation, conservation, and completion of the underground structures and the construction of the new floor of the Colosseum arena, for a maximum contract value of Euro 1 million, and a total funding of Euro 18.5 million. The brief further states that the intervention must be designed with a view to offer access to the entirety of the arena level on which the games took place, while at the same time enabling an immersive peek into the complex system of underlying structures and mechanisms. Structurally, the whole arena would have to be conceived as a “unitary” floor with mechanised opening and closing devices, in an effort to let visitors be part of the synergy of the vast underground networks of lifts, springs and cells of the Colosseum. Specifying the need for the underlying archaeological structures to be protected from atmospheric precipitation or from excessive insolation, the brief states the requirement of the mobile system to be designed in such a way that it can be activated readily, and several times during the day. Sensitively done, this is an intervention that can prove to be a synergistic bridge between heritage and technology, two schools of thought heavily reliant on each other while operating on opposite ends of the academic spectrum often.

The call for bids closes on February 1, 2021, and works are expected to last until 2023.

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