It’s not just the first time in 2,000 years that the area – described as the “heart” of the building – has been opened; since the subterranean levels, or “hypogeums,” were where gladiators and animals waited before going into battle, this is the first time in the monument’s history that the public has been allowed to enter.
From now on, tourists will be able to walk the passageways on a wooden platform and admire the corridors and arches that connected the hypogeums between the rooms where gladiators and animals waited, before entering the elevators that would catapult them into the arena. .
At the time, the hypogeum was lit by candlelight. But with the original ground level of the arena long destroyed, it is visible from the upper levels of the Colosseum, and sunlight filters through its depths.
The Italian Ministry of Culture unveiled the enormous restoration of the vaults and passages where the fighters awaited them. The work was a joint project in collaboration with Italian fashion brand Tod’s and company CEO Diego Della Valle attended an unveiling ceremony.
Speaking at the ceremony, Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said the work will give people a better understanding of how the Colosseum operated.
“This restoration is absolutely important for archaeological research because it allows us to piece together its history,” she told CNN.
“It was behind the scenes of the shows taking place in the region. [It is the location for] all the preparation, even the technology – they brought props, men and animals to the area through a series of elevators and freight elevators. “
Made with the power of fashion
The hypogeum runs under the entire Colosseum.
The restoration project – which has restored the entire Colosseum over the past decade – was started by Tod’s CEO Diego Della Valle and Rome’s Archaeological Heritage Department in 2011. The fashion house contributed 25 million euros ($ 30 million) for the operation.
It took place in three main phases, starting with a thorough cleaning of the facade of the monument, then moving on to the underground areas. A small part of the hypogeum was opened to the public in 2016.
Major restoration work on the hypogeum began in 2018, although it was delayed by the pandemic.
Archaeologists, restorers, engineers and architects are among the experts who have worked to make the monument as close to its former glory as possible. The team used photographic surveys, surface mapping, and the slow, meticulous work of removing centuries of dirt, deposits, and microorganisms such as algae and lichen.
In some parts, they had to remove traces of previous restorations, which had deteriorated over time, and replaced them with what they describe as more authentic materials.
Conservators also installed a system to reduce water infiltration into the masonry, which is one of the main causes of degradation.
A global and bloody icon
The works are part of a major renovation project for the entire structure.
The Colosseum was built by Emperor Vespasian, with construction beginning in 72 BCE and ending eight years later.
His son, Titus, opened the Colosseum with 100 days of games, which included simulated naval battles, the execution of animals, and gladiatorial fights. According to the ancient historian Eutrope, 5,000 animals were killed during these inaugural games.
At its peak, the amphitheater could accommodate between 50,000 and 70,000 spectators. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was used as housing and as a source of materials for other construction work around the city. Today one of the most famous monuments in the world, it attracted 5 million visitors a year before the pandemic.
During the ceremony, Della Valle spoke briefly about the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the country – which was the first to be affected in Europe – describing it as a ‘tragedy’.
“It’s time to restart – to move forward – because there is a lot of work to be done,” Della Valle said at the unveiling ceremony, urging other companies to invest in restoring Italian heritage .
“When private companies work well with public artistic heritage, things happen,” he added.
Archaeologists said the restoration work was helping them understand how the building operated.
The opening of the underground section marks the end of the Tod’s restoration project, but it is not the end of the work at the Colosseum.
Last month, the Culture Ministry announced plans to build a wooden arena that will cover the hypogeum, giving an idea of how old the Colosseum is. The new arena will host concerts and other types of cultural events.