Italy Travel: Colosseum opens Gladiator Pits
Italy Travel: Rome: The Colosseum has added to its allure by opening the undergrounds pits where gladiators and wild beasts waited before being winched from darkness into the light of the killing ground.
As well as revealing the bowels of the one-time blood-and-guts arena, the famed monument has also reopened its 33m-high third story, closed since the 1970s, affording a breathtaking view of Rome.
The two new attractions aim to boost visitor numbers at the site, which is already Italy's single most-visited monument at some 19,000 people a day.
Fans of ancient bloodletting are allowed in in groups of 25, strictly by reservation, to see its underground world.
According to Colosseum site director Rossella Rea, the gladiatorial areas are all the more fascinating because "they were completely buried in the 5th century AD and have been perfectly conserved".
"They never suffered the depredation which the surface parts of the monument were victims to," she said.
The so-called 'hypogeum' (literally, 'under ground') has been restored in a multi-million-euro project that has also installed new, muted lighting effects.
Rea said the hope was to have recaptured "some of the atmosphere" of the breathless moments before the games commenced, when the armored or naked fighters and the wild animals were hauled up through 80 trap-doors.
The visit starts from the Porta Libitinaria, named after the goddess of the dead Libitina, through which the gladiators marched in and from which their corpses were taken out.
A broad corridor then leads to the hypogeum proper with its various rooms, some once used for storing the stage props and scenographical effects that enhanced the central combat. Roberto Cecchi, Rome's special archeological commissioner, said he hoped the boost to ticket sales would act as a "driving force" for the rest of the Forum, where he announced the opening, in December, of two other long-awaited sites, the Temple of Venus and the House of the Vestal Virgins.
The next step for the Colosseum itself is to attract private sponsors to fund a 23-million-euro scheme to clean and restore the entire time-ravaged site.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, who has admitted that the Colosseum is "a daily worry" to him, hopes to announce the names of the firms before Christmas.
Efforts to muster funding for the clean-up and restoration have quickened since a chunk of masonry fell off an interior wall on May 9, the latest in a trail of bits the 2,000-year-old monument has shed over the years. The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre (its proper name) is perhaps the most attractive archeological venue in the world with some four million visitors a year.
Construction on the city's iconic monument started between 70 and 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian.
It was completed in 80 AD by his son Titus, who financed the project from the booty his armies seized in the war against the Jews in 66-70 AD.
Titus inaugurated it with 100 days of games including the recreation of a sea battle between Romans and Greeks.