Italy’s Ministry of Culture has announced plans to build a retractable wooden floor in Rome’s Colosseum, which will enable visitors to stand at the very centre of the amphitheatre, and to relive the atmosphere of the original gladiatorial combat stage.
Earlier this month, Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini revealed that engineering firm Milan Ingegneria and its partners will be constructing the 3,000 sq. m, €18m floor, with the aim of restoring the image of the arena as it stood when it was first built in the 1st century AD. It will cover the hypogeum structures below, a subterranean network of tunnels where gladiators waited before their games, which was added during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD).
According to the ministry’s statement, the new arena floor will comprise a framework of moveable wooden slats which will rotate automatically to reveal the hypogea. Ventilation units will be installed to regulate humidity and temperature, and thus create the most favourable conditions for the preservation of these underlying structures.
The designs also include a rainwater collection system to fuel the monument’s public restrooms.
In praise of the ambitious project, Franceschini said the new floor ‘will help the conservation of the archaeological structure by recovering the original image of the Colosseum, while also giving it back its nature as a complex stage machine’.
The plans have been met with some criticism, however. There are concerns that the floor will obscure the hypogeum structures, which were revealed during excavations in the 1800s and represent the most elaborate underground network of any amphitheatre across the Roman empire.
Franceschini stated: ‘I know that controversy will not be lacking. The Colosseum is our [national] monument, and it is right that we discuss it.’
It is hoped that construction will be completed in 2023, and it will be reversible, meaning it can be dismantled and returned to pre-existing conditions.
Last week, the Colosseum re-opened to the public. However, visitor numbers are limited to 1,260 a day, a fraction of the 20,000 daily visitors it received before the pandemic.