Roman Colosseum's Underground Revealed

Visitors will soon be allowed to see the monument's underground chambers.

ByABC News
May 27, 2010, 12:25 PM

ROME, Italy, May 27, 2010— -- Come this summer, visitors to Rome will be able to see parts of the Roman Colosseum never before open to the public. They will descend to the dank depths under the world's biggest ancient amphitheater, and climb the steep steps to its highest (existing) level to admire the majestic views over the arena and the magnificent ruins of the Roman Forum and Arch of Constantine next door.

Thanks to special government funds, conservation projects are underway at what is arguably the world's most famous monument to shore up areas that have been closed for decades, and allow access to visitors. Particularly fascinating is the warren of underground chambers and passageways that housed the animals, gladiators, machines and scenery that made up the greatest show on earth two-thousand years ago.

Soon, small groups of visitors with a guide will enter the Colosseum through the back entrance known as the Porta Libidinaria -- where in Roman times the gladiators made their grand entrance into the arena -- and take a glass elevator down into the bowels of the arena. There, with some imagination, you can picture the noisy, smelly chaos of animals and men preparing for showy battle.

The area opening to the public is under a modern reconstruction of the floor of the Colosseum that was built with steel beams in the year 2000. The original was built of wood, and covered with sand. Under this roof visitors get a feel for what it was like to be in the underground area where wild animals and gladiators waited their turn in what was the backstage of the biggest spectacle in the world at the time.

"The public will be able to visit this area for the first time in August or September," says Barbara Nazzaro, the architect in charge of the still-to-be completed restoration under the Colosseum, "and they will see the area under the arena where people worked all day to put on the show."

Lions, tigers, buffalo, gazelles, ostriches and more were brought into the Colosseum through an underground tunnel and locked in cells before being hoisted up in one of the 80 elevators to the stage above, appearing as if by magic in different corners of the arena (elephants used the ground-level entrance) .