The Italian government has approved a plan to construct a new floor in Rome’s ancient Colosseum, enabling visitors to stand where gladiators had once fought in battle. The Colosseum was the biggest Amphitheatre in the Roman Empire, which hosted gladiator fights and animal hunts, among other events. The monument attracted 7.6 million tourists in 2019, making it one of Italy’s most prominent landmarks.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini announced the project to build the wooden retractable floor earlier this month and the engineering firm Milan Ingegneria won the €18.5 million contract to design the floor. Construction of said floor is expected to be completed by 2023. The original Colosseum floor was removed by archaeologists in the 19th Century, exposing the underground network of tunnels where gladiators and animals were held before the fights began.
Mr Franceschini said the extraordinary new floor would allow visitors to see the majesty of the Colosseum from its centre, adding that “It's another step forward toward rebuilding the arena, an ambitious project that will aid the conservation of the archaeological structures while getting back to the original image of the Colosseum.” He also hinted at cultural events being held at the venue after the construction of the floor is completed.
The high-tech floor will be “light, reversible and sustainable,” according to a press release. “You will be able to walk on it and go to the centre of the Colosseum, seeing it in the same way as visitors used to up to the end of the 19th century,” Mr Franceschini remarked. The top of the floor will be made of sustainable Accoya wood, the release said, and will consist of slats that can be rotated to allow natural light into the area below and shield the underground structures from rain.
The installation of the 3,000 square meter floor will be completely reversible, the ministry said, offering flexibility to accommodate potential future revamps. This will be done in a way to efficiently construct the floor while also maintaining the integrity of the structures underneath it. “The floor will be retractable through electrical mechanisms,” Fabio Fumagalli, an architect involved in the project, told NBC News. “This way we will be able to control the environmental conditions of the basement, and at the same time we will be able to show visitors the complex system of openings on the original floor plan.”
“The original floor of the Colosseum was highly innovative," said Andreas Steiner, editor-in-chief of Archeo, a monthly Italian magazine on archaeology and ancient history. "The whole arena was a symbol of the most advanced and expensive technology of the times."
The new floor design might also prove to be revolutionary. The wood and carbon fibre slats can be tilted 90 degrees to allow in light and reveal a glimpse of the tunnels underneath. Sections of it will be retractable, sliding along runners and more fully exposing the warrens below that were once used as a backstage of sorts for the deadly shows and grand events in the arena, according to the Ministry of Culture.