The floor of Rome’s Colosseum, where gladiators once fought against each other and wild animals, is set to be restored to its former glory.
Milan Ingegneria, a structural engineering and architecture firm, has won an €18.5m (£16m) bid to build and install a retractable arena floor that will allow visitors “to see the majesty of the monument” from its centre, culture minister Dario Franceschini said on Sunday.
The project is expected to be completed within the next two years.
“In 2023, we will have the splendour of the Colosseum with its arena again,” Franceschini added.
The Roman amphitheatre, completed under Emperor Titus in AD80, once had a wooden floor covered with sand that was built on top of a network of tunnels and rooms where gladiators and animals waited before entering the arena.
But the floor was removed in the late 1800s when archaeologists began to excavate the subterranean levels of the structure. The underground area was opened to the public in 2010 and visitors can also see the tunnels when they look down from what were the tiered rows of seats.
The new, hi-tech stage will be able to quickly cover or uncover the underground networks below, allowing them to be protected from the rain or to be aired out.
Franceschini said the floor would be sustainable and reversible, meaning it can be removed if plans for the Colosseum, which was built to host up to 60,000 spectators, change in the future.
The stage would also be able to host cultural events, Franceschini added.
“It’s an ambitious project that will help the conservation and protection of the monument and improve its usability,” he said.
The idea of rebuilding the arena of the Colosseum, the biggest amphitheatre constructed during the Roman empire, was first mooted by archaeologist Daniele Manacorda in 2014. The idea was supported by Franceschini, who said at the time the arena could also be used for re-enactments of the gladiator battles. In Roman times, crowds would fill the Colosseum to watch gladiators defeat animals including bears, tigers, elephants and rhinoceros.
In 2014, the monument underwent a €25m restoration, paid for by the luxury brand Tod’s.
The Colosseum reopened to visitors last Monday as coronavirus restrictions were eased. Before the pandemic, it would hold up to 3,000 people at a time. Currently only groups of 14 can enter, with staff needing to ensure a gap of 15 minutes between each group.