At the Colosseum, a High-Tech Refit Will Offer a Gladiator’s Perspective

The historic Roman amphitheater will soon be equipped with a retractable arena floor that will allow visitors to see the monument from its former battleground center.

An artist’s impression of the Colosseum’s new retractable arena floor. Image courtesy of HANDOUT

The Colosseum might be Italy’s most visited site at 7.6 million annual visitors before the pandemic, but none were able to view the monument’s majesty from the perspective of a gladiator entering mortal combat on the arena floor. That’ll soon change nearly two millennia after its completion thanks to an $18 million intervention by Milan Ingegneria, an engineering consulting firm tasked with creating a retractable wooden floor to cover a series of exposed underground chambers where gladiators and animals once waited before entering the arena. The design features a lattice of specially treated wooden slats that can rotate for air circulation and make the structure’s network of subterranean corridors visible. 

“Reconnecting the thread of time, we’re finally returning to the public the same view that people had from the stage of the monument during antiquity,” Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum and its archaeological park, said at a news conference. “The structure is light and recalls both in form and function the original plan of the wooden arena at the time it was first in use,” she continues, noting the new arena floor will feature ecologically sustainable features such as a mechanism to collect rainwater.

Photography by Domenico Stinellis/Associated Press

The art historian Tomaso Montanari, meanwhile, decries the intervention as serving no cultural purpose, criticizing the idea that the monument isn’t “enough” to keep attracting visitors. “Monuments are not things to be filled,” he told the New York Times. “It’s all very ridiculous—it’s Italy seen via Las Vegas.” 

While the debate rages on about the project’s suitability, Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini insists the effort adds great value to Italy. He notes the arena’s floor had been intact since the late 19th century, when archaeologists dismantled it to excavate the underground area, known as the hypogeum. (A relatively small 7,000-square-foot portion remains—it was installed in 2000 for a staging of “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles.) The new surface, which can quickly cover and uncover the underground networks to shield them from the elements, will be installed at the original level and is slated for completion by 2023. Though we’ll never get to experience the spectators’ roar, the prospect of seeing the Colosseum from a fighter’s perspective is reason enough to head to Rome when travel opens up again.

All Stories