Colosseum to showcase 'dungeons'

2010-10-15 14:21
Rome - Visitors to Rome's Colosseum will next week have the chance to view some of its underground chambers for the first time, where gladiators once prepared for battle and lions were caged, officials said on Thursday.

The first ever opening to the public of the underground dens and passageways - an area also known as the hypogeum - comes after careful restoration work.

The dungeons were "a place where for centuries thousands of people and animals passed before confronting death", officials said in a statement.

Meanwhile, well above ground, tourists will also be able to visit the ancient arena's third upper tier which had been closed since the 1970s.

Boost annual visits

"Only between 35 and 45% of the Colosseum had been accessible to the public, but now this has been doubled," Culture Ministry undersecretary, Francesco Maria Giro, said at a news conference presenting the restoration work.

Built between 70 and 80 AD and originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre - after the family name of the emperor Vespasian under whose reign construction began - the Colosseum could once seat around 50 000 spectators.

Popular exhibitions included gladiatorial contests, wild animal hunts, executions, theatre plays and even mock sea battles - in this case part of the underground area was flooded with water brought from a nearby aqueduct.

Since the beginning of this year, nearly five million tourists have already made their way to the Colosseum and officials said they believe the opening of the new areas will greatly boost annual visits to Rome's most famous landmark.