The Roman Coliseum will open areas long closed to visitors. Beginning in the fall of 2010 tourists will have a ‘backstage pass’ to the third level of the ancient arena and they’ll also be able to poke around under the stage where tigers and other wild animals were formerly held before taking part in battles. The World’s Nancy Greenleese gives has a sneak preview. (Photo: Andrea Goldwyn) Download MP3
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KATY CLARK: The Roman Coliseum will open areas long closed to visitors beginning this fall. Tourists will be able to check out the third level of the ancient arena. And they’ll be able to poke around the level under the stage where the wild things roamed before taking part in the gory battles. These areas will give visitors a “backstage pass” to go behind the scenes of the spectacles. Nancy Greenleese gives us a sneak preview.
NANCY GREENLEESE: We’re going down a series of metal steps into the basement of the Coliseum. You can feel the temperature drop. It’s becoming much, much cooler on this hot Roman summer day. Workers at the underground level here are shoring up the stone arches to make the area safe for visitors. Tourists will soon be able to check out the rows of stalls. These once held lions, tigers and bears as well as serpents and crocodiles. The narrow passageways probably swarmed with gladiators. Architect Barbara Nazzaro is overseeing the 3.3 million dollar project to open up the previously closed off areas of the Coliseum. She says this underground space was no ordinary locker room.
BARBARA NAZZARO: I think it was very crowded, very hot and with a terrible smell probably, very dark. And I think you could really smell the fear.
GREENLEESE: The fear not only the gladiators, but the animals felt about what awaited them in the arena. And by the way, all of them went up there much as we would go up a few floors today.
NAZZARO: There were sort of lifts.
GREENLEESE: Nazzaro points out the remains of one of the eighty lifts. We think we invented everything but the Ancient Romans were already using a system of pulleys and ropes.
NAZZARO: They had different kind of elevators that brought up the animals in different moments of the show with trees and other things that could prepare the context of a hunting.
GREENLEESE: After the staged hunting and the ensuing battles and executions, the gladiators and the animals would descend alive or dead. All of them then washed up.
NAZZARO: There’s a lot of water.
GREENLEESE: Nazzaro points out a dark, dank channel.
NAZZARO: That’s why Nero had his little lake here because there is a river. It helped to clean all the blood and everything.
GREENLEESE: This level had been covered with dirt since the 6th century. Coliseum director Rosella Rea says archeologists rediscovered it completely preserved in the 1800s.
ROSELLA REA: They found traces of wooden stage machinery, tracks for transporting carts and different colored paints used to create backdrops for the shows.
GREENLEESE: We climb the stairs and go through a gate to the other soon-to-open site, the nosebleed seats. Project director Nazzaro says these were added after the monument was inaugurated in AD 81.
NAZZARO: This is the place where the common people could see the performance and the show.
GREENLEESE: We look down from a dizzying height to where the senators and nobles sat. Nazzaro points out the holes in the ancient walls that once held beams for the wooden stands. Poor people, slaves and women filled the stands to watch hours of battles and executions.
NAZZARO: The day was very long and there were people that were offering food so it’s more or less like a stadium today.
GREENLEESE: And like a stadium today, the Coliseum will soon have advertising. A private sponsor is being sought to pick up the costs of the 33 million dollar complete restoration. Chunks of ancient mortar fell from the ceiling three months ago. The funder will be permitted to advertise in a manner deemed “non invasive.” There’s been no talk yet of naming rights. For The World, I’m Nancy Greenleese in Rome.
CLARK: You can see Nancy’s pictures of the Coliseum at TheWorld.org. Plus, email us your photos of the Coliseum and we’ll put our favorites on the web. Our address is TheWorld@PRI.org. This is PRI.
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