Video: Rome opens ancient gladiators’ cages to public

Image: Colosseum in Rome
Ettore Ferrari  /  EPA
Workers are pictured Thursday inside the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. The Colosseum will open two new areas to tourists next week, the upper tier and the underground chambers.
updated 10/21/2010 9:18:26 AM ET 2010-10-21T13:18:26

Underground dungeons at Rome's Colosseum, considered to be one of the great feats of Roman architecture and where gladiators once locked in mortal combat, will open to the public for the first time next week.

An upper area of the ancient monument that had been closed since the 1970s will also be accessible to visitors and offer them a view over Rome's ancient forum, Italian culture ministry officials said on Thursday.

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The opening of the underground chambers, where lions and tigers were caged and gladiators waited to hear their fate, and the upper third tier of the 80 A.D. Roman amphitheatre follows recent restoration work.

"It is the first time people will have the chance to go down into the places where games and shows were organized," said Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum.

Officials said the idea was also to give visitors more space at one of Italy's most visited monuments, which in Roman times was the scene for mock sea battles, pitting warriors against wild animals and re-enactment of famous battles.

Rea said that more than 18,000 people come to see the amphitheatre every day, and conditions had become cramped for visitors. The newly opened areas will be accessible to guided tours of a maximum of 25 people at a time.

From the Porta Libitina — the "Gate of Death" through which the bodies of the dead were carried outside the amphitheatre — visitors will enter the "bowels" of the Colosseum.

There gladiators once prepared for battle, and animals were caged before being transported by lifts up to the central fighting arena.

Underground since the 5th century, the dungeons are in good condition, officials said, unlike some open-air areas of the monument that have been exposed to tourists and rain.

Built by the Roman emperor Vespasian, the amphitheatre could seat 50,000 spectators who would gather to watch gladiatorial contests and sometimes executions.

The upper third tier was used to work the sails that provided shade for the spectators.

The Colosseum, which was visited by about 4.5 million people in the first eight months of 2010, is in a sorry state and before the re-opening of the new areas, only 35 percent of the monument was accessible to visitors.

Earlier this year, falling chunks of mortar plunged through a protective netting, rekindling the debate about visitors' safety at the monument and, more generally, the state of Italy's archaeological treasures.

In July, the culture ministry said it was looking for private sponsors to plug a 25 million euro gap in funding for restoration and clean-up work.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Rome, “The Eternal City”

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  1. Open for business

    Tourists walk in the Colosseum near the hypogeum (underground) on October 14, 2010, in Rome. The underground, never before available to the public, is now open for visitors. (Franco Origlia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Underground tour

    Gladiators, wild beasts and ... tourists? Yep. People visiting the Colosseum can now walk around the underground chambers where lions and tigers were caged and gladiators waited to hear their fate. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Roman hot spot

    More than 18,000 people visit the amphitheatre every day. The newly opened areas will be accessible to guided tours of a maximum of 25 people at a time. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Colosseum

    The Colosseum is one of the most recognized structures not just in Rome, but in all of Europe. The building, which was inaugurated in 80 A.D., is visited by several million tourists each year. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Papal Basilica of St. Peter

    The Papal Basilica of St. Peter is illuminated in Vatican City, an enclave of Rome. The basilica, until recently, was the largest church ever built. The holy place stands where St. Peter was crucified and buried. (Miguel Villagran / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Roman Forum

    The Roman Forum is located between the Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill. The ancient city's most important and oldest structures were situated in or near the Forum, including many shrines and temples. (Doug Pearson / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Piazza del Campidoglio

    The Piazza del Campidoglio was designed during the 16th century by Michelangelo Buonarroti. The piazza is located atop Capitol Hill in Rome. The structure seen today dates back to 1560. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. City hall

    Two tourists rest next to a statue in front of the Campidoglio, Rome's city hall. The statue, one of a set of two, was built by Italian artist Matteo Bartolani in 1588 and is meant to represent Rome's Tiber River. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Castel Sant'Angelo

    Castel Sant'Angelo, sitting above the Tiber River, was built by the Emperor Hadrian as a tomb for himself and his successors. The Mausoleum was later completed by Antoninus Pius in 139 A.D. (Robert Harding / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Trevi Fountain

    Legend has it that if a visitor throws a coin into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, he or she is ensured a return. About 3,000 euros are tossed into the fountain each day, according to the BBC. (Sharon Lee / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Capitole Museum

    Antique statue fragments sit inside the Capitole Museum yard, located at the Square of Campidoglio, in Rome. The Capitole Museum contains an antique collection began in 1471 by pope Sixte IV. (Gerard Julien / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Basilica's interior

    Shafts of light fill the interior of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Tourists who plan to visit the basilica should take note of a strictly enforced dress code, which includes no shorts, bare shoulders or miniskirts. (Kazuyoshi Nomachi / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Sistine Chapel

    The ceiling of Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Images on the ceiling depict scenes from the book of Genesis, and the walls are covered with Renaissance frescoes created by other artists. (Jim Zuckerman / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Vatican Museum

    The main staircase of Vatican Museum forms a tightening spiral as it descends. The museum is located in the Vatican Palace, which popes have called home since the 1300s. (Peter Adams / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Pantheon

    The Pantheon, according to the Web site italyguides.it, is the Roman monument that holds the most and best preserved records, and is "the most copied and imitated of all ancient works." (Glenn Beanland / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Museo D'arte Contemporanea Di Roma

    The Museo D'arte Contemporanea Di Roma (MACRO) houses a permanent art collection that includes "some of the most significant expressions characterizing the Italian art scene since the 1960s," its Web site claims. (Paolo Cordelli / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Villa Medicis

    Villa Medicis is a 16th Century garden located on the Pincian Hill at the top of the Spanish Steps. The gardens are complemented by statues and fountains. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Villa Borghese

    The area now known as Villa Borghese was originally started as a vineyard in the 1500s, but was purchased by cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V, in 1605 and turned into a park. Rome obtained Villa Borghese in 1903, and it was opened to the public. (Will Salter / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Piazza Navona

    People take a freshly brewed espresso at a cafe terrace on Piazza Navona in Rome during the "Espresso Italiano day 2009." Italians drink some 70 million cups of coffee at the bars every day, according to the figures given by the National Institute of Italian Espresso. (Alberto Pizzoli / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Rome from above

    This aerial shot of Rome shows the Vittoriano Monument, dedicaded to the Italian king Vittorio Emmanuelle II, in the background. (Patrick Hertzog / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Via Condotti

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  22. Spanish Steps

    The Spanish Steps connect Piazza di Spagna to Trinita dei Monti, a French church. Once a gathering place for beautiful men and women hoping to be chosen as artists' models, the Spanish Steps are now used as a catwalk for an annual summertime fashion show. (Tony Burns / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Altar of Peace

    The Ara Pacis Augustae, or Altar of Peace, dates back to 9 B.C. The altar was built to celebrate the advent of peace under the reign of Augustus, Rome's first emperor. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Vittorio Emmanuele II monument

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