Colosseum completely opens tunnels for first time. Image by Sebastià Giralt via under creative commons license

Colosseum fully opens underground tunnels for the first time

By Region Central Italy Culture News Travel in Italy

The Hypogeum, or ‘backstage’, of Rome’s Colosseum is fully open to the public for the first time. The restored walkways allow visitors to fully explore the underground tunnels and chambers of the 2,000-year-old monument.

The hypogeum is open following a restoration project funded by Italian fashion house Tod’s. 

A vast 15,000 square metres, it is where gladiators and wild animals prepared for battle. Lying beneath the amphitheatre’s arena, the area was invisible to spectators in ancient Rome. The spectators gathered to watch gladiators defeat each other or animals, including tigers, bears and elephants.

Small section now the whole hypogeum

Since 2010, visitors could enter the hypogeum; however, there were restrictions to a small area. Now, there is a network of walkways which allows visitors to explore the chambers and tunnels.

Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Colosseum said, “Today we are returning to the public a monument within a monument. What emerged is that the hypogeum had a 400-year-long history, from when the amphitheatre opened in AD80 to the final show in 523.”

She said the 15 restored corridors recounted “traces [of history] left over time”.

More than 80 archaeologists, architects and engineers were involved in the two-year project to “bring back to the centre of attention a monument that the whole world loves”, said Diego Della Valle, the chairman of Tod’s.

Paid for through public-private partnership

Several years ago, there was a furore when Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, announced several public-private partnerships for the renovation of Rome’s monuments. However, they have paid off.

The restoration of the hypogeum is the second part of a three-phase project on the Colosseum that began eight years ago. Tod’s has paid a total of €25m towards the cost.

The first phase focused on cleaning the Colosseum’s façade. The final part, scheduled for completion in 2024, will involve restoring the galleries and lighting system. The project also has a visitor centre. 

“It’s right to have full public-private collaboration,” Franceschini said. “The project is really important and demonstrates how an Italian company, which exports all over the world, then invests back in its country to protect its artistic and cultural heritage.”

Other Italian brands have entered into partnership to restore key monuments. They Fendi, which restored the Trevi Fountain, and Bulgari, which restored the Spanish Steps.

Additional project

A further project, to restore the floor of the Colosseum should be completed in 2023. It involves a hi-tech stage which will cover or uncover the underground networks, protecting them from the rain or allowing them to dry out.

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