Archaeologists have recreated a deadly lift used for transporting animals into the Colosseum. It’s a little known fact that animals were also released into the arena and some species came close to extinction as a result. We were invited to a first look at the Colosseum’s new machine by The Roman Guy, an expert tour operator, to the first public opening day, together with a tour of Palatine Hill and The Forum.
It is thought that up to one million animals may have been killed, including bears, lions, but also elephants, giraffes and hippopotami. A replica of the Colosseum’s ancient lift has been created for a TV documentary for the US channel Public Broadcasting System.
You can see the platform above where the poor animals would have been brought out. With our tour, we had fast track entry and restricted access to the arena floor where the gladiators and animals would have fought for their lives, as well as the underground area.
Before being hoisted up on the deadly elevator, the animals and slaves were held underground in the “hypogeum” or basement. It must have been a terrifying place, with the most horrific smells and sounds. These tunnels were added by the younger brother of Titus, Domitian, who was a particularly cruel emperor.
The Colosseum is a feat of engineering, the only ampitheatre that was free-standing. All the others were supported by hills. Commissioned by the emperor Vespasian, it was built in the first century AD on the site of Nero’s palace and was capable of seating 50,000 spectators. Only 35 to 45 percent of the Colosseum was accessible to the public, but the opening to restricted groups of the hypogeum and the upper tier has doubled that. It certainly gave us a unique insight into the hardships that the animals, slaves and gladiators must have endured.
The reconstructed arena floor is also only open to restricted groups – there were only 6 others in our tour, so it was a rare opportunity to experience the sheer size of the place in silence. We had been given audio guides so were able to walk freely around whilst still hearing our knowledgeable tour guide.
From here we headed to another restricted area, the upper levels, which had been closed since the 1970s. This seating area was where slaves, women and others considered to be lower members of society were forced to sit.
However today this third level offers some of the best views of the arena, the nearby Forum and the Arch of Constantine, with very few other visitors.
Leaving the Colosseum, we walked up Palatine Hill, a verdant place which was extremly exclusive in ancient Rome as it was home to the Roman emperors.
The Palatine Hill stadium also formed part of this palace. It’s not known what it was used for, though some say experts it was a place for the emperors to exercise their horses or where athletes took part in foot races and some believe it was a private garden. At any rate it is too small to accommodate chariots.
This fountain at Domitian’s Palace has an ornate decoration, and you can imagine how grand the whole place must have been.
On our way back down from Palatine Hill, we had a magnificent view of the world famous Forum area. The white building topped with horses and chariots is the much more recent than the Roman ruins in the forefront. The Altare della Patria also known as the Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II, was opened in 1925.
The Arch of Titus was constructed in around 82 AD by Emperor Domitian to commemorate his recently deceased older brother Titus and his battle victories. If it looks familiar, that’s because it was the inspiration for Paris’s Arc de Triomphe.
Three lonely columns are the only remaining ruins of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, previously a meeting place for the Roman Senate and then a public speaking platform.
The Temple of Antonius and Faustina was commissioned by the Emperor Antoninus Pius to honour his deceased and deified wife Faustina.
There are some impressive statues to see inside the Temple of Romulus, built by the Emperor Maxentius in memory of his young son who had also died and who was nothing to do with the founder of Rome, also known as Romulus. It still has it’s central rotunda, original columns and bronze doors.
This really was a once in a lifetime occasion to explore the Colosseum’s hidden workings and the rest of the Forum and surrounding area. We also thoroughly enjoyed our tour of The Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s and The Vatican with The Roman Guy, and discovering some of Rome’s other hidden gems on foot. These outstanding monuments have withstood the test of time and born witness to so much history. Let’s just hope that construction work on Rome’s new subway line doesn’t do any lasting damage to these unique artefacts.
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