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ROME – This is a sight that gladiators would once have experienced as they prepared for mortal combat: gazing into the crowds at the Colosseum bank, perhaps under the gaze of the mighty Roman Emperor himself.

Almost 2,000 years later, visitors to the Colosseum will once again be able to stand in one place and imagine the roar of the spectators, after the Italian Ministry of Culture announced on Sunday the winning project in a competition to build an alternative floor. for the monument of Rome.

The design chosen features a lattice of specially treated wooden slats that can be rotated to allow air to circulate and expose the beehive from the underground hallways. It was created by a team led by Milan Ingegneria, an engineering consulting firm, and is expected to cost around 15 million euros, or $ 18 million. The surface is expected to be in use by 2023.

Currently, most of the underground chambers are exposed to view, with only a small section of floor at one end. This section – approximately 650 square meters, or 7,000 square feet – was installed in 2000 and was used for the first time that year for a staging of “Oedipus Rex,” by Sophocles.

Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum and its archaeological park, said the latest renovation would give visitors a taste of the effect of standing in the middle of the arena.

“By reconnecting with the passage of time, we are finally returning to the public the same point of view that people had from the scene of the monument during Antiquity”, she declared Sunday during a press conference to announce the winner.

Before the pandemic halted world travel and closed many monuments and museums, the Colosseum was Italy’s most visited site, with more than 7.6 million people taking to its glory in 2019 alone.

Some experts and archaeologists have questioned the need for the blanket. Art historian and essayist Tomaso Montanari said: “From a cultural policy point of view, this is pointless.”

He criticized “the idea that the monument, as it is, is not enough and must be transformed into a place for something else”.

“Monuments are not things to fill,” he added. “This is all very ridiculous, it is Italy seen through Las Vegas.”

Sergio Rinaldi Tufi, a retired archaeologist who worked at the University of Urbino, also expressed his skepticism. He said that the section of the arena that was built in 2000 “already gave a good idea of ​​the relationship between the auditorium, the arena and the basement” and that it was not necessary to create “A fake arena”.

Visitors to the Colosseum today have the privilege of seeing its underground area, he added. “It’s unique in the world,” he said. “It will be a shame to cover it up.”

But Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told the press conference that, from the center of the arena, “the majesty of the monument” could be better absorbed. He called the Colosseum “the symbol of Italy in the world”.

Mr Franceschini acknowledged the debate over the suitability of the plans – “It’s natural,” he said – but said the project combined “sustainability, conservation, improved protection and technological innovation” and was “d ‘great value’. Carrying out the renovation is “a major challenge for Italy”, he added.

The maze of underground corridors that is currently on display would have formed the bustling backstage of the Colosseum centuries ago, with cages and enclosures for wild animals and underground pulleys for raising beasts to the arena floor. These and other areas were buried until the end of the 19th century, when the hypogeum, or subterranean area, began to be excavated.

Mr. Franceschini noted that the floor of the arena was intact at that time and referred to a photograph, dating from around 1870, showing the hypogeum completely covered.

The new surface will be installed at the level of the original flooring of the monument, which was inaugurated around 80 AD Among the innovations of the chosen project, one of the 11 designs considered, rainwater will be collected for the toilets public buildings of the monument.

Referring to the winning design, Ms Russo, Coliseum manager, said: “The structure is lightweight and is reminiscent in both form and function of the original plan of the wooden arena at the time it was used. for the first time.” She added that the project took into account the requirements to protect the monument and be environmentally sustainable.

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