Colosseum to open up highest level
ROME - AFP
The highest level of Rome's ancient Colosseum will be opened to the public for the first time in 40 years on Nov. 1, Italy's culture minister said on Oct. 3.
Seats on the fifth level of the amphitheater were once reserved for ancient Roman society's lowest commoner: the plebeian. But the seats boasted a breathtaking view not only of the gladiator battles far below, but of the heart of the empire.
"It is an incredible view of the Colosseum and Rome, which the visitor will remember as one of the most beautiful things he has seen in his life," Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said at a media presentation.
Far below, tourists peering down into the maze of galleries in the monument's belly appear as tiny specks, showing just how far away the commoners were from the arena floor, where terrified prisoners were forced to fight wild beasts.
Those squeezed together on wooden benches had a long way to climb to get to their seats -- but the tickets were free. Once they were there spectators were protected by a large canvas from sudden downpours.
Visitors will have to book guided tours, which will take groups of a maximum of 25 people up into the gods level at a time.
They will start with an exceptionally well-preserved corridor between the second and third floors, where traces of the lavatories can still be seen, the Colosseum's director Rossella Rea said.
There is also evidence of restorations to the walls following a fire sparked by lightning in 217 AD.
The tour will continue to the third floor, where the middle-classes sat, and on to the fourth, where merchants and traders enjoyed the famously grisly shows.
The first level, in blood-splattering distance to the action, was reserved for the emperor and his senators.
Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum was the biggest amphitheater built during the Roman empire.
Standing 48.5 meters high, it was capable of hosting 80,000 spectators for feasts of entertainment that encapsulated the brutality, hedonism and engineering genius that were among the defining features of ancient Rome.
The first phase of a major makeover of the venue was completed in July 2016, with a number of sections structurally strengthened and most of the remaining walls water-sprayed to remove centuries of encrusted dirt and grime.