The Flavian Amphitheater, better known as Colosseum, where gladiators fought wild animals – and each other, was built by Emperor Vespasian during the Flavian dynasty and, in 2007, it was selected as one of the 7 wonders. From November 1st, it will be possible to visit the fifth, and highest, level of this majestic Roman monument, which has been inaccessible to the public for 40 years. Around 87,000 people could be accommodated in the Colosseum – where water could be diverted to provide viewers mock sea battles complete with replica boats and weaponry -, but they did not all have the same view of the arena and it all depended upon their social status. Spectators received free tickets which indicated their seat numbers and which entrance to use – much as in modern stadiums.

The best view belonged to the emperor who sat in the Emperor’s Box on the first level, which was reserved for the emperor and his senators; the second level was occupied by imperial functionaries; the third one was for the middle-class; the fourth one was the realm of traders, merchants, and shopkeepers; while the fifth and final level was left for the plebeian’s classes, i.e. ordinary folks, who, to reach their seats, had to walk along dimly-lit tunnels and climb up steep flights of steps. Although plebeians, from their wooden benches at about 120ft above the ground, could not enjoy a closeup view of the games, they certainly had a great view of the whole city of Rome and especially of the nearby Forum and the Palatine Hill, where emperors built their palaces. Indeed, as explained by Rossella Rea, the director of the Colosseum “It was tiring to get all the way up there. A lot of the plebeians brought food from home – pieces of chicken, cereals, that kind of thing. You have to remember that the games lasted all day, so they and their families needed some sustenance.” Moreover, she adds, “the noise and the smell would have been hellish. The wild animals were kept in underground tunnels. They were not fed for days. So when they were hoisted up from the darkness to the arena in cages, they would have been terrified. The carnage was terrible.”

Starting from next month, the over 6 million tourists that each year visit the world’s largest amphitheater will have the opportunity, divided in groups of up to 25 people, to be led up to the highest reaches of the Colosseum by guides who will illustrate many of its secrets. Dario Franceschini, Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, had the opportunity of a preview and said: “It’s not been possible to visit this part of the Colosseum for 40 years. This restores another part of the monument to the public and provides incredible views of not only the Colosseum but also Rome.”

Ilona Catani Scarlett

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