Get a 'Backstage' Peek at the Colosseum As Underground Levels Open to Tourists for the First Time
Centuries ago, the underground areas of Rome's Colosseum were not a place you'd want to find yourself in — it's where they kept the gladiators and wild animals before they went to battle with each other.
Thankfully, times have changed and the arena is now a place that attracts millions of visitors every year (under normal circumstances, of course). And now, both travelers and history buffs will have even more reason to flock to the popular site as the underground areas — sometimes described as the "backstage" of the Colosseum — have been restored and opened to visitors for the first time ever.
Tourists will now be able to explore the subterranean level of the Colosseum along pathways lined with wooden boards. While making their way through the different corridors and archways, they'll come face to face with the rooms that housed the gladiators and animals as they waited to step on an elevator that would thrust them into the arena for combat. In those times, the area was lit by candles, but the Colosseum's main level was removed in the 1800s for archaeological purposes, allowing for sunlight to pour in and illuminate the path for 21st-century visitors.
It took more than two years to complete the restoration of the Colosseum's underground passageways and vaults — a project that was led by Italy's Ministry of Culture, but funded by Diego Della Valle, founder and CEO of the Italian fashion brand Tod's.
Speaking at a ceremony unveiling of the now officially opened underground passageways, Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said the project will give visitors a new and better understanding of how the Colosseum once functioned.
"This restoration is absolutely important for the archaeological research because it enables us to reconstruct its history," she told CNN. "This was the backstage of the shows that went on in the area. [It is the location for] all the preparation, even the technology — they brought props, men, and animals up into the area through a series of elevators and cargo lifts."
Plans are also underway to build a lightweight, retractable stage covering the subterranean levels as they once were centuries ago. The stage will allow visitors to view the Colosseum as the gladiators once did and will also eventually host cultural events.
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she's always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.