Exhibitions in Rome, Italy: New ‘The Colosseum: An Icon’ exhibition reveals secret history of the tourist attraction
The exhibition reveals lesser-known histories of one of the most-visited Roman sites, including its purposes post-Roman empire, during mediaeval times
The Colosseum, the iconic attraction of Rome which sees six million visitors each year, is recorded and known as the site where gladiators battled lions to the amusement of the citizens of ancient Rome. However, the structure has other considerably obscure histories. Following archaeological discoveries made during a spruce-up, a new exhibition, ‘The Colosseum: An Icon’ recounts some of the untold stories of one of the world’s most-visited monuments.
The exhibition, which is showing on a middle floor of the amphitheatre from March 8, 2017 to January 7, 2018, attests to the fact that life inside the iconic structure did not end with the disintegration of the empire or the final show of the classical era in 523 AD. The monument was a fortress of a powerful Roman family for over two centuries during medieval times. Additionally, in the 1600s, it served as a botanical garden. The combination of semi-abandonment and a micro-climate allowed more than 400 species of plants to flourish inside its arched walls.
Francesco Prosperetti, one of the officials in charge of the jewel in the crown of Italian tourism, said of the exhibition: “What ‘The Colosseum: An Icon’ shows is the extraordinary capacity the Colosseum has had to assume different identities over the centuries.”
Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum was the biggest amphitheatre built during the Roman empire. Standing 48.5 metres (159 feet) 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.
Scholars had long been aware that the mediaeval era Colosseum had a fortress owned by the Frangipane family. Much of the archaeological evidence of this piece of history was lost at the time of 19th-century excavations when masonry was removed for new buildings or restorations elsewhere in the city.
Recent restoration work on upper sections of the partially-intact structure uncovered traces of what was a raised wooden walkway which served as a lookout for the Frangipanes’ soldiers, who were constantly wary of attacks by rival families. This discovery has enabled historical experts to put together model and pictorial representations of what the mediaeval Colosseum would have looked like, and these are among the highlights of the new exhibition.
Other archaeological finds, including one side of a ram’s head and carved antlers, point to the mediaeval Colosseum being a hive of activity. The fortified aristocratic residence was arguably serviced by a range of businesses, market gardens and religious institutions.
The wooden fortress was partially destroyed by a 1349 earthquake but its surviving structures were later incorporated into a hospital sponsored by wealthy families. The seals of these families have been recently uncovered from the Colosseum site.
The collection also explores how the building became a reference point for students of architecture from far afield and, following its subsequent fall into an elegant state of semi-abandon, how it inspired Renaissance painters and Romantic poets.
The restoration works of the Colosseum were largely financed — to a reported tune of 25 million euros (US$26.5 million) — by upmarket shoe and fashion company Tod’s. The first phase of a major makeover 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.
The government has pledged to put up the cash for a second phase, which will involve rebuilding the arena floor and make the venue capable of hosting concerts and other cultural events, including re-enactment of some Roman-era events.
The culture ministry has also advertised for a new supremo to oversee the Colosseum, as part of a broader shake-up of the management of the country’s landmark historic and cultural attractions.