Colosseum unveils wild beasts trapdoor
ROME: It was the last thing they would see: a trapdoor opening in the floor of the Colosseum to unleash a snarling lion or bear, which sprang for the jugular as the crowds roared.
Where prisoners sentenced to a grisly death in ancient Rome's most barbaric playground once quaked in their sandals, today tourists can explore the cage that carried their killers thanks to a reconstruction in the ancient arena.
The seven-metre high (23-foot) wooden machine, powered by slaves deep in the stadium's belly, could lift a load weighing 300 kilogrammes and brought wolves, boars and even antelopes to do battle with the empire's fiercest gladiators.
"This unique project began with a meeting with the (American) director Gary Glassman" in 2013, the site's director Rossella Rea told AFP.
Glassman wanted to recreate one of the arena's 28 lifts for a documentary entitled "Colosseum, Roman Death Trap", and Rea persuaded him to use original materials and methods to reconstruct one which would remain there for tourists.
Now visitors to the passageways under the 2,000-year-old monument can see where eight slaves straining to rotate a vast windlass would, through a system of lead weights and pulleys, slowly winch the cage to the surface and open the trapdoor.
Up to 80,000 spectators at a time would throng to the Colosseum to see greats such as Carpophores -- who reportedly defeated a bear, lion, leopard and rhinoceros in one battle -- or cheer on sea battles held in the flooded arena.
- 'Roman genius' -
Rome's rulers "had to enthral them, for the good of the empire," said Francesco Prosperetti, superintendent for Rome's Archaeological Heritage, adding that some 120 days of festivities were put on a year to keep the plebeians happy.
The idea was keep the baying audience on its toes: sometimes the trapdoor in the sand would creak open to reveal a surprise, from bare-breasted female gladiators to elephants, or sometimes even common garden chickens.
Building the cage, which measures 180 by 140 centimetres (71 by 55 inches), took 15 months and cost the production company some 200,000 euros ($223,000).
"The project was incredible. We had to show how one of the most amazing cultures, the Roman genius, created such violent and bloody scenes," said Glassman, whose documentary was released in February in the United States.
The cage may just be the first step in recreating the Roman amphitheatre's past.
In December, Italy's cultural minister Dario Franceschini came out in favour of a plan to rebuild the wooden and sand floor, which was removed by excavators in the late 19th century.
The idea is that the arena could be used once more to house events and perhaps even re-enactments of spectacular Roman-era shows, while the area below where the beasts, scenery and props were kept would be turned into a museum.
The biggest amphitheatre built during the empire, the Colosseum is 48.5 metres (159 foot) high and welcomes over six million visitors a year.
Long-delayed repairs, funded to the tune of 25 million euros by Italian billionaire Diego Della Valle, began in 2013 and are expected to be finished in early 2016.