Rome’s Colosseum to get $12M high-tech retractable floor

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Once the wellspring of live sport, Rome’s Colosseum may soon reign again as the world’s most modern stage.

After 2,000 years of ruin, Italian officials have launched an initiative to find an architect with the skill and vision to re-create the floor of the 35,000-seat arena, the first of which eroded more than a millennium ago after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century.

“We want to give an idea of how it was and we are seeking proposals from around the world,” said Colosseum director Alfonsina Russo in the Times.

Italy will subsidize the project with a grant of 10 million euros (about $12 million), with requirements that the floor mimic some of the elements of the original stage, while also being rapidly retractable in the event of unfavorable weather. Proposals are due by Feb. 1, with hopes of completion by 2022 or 2023.

Erected in 80 AD, the Colosseum attracted tens of thousands of Romans to watch gladiators pitted against man and beast, including lions and tigers, in battles that endured until the performer’s death in the ring. The stadium’s floor was also known to be flooded with water, creating a giant tank where performers, usually prisoners, would re-enact epic naval battles.

The theater’s advanced architecture preceded contemporary stage trickery. Back then, opponents, including apex predators, could be hoisted to stage via hidden portals in the floor. A skeleton of the once-elaborate stage system, including a series of tunnels, cages and trap doors, can still be seen today.

Ultimately, Italian preservationists hope the stage will again be used for decidedly less gruesome purposes. Added Russo, “The arena will be used for high culture, meaning concerts or theatre but no gladiator shows.”

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