Want a backstage pass to the gladiator games? Then join a behind-the-scenes tour of Rome's Colosseum, taking in the underground chambers where the ancient city's famous warriors prepared themselves for battle.
The subterranean section is one of the best-preserved parts of the famous 1,931-year-old arena. Unlike other sections of the Colosseum, which have been lived in, mined for stone, used as fortifications and even planted with gardens, the now cleared rooms and passages beneath the amphitheater have remained untouched since the 5th century, when they were filled with earth shortly after the Colosseum fell out of use. "They've been conserved, exactly the way they were," says the Colosseum's director, Rossella Rea.
Tourists are led down a set of metal stairs under the arena, where rough brick floors and unadorned blocks of raw travertine testify to the area's origins as a work space, hidden from the eyes of the public. On display are deep niches that once held cages for animals and the winches that controlled the 80 elevators that would haul beasts and scenery up to the arena. A thin channel once directed water from a nearby aqueduct, used in the early years to flood the stadium in preparation for mock naval battles, and an underground passage leads back toward the gladiator barracks, through which the dead and the wounded were carried.
The tour moves onto a reconstructed sliver of the arena floor, where visitors can take in a gladiator's-eye view of the stands. It then ends with a climb to the upper galleries, from which workers once controlled giant sails that shielded spectators from the sun. The galleries offer fabulous views of the Roman Forum and the center of the city "It's where most people like to take pictures," says Rea. But the best insights into the bloody realities of Roman life come in the Colosseum's cool and lonely depths.
Call (39-06) 3996 7700 for information and tour bookings.