Recent openings at the Colosseum are giving new meaning to the phrase “inside the lion’s den”. For the first time in history, visitors are permitted to explore the hypogeum, the underground level of the Colosseum that, once upon a time, housed a gladiator’s worst nightmare – the lions and tigers that would happily tear him limb from limb.
Walking through The Gate of Death, (the exit through which the bodies of defeated gladiators were carried out) visitors will find themselves in the bowels of the Colosseum, staring at huge, empty rooms. In Ancient Rome this must have been an awful place – stuffy air vibrating with the sound of mighty roars, glassy eyes shining through the darkness. How terrifying it must have been for gladiators who came here to prepare for battle before being transported by a lift to the central fighting area. Even today there remains a palpable sense of menace in the air. Protected underground from the elements since the 5th century, this part of the Colosseum is much better preserved than others.
But the underground hypogeum is not the only new treat in store for travellers visiting the Colosseum. For the first time since the 1970s the upper ‘third tier’ level of the 80AD Roman stadium is also open. From this vantage point visitors have a bird’s eye view of the Roman Forum and Palatine beyond, as well as the perfect spot from which to get a feel for the sheer size of the Colosseum which, in its day, held an audience of 50,000 people. Towering over the rest of the stadium at 33 metres, the third tier was where slaves used to work huge, heavy sails, rolling them out to protect spectators from the scorching Roman sun.
It is important to note, however, that both of these areas are open only to visitors with special access on organized tours. In the case of the underground level, only 25 people are allowed into the area at a time. Dark Rome is very happy to offer one such tour, which brings intimate groups of only 10 people on guided tours of the hypogeum and third tier as well as visiting the Roman Forum and Palatine. Check out our Colosseum Tours, our Colosseum Underground tour with Arena Floor, Upper level, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.