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The Colosseum: Access All Areas

Mark 1 July 2010 in your diaries. That’s the date when, according to Francesco Giro, undersecretary at Italy’s heritage ministry, the Colosseum will be fully visitable for the first time in decades, after a €3million restoration and structural reinforcement effort.

Up to now, the visit to one of the world’s most famous monuments has been, let’s face it, a little restricted. You get to climb as far as the amphitheatre’s second tier, which gives a good view over the hypogeum – the network of tunnels and passageways in the centre of the arena, below the long-lost wooden floor, through which gladiators and wild animals made their entrance unseen by the crowds.

But the third story, or immum, where wealthy plebeians sat (‘plebeian’ simply meant that they were neither senators nor nobles) has been off limits to tourists since the 1960s – as has the final tier, the summum or attic, which was all the poorer plebs could afford.

Being ‘up in the gods’, however, has its advantages today: the main one being an incredible view over the rooftops of Rome towards St Peter’s dome. Not to mention a close-up view of the holes that once supported the velarium – the retractable awning which made the Flavian Amphitheatre (to give the monument its official name) such a state-of-the-art arena when it was inaugurated in 80AD. The hypogeum will also, it seems, become a part of the visit. At that point the €12 entrance fee (which includes the Forum and the Palatine hill) doesn’t seem so bad.

Giro says he hopes the improved access will boost the Colosseum’s annual visitor tally from just under 5 million to around 8 million, thus rivalling the Louvre in Paris.

Here’s my advice, Francesco, if you really want to get those extra punters through the turnstiles: bring back the Colosseum’s original tickets, which were numbered shards of terracotta. That way you don’t just get to see the Colosseum – you get a cute souvenir too. And you boost the Italian ceramic industry. What’s not to like?

See here for more expert information on Rome.