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Rome's Colosseum opens labyrinthine tunnels to tourists

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(Read caption) Rome’s Colosseum opens its arena and underground tunnels in August.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

They were dark, dank places of terror for man and beast alike. But the tunnels beneath the Colosseum, Rome’s most famous ancient monument, are set to become the city’s latest attraction when they are opened to tourists in August.

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After months of work to make the subterranean structures safe, visitors will be able to explore the chambers and galleries in which wild animals and gladiators waited to do battle.

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Frightened lions, leopards, bears, and bulls would have been shoved along narrow stone passageways and herded into cages. Slaves hauled on ropes and pulleys to lift the beasts to just beneath the floor of the arena, where they would suddenly appear from hidden trapdoors, to the delight of 50,000 baying spectators.

This is the first time in decades that the amphitheater’s underground area has been opened to the public.

“It would have been very crowded, very hot, and there would have been a terrible smell,” says Barbara Nazzaro, one of the architects involved in the project.

The visits will offer not only an insight into the violence that underpinned the ancient Romans’ love of “bread and circuses,” but also their extraordinary technological capacity to put on such spectacles, she said.