At Large  April 11, 2023  Christopher Siwicki

New Excavations at Rome’s Colosseum

Christopher Siwicki

The outer wall of the Colosseum partially still standing

Interesting things are happening at the Colosseum. For the better part of a decade, the piazza surrounding Rome’s iconic amphitheater has been a mess. A web of steel and concrete barriers, mostly connected to the seemingly never-ending construction of a new metro station, has funneled and frustrated the millions of visitors trying to approach the ancient site. Today, it is still chaotic, with temporary metal fences standing in front of the monument. But if you look closer, you’ll also see some interesting activities.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Print of the Colosseum by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (between 1748-78) showing the collapsed southern side.

Since October, archaeologists have been excavating a stretch of some 200 meters of the southern perimeter of the monument. This is the least well-preserved side of the Colosseum, where the entire outer ring of its arches is missing. 

Built between AD 70 and 80, the Colosseum served as an arena for spectacles for over four centuries. Gladiatorial matches continued until the AD 430s and animal hunts were last mentioned in the 520s. Soon after this, it appears that the building went out of use and serious damage occurred to the southern side, likely due to earthquakes. Collapses continued in subsequent centuries and much of the white, travertine stone was taken away and reused to build the churches and palaces of Medieval and Renaissance Rome

Christopher Siwicki

 Ongoing excavations at the Colosseum

 

The new excavations have two aims: to understand more fully both the ancient and post-ancient history of the monument; and to better integrate this part of the building with its surrounding piazza, opening a new sector to the public. The latter is very welcome; the former is very challenging.

The area around the Colosseum has been brutally treated by earlier generations. Modern utility pipes and cables cut through the historical stratigraphy. In many places, the ancient paving was robbed in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, there are interesting discoveries, which are relayed to the public via the excellent initiative of an online ‘dig diary’ in Italian and English (at the time of writing, the Italian page is slightly more up-to-date than the English).

Christopher Siwicki

Ongoing excavations at the Colosseum

A few weeks ago, passers-by could watch as archaeologists carefully exposed the skeleton of an animal. Shortly after, an update on the ‘dig diary’ confirmed it was a mule, seemingly crushed by falling masonry, which they speculate could have occurred during the famous and devastating earthquake of 1349. Such finds help piece together the long history of the building. Undoubtedly more will be revealed as the digging and analysis continues.

About the Author

Christopher Siwicki

Christopher Siwicki is an architectural historian, specializing in the ancient world. He is a postdoctural Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute in Rome and an honorary research Fellow at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Architectural Restoration and Heritage in Imperial Rome (Oxford University Press).

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