What’s Wrong with the Colosseum?
The Colosseum, the quintessential symbol of Rome and Roman culture, has been a fixture in the international news for the past several months, mostly because of a series of incidents involving small pieces of stone, cement, and plaster that have detached and fallen, usually without causing injury. Is the Colosseum falling down? Yes and no.
In its 1930 years the Flavian Amphitheater (to use its formal name) has endured every conceivable form of structural stress and degradation: floods, fires, lightning strikes, earthquakes, invasive occupation by animals and humans (for settlement, commerce, and burial), deliberate attack (to remove the metal clamps holding together the blocks, creating the current Swiss-cheese appearance), and the slow, steady decay that every structure experiences due to seasonal changes in temperature and atmospheric moisture and pressure.
The most spectacular event in its history was undoubtedly the collapse of the southern section of the outer ring in the mid-14th century after a particularly violent earthquake shook the loose sediments underpinning the south side, where the lake of Nero’s Golden House had been (and, before that, a swampy basin fed by a small stream). The Colosseum was left in a particularly vulnerable state until the early 19th century, when an enlightened papal government sealed the exposed and buckling edges of the outer ring with the enormous brick buttresses visible today.
Fast-forward 200 years. What has changed in the Colosseum’s condition since then? Very little, if anything: fragments small and large have continued to detach, mostly because of the weather and age, and the general wear has accelerated due to tourist activity. But there is more awareness of the problems, mostly because of their economic effects. The Colosseum alone rakes in 35 million euros in ticket sales per year. Closing it to the public, as happened twice this month because of the extraordinary snow events in Rome, costs Italy hundreds of thousands of euros.
What is being done to conserve the Colosseum?
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology