The Colosseum, Rome’s most iconic monument, already draws hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, but recent proposals for alternative uses for the arena have sparked a debate over the best way to honor Rome’s past while projecting its future.
Last July, archaeologist Daniele Manacorda of Roma Tre University proposed replacing the amphitheater’s missing floor to bring the Colosseum back to its original state.
According to Manacorda, the return of the arena’s sand floor would make it a home not only to “trivializing mass tourism,” but to “every possible event of contemporary life.”
Originally published in an obscure archeological journal, Manacorda’s proposal received little attention until Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, resurrected it with a tweet Sunday, saying he liked the idea and that it would just take “a little courage.”
Critics of the proposal immediately reacted by conjuring up scenes of soccer games and rock concerts in the Colosseum, and decrying any attempts to convert the historical monument into a modern arena.
“Where is it written that you can’t protect the value of the Colosseum while also making it more dynamic and usable?” Franceschini replied this week. He has placed the idea under study, for both costs and feasibility.
Other officials have chimed in with their support for Manacorda’s idea, including both Gaetano Volpe, the president of Italy’s High Council for Culture and Adriano La Regina, the ex-superintendent, who said that “after all, the Colosseum was born as an arena.”
Manacorda’s idea is not completely new. In 1988, an article in the Italian daily Il Tempo similarly proposed using the Colosseum as a space for events and spectacles, rather than limiting its use as a site for tourist visits.
Though Manacorda insists that his suggestion intended only that visitors could better appreciate the Colosseum’s ancient splendor, critics have not seen it that way.
A group called Italia Nostra has written a letter of appeal to Minister Francescini, begging him to undertake a serious protection of Rome’s cultural heritage. The letter cites other examples of abuses of cultural sites, from the Piazza del Popolo to the Circus Maximus, and from the Villa Borghese to Piazza Navona, noting that Colosseum sponsors “would only aspire to having a unique stage in the world for a variety of spectacles aimed only at making money.”
Art historian Tomaso Montanari has said that the idea is “cultually impoverished and banal,” asking, with all the restorations needed, “Is it right for the minister to be focusing on the Colosseum and its use for spectacles?”
The economic concern is not a minor one. Restorers are just completing another major renovation of the Colosseum to the tune of 25 million euros, which had to be financed privately, by the Tod’s Group, since the government lacked the necessary funds to undertake it. Estimates for the new floor amount to an additional 10 million.
Along with bemoaning uses not appropriate to the historical stature of the Colosseum, critics have argued that the proposed renovation “would inflict damage to the structure already weakened by earthquakes, notably in 443 and most recently in the 1700s.”
Though Italians are not against using their ancient monuments as backdrops for entertainment, the Colosseum is recognized as special. Its uses have been held to a minimum, such as occasional performances and the Pope’s yearly commemoration of the stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
Giorgio Croci, a structural engineer and one of Italy’s leading experts on the Colosseum, has noted that it is “so important and bulky in its presence” that to convert it into an entertainment venue would be “beneath its dignity.” Moreover, he said that the image of the Colosseum “needs to remain an icon, a point of reference with all its history.”