Tuesday, July 5, 2016


 by David McGuffin

Before cleaning circa 2009
Construction on the Colosseum began in 70 A.D. and it took only ten years to completely finish the building project. It has held up pretty well over the last 2,000 years! With the fall of Rome, the Colosseum fell into disrepair and stood there derelict through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Only a third of the original Colosseum still stands today. Some of it was destroyed in earthquakes but most was deconstructed after the fall of Rome and used as stonework for newer buildings.

It was not until 1749, when Pope Benedict XIV declared it a religious site, that it again gained recognition and received some much needed repairs. The 20th century brought motorized traffic, air pollution and an onslaught of tourism which again attacked the structural integrity and appearance of the Colosseum. At the beginning of the new millennium it was evident that the Colosseum needed a serious sprucing up.

 Jumping through lots of hoops and cutting miles of red tape, the Italian government’s archaeological service finally began the Colosseum’s first-ever cleaning project in November 2013. Scaffolding began to enshroud segments of the ancient amphitheater and a thorough cleaning of the exterior was under way. Cleaning was a tedious task done solely by hand and without harsh chemicals or high pressure sprayers.

During cleaning in 2014
The process involved spraying a fine mist of water onto the porous stones to soften the 2,000 years of filth that had collected on the exterior. After a few hours the cleaning technicians would go to work with toothbrushes to scrub away the grime in the nooks and crannies. Larger brushes were used on the face of the huge stones. It was a tedious task but there was no other way to attack the problem and be sure the structural integrity would not be affected.

Travertine, a type of limestone, was used to build the Colosseum. It is a porous stone that, when newly quarried, is creamy white in color. With age the travertine takes on a light pink patina which protects the stone. Over the last 2,000 years the travertine had collected a thick black crust of soot, pollution and algae. With this cleaning the Colosseum once again glows with the characteristic pink patina.

Although this cleaning project was carried out by the Italian government, it was funded totally by private donations. Diego Della Valle, the founder and CEO of Tod’s, contributed 25 million euros to this project. Tod’s is a well-known Italian leather and fashion store. There is more in store for the Colosseum’s clean up. Next up is work on the foundation and basement area where the gladiators and animals were originally staged. Once that’s finished, the plan is to install a floor in the amphitheater just as it was in Roman Imperial times. Finally, a new visitor center and ticket area will be installed to accommodate the four-million tourists who visit each year.

Newly cleaned in June 2016
The Colosseum was constructed by the Emperor Vespasian (the first of several “Flavian” emperors) and was inaugurated in 80 A.D. as the Flavian Amphitheatre. The Romans were always seeking ways to take a Greek idea and put a new Roman twist on it. The Flavian Amphitheatre is no exception. In essence the Romans took the plans for a Classical Greek theatre and built two of them end to end, coming up with the design for a huge freestanding “amphi” theatre.

Nero, Emperor Vespasian’s predecessor, had constructed a lavish palace just over the hill, behind the modern-day metro station. The site where the Colosseum sits today was once a large man-made lake surrounded by porticos, balconies and grand walkways. This palace complex, known as the Domus Aurea (Golden House), contained a colossal 33-meter-tall (100 feet) bronze statue of Emperor Nero. After the Flavian Amphitheatre was constructed, Vespasian had Nero’s colossal statue placed out in front of his new colossal amphitheatre. The combination of the colossal statue of Nero and the colossal amphitheatre seemed to stick and the amphitheatre took on the nickname of the Colossal-seum, or Colosseum. Nero’s statue has perished, but you can see the site where
it once stood on the grassy area between the Colosseum and the wrought iron fence flanking the forum area.

The Romans were known as great builders and pioneered many construction techniques still in use today. One such idea was that of the “rounded arch” and concrete. Essentially, the Romans would construct a shell of bricks and mortar and then pour concrete in the void making for a super strong and sturdy structure. This concrete-filled shell was then covered with gleaming white travertine marble for a finishing touch of grandeur. The exterior of the Colosseum is loaded with potholes
in the walls. The huge stones flanking the exterior were originally held together with iron pegs, buried into the stone. When the Colosseum became a relic after the fall of Rome, its ready-cut stones were cannibalized for easy building material. When iron was at a shortage, the Colosseum’s iron pegs were chiseled out to make weapons for war, as well as hinges, railing, and the like.

The next phase of the restoration involves the interior foundation and flooring.
The exterior resembles our modern-day soccer and football stadiums. In Roman times, the citizens attending an event at the amphitheatre had a ticket noting their seating assignment and which doorway to enter to get to their seats. Even today, you can find “Roman numerals” etched above the rounded arched “doorways” on the ground level noting the doorway’s number. Just like our stadiums today, the wide walkways and stairs were designed to get people into and out of the amphitheatre very quickly. Inside, along the walkways, were a multitude of kiosks in which vendors would sell official team merchandise, bowls of spaghetti, pizza, hot dogs and beer.

To summarize, the Flavian Amphitheatre was constructed for the enjoyment and entertainment of the citizens of Rome. Admission was always free and events were often sponsored by politicians. The Colosseum opened in 80 A.D. with a 100-day festival of events in which 2,000 men and 9,000 animals were killed in one sort of competition or another. These events continued for almost 500 years. Then the Colosseum fell into disrepair and was neglected until the 1800s when the pope declared it a religious site. The last three centuries have seen some attempts as repairs but the rise of tourism and the evolution of air pollution has adversely impacted the structure. Now, a colossal cleaning has spruced up the Colosseum and it glows with a proud pink patina for all to enjoy.

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Do you want to learn more about traveling in Europe? There is a wealth of information and special discount pricing on my tours at my website. Visit now at http://davidmcguffin.com/.

David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.


  1. Here's one of the items on my bucket list ;D

  2. With all the pieces of antiquity that have been chiseled out of the structure during the past two milennia, it's a wonder the Colosseum is still standing.

  3. With all the pieces of antiquity that have been chiseled out of the structure during the past two milennia, it's a wonder the Colosseum is still standing.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This was fascinating. I hope I get to go there someday. I'll probably book through David McGuffin's agency.

  6. Thanks for the post and great tips: even I also think that hard work is the most important aspect of getting success. rome tourism


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