Colosseum reveals secret hues. ‘Riot of colour’ for what was thought to be just white, restorers say

ROME – The Colosseum is usually thought of as a blinding arena clad in shimmering white marble that set off the crimson-flecked violence of the killing floor.

Only one locale, the gallery of the mad emperor Commodus – memorably played in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator by Joaquin Phoenix – was known to have been decked in other colors.
Until now, that is. Restorers at a mid-level tier of the ancient amphitheatre say they’ve found “a riot of color” in many other niches and galleries.
“They’ve uncovered complex decorations, floral patterns in polychrome glory including azure, ochre, pink and green,” said the superintendent of the iconic Rome monument, Rossella Rea.
“We’ve known since the 19th century that the Colosseum’s white splendor was punctuated by square red plaster tiles, but we never expected to find such multi-hued decorations, a veritable riot of color,” she said.
  Colorful decorations and artwork were uncovered on the walls of the 2,000-year-old structure

  Colorful decorations and artwork were uncovered on the walls of the 2,000-year-old structure

Alongside this “technicolor surprise,” Rea went on, the restoration team also uncovered, underneath centuries of graffiti and visitors’ signatures inscribed in the ancient stonework, “symbols of ancient machismo and blood lust as well as erotica including phalluses.
“The Colosseum was full of color, covered in frescoes,” Rea said. She said the new decorations would ‘hopefully be on view from next summer, joining the other new features the Colosseum has added, enhancing its timeless lustre’.
The 2,000-year-old symbol of Rome, set for a 20-million-euro clean-up and restoration starting this year, recently expanded its range of tourist attractions when it opened up the underground pits where gladiators and wild beasts waited before being winched from darkness into the arena’s cruel glare.
The so-called ‘hypogeum’ (literally, ‘under ground’) was restored in a multi-million-euro project that also installed new, muted lighting effects.
Rea said the hope was to have recaptured ‘some of the atmosphere’ of the breathless moments before the games commenced, when the armored or naked fighters and the wild animals were hauled up through 80 trap-doors.
The father-and-son team – the so-called Flavian emperors – built their monument to Rome’s grandeur in travertine stone before giving it the marble cladding that amazed contemporaries – and was still its crowning glory until generations of popes picked away at it for their own architectural testaments.
“Hardly any of the marble is left now,” Rea said, “but that loss has been partly compensated by the discovery of these stunning pictorial remnants, a secret trove of color we never knew existed”.
The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheatre (its proper name), whose construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD by his son Titus, attracts some five million visitors a year.
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