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Rome's Colosseum Is Getting a Massive (and Much-Needed) Makeover

Originally commissioned around 70 CE by the Flavian Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum in Rome is the largest amphitheater ever built. But thanks to centuries of tourism, air pollution, and quick-fix repairs, the massive concrete-and-sand structure was looking pretty dingy. So in 2011, Conde Nast Traveler reports, Italian luxury leather brand Tod’s teamed up with Rome's Archaeological Heritage Department to restore the nearly 2000-year-old archaeological treasure to its former glory.

On Friday, July 1, the team celebrated a major milestone in the Colosseum’s extensive three-stage renovation process: the cleaning of 31 arches and 44,000 square feet of the structure's northern and southern façades. The current arch enclosure system also received brand-new gates. In all, the Colosseum’s exterior cleaning cost 6.5 million euros, or $7.2 million, the Associated Press reports

You can't just power-wash a historic monument, so, according to Wallpaper*, restoration workers had to take a photographic survey of the Colosseum and map its surfaces before using a special hydraulic spray to mist away dirt, deposits, algae, and moss by hand. The process took nearly three years—although amazingly enough, the Colosseum stayed open to tourists the entire time.

The entire Colosseum restoration project is costing Tod’s about 25 million euros overall. Eventually, the squeaky-clean building will also receive a new visitors center with a cafeteria, and its passageways and underground vaults will be restored. And by the end of 2018, the Colosseum might get a new floor—one that could allow performers to host entertainment events in one of Italy’s most majestic and storied venues.

But don’t expect the ancient wonder to be transformed into a performance stage just yet: Architects and engineers still need to figure out whether the building’s foundations can support a stage, and considering that the Colosseum's drainage system still uses ancient Roman pipes, its underground system would need a major upgrade.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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