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Virtual Reality Is Breathing New Life into Rome's Colosseum

The show runs from May to October
The show runs from May to October | © The_Double_A/Pixabay
Gladiators and wild animals are set to return to the Colosseum for the first time in centuries in the form of a new immersive, multimedia show. Sangue e Arena, or Blood and Arena, runs from May 12 to October 27 and transports viewers back to the opening games of the Colosseum. Holograms, virtual reconstructions and sound and light effects will bring to life the hunts, executions and gladiatorial battles ordered by Emperor Titus for his 100-day inaugural games in 80 AD.

The show cost €500,000 to produce and came about thanks to a collaboration between the Colosseum archaeological park – which includes the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Domus Aurea – and the publishing house, Electa.

Alfonsina Russo, the director of the archaeological park, said the Colosseum has regained its ‘original function as a venue for shows’. It is a new direction for Rome’s most iconic monument, which ‘must become a place to live, not just to visit,’ Russo continued. She added that the show conjures up the emotions experienced by citizens of ancient Rome, the courage of gladiators, and beasts from distant provinces of the Empire, all in the very same arena that hosted the games almost two millennia ago.

The virtual reconstruction – created by multimedia and immersive experience company Graphics eMotion and a team of historians, archaeologists and architects – will be projected on a 17-metre canvas on the floor of the arena as well as onto the walls of the amphitheatre itself.

The 30-minute show retells the story of the inaugural games of the Colosseum. The lavish 100-day event ordered by Emperor Titus likely followed a schedule of animal entertainment in the morning, public executions at midday, followed by gladiatorial fights or the recreation of famous battles in the afternoon.

‘Everything you will see has really happened,’ said Rosella Rea, who curated the show. That’s because the reconstructions are based on the writings of poet Marcus Valerius Martialis, known more commonly in English as Martial.

Martial witnessed the first ever games at the Colosseum and later recounted his experiences in his first book of poems, On the Spectacles. This went on to form part of his 12 books of epigrams, published between 102 and 104 AD, for which he’s most famous.

Sangue e Arena runs 12 May through October 27, with tickets costing €20 for adults. Three 30-minute performances take place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, in both English and Italian. Find tickets here.