Colosseum's upper level to reopen after four decades

On November 1

(by Silvia Lambertucci).
    (ANSA) - Rome, October 4 - For the first time in four decades, the Colosseum's fifth and highest level will reopen to the public on November 1 - offering visitors a magnificent view of the amphitheater and Rome.
    The 'attic' of the 2,000-year-old Flavian amphitheater was reserved to the plebeian class who watched public spectacles and gladiator contests in what must have been a dramatic experience with the sound of weapons, screams from the public and the animals' roaring, said archaeologist Rossella Rea.
    "There must have been an incredible amount of different sounds and smells" enveloping the 50,000 spectators from every social level who were divided into different sections, she said.
    The wealthy were seated on marble chairs while the lower classes had wooden benches on the top floor and could only glimpse at the fighting.
    Visitors will be granted access to the highest level of the amphitheater as of November 1, as part of a new tour of one of Italy's most-visited monument.
    "The view is unforgettable", said Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, who has promoted the upcoming restoration of the undergrounds - and the controversial covering of the arena - a project expected to last two years and a half and cost 18 million euros.
    "With the construction of the arena, it will be truly possible to understand what it meant to watch a performance at the Colosseum", said the minister, who visited the site this week together with Federica Galloni, who is the interim director of the Colosseum ahead of the selection in December of the new manager.
    A maximum of 25 people at a time will have access to the new tours, which start on the third level of the amphitheater.
    The first level of the Colosseum was reserved for the emperor and his senators while the second was for imperial officials. The middle-class had access to the third and merchants and shopkeepers to the fourth. Plebeians had to climb steep stone steps along poorly-lit tunnels to reach the fifth and final floor, where they sometimes spent entire days eating, "mainly chicken and cereals" which they cooked on makeshift cookers, the remains of which have been found by archaeologists, said Rea. The highest floor was rebuilt in the 19th century by Luigi Canina. The Colosseum attracts over six million visitors a year, making it the capital's leading tourist attraction. Construction of the Colosseum was started by emperor Vespasian in 70 AD and completed by his successor Titus ten years later. Its travertine exterior was recently restored thanks to a 25-million-euro donation from Diego Della Valle, patron of luxury shoe manufacturer Tod's.
    Tickets cost nine euros (visits are free for children under 12) or 15 if the visit includes the undergrounds and arena.
    Booking is mandatory.