Graffiti Art in the Colosseum Stands at Attention

By: The Scribe on Monday, January 21, 2013

Although it has taken quite some time to get to this point, the Colosseum in Rome is finally undergoing restoration… and yielding some interesting tidbits about ancient history in Rome along the way. Recently, excavators and restoration experts discovered trades of ancient frescoes in red, black, green, and blue—but that’s not the most interesting part. Even better?

Apparently visitors to the Colosseum engaged in some tagging, Ancient Rome style—everyone’s favorite gladiatorial arena holds graffiti art of phallic symbols. Would you expect anything else?

The officials who unveiled the discoveries between the second and third levels of the Colosseum say that particular passageway won’t be open to the public until sometime during Summer 2013, as there is plenty of work to do to ensure the graffiti doesn’t fade or become damaged now that it’s exposed.

The images were hidden beneath decades and decades of calcified grime and rock, and the colorful traces of the discovered frescoes confirm the historical understanding of the Colosseum as a richly decorated, vibrantly colored stadium during its heyday. Currently, the belief is that less than 1 perfect of the Colosseum’s original painted surfaces remain—and despite the fact that the arena’s exposed seating was white marble, it was the inside that came alive with color.

Colosseum director Rosella Rea says that “the insides, the galleries, all the corridors and transverse hallways were completely colored. We need to imagine a building with extreme contrasts of color.” And many of the colored areas now discovered are covered with more recent graffiti art—including some drawings from dates as wide-ranging as 1620 and 1943.

But older still, officials have found graffiti that they believe dates from the 3rd century—a red palm frond and crown are believed to be the work of a gladiator fan as the individual traveled the hallway, and another area under restoration contains graffiti art of phalluses, which were often drawn as good luck charms.

How is it these things went undetected by historians for almost two thousand years? The simple answer is money, as until now there wasn’t enough funding to restore the hallway.

As restoration continues on the Colosseum, who knows what other secrets—or interesting drawings—this ancient building holds!


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