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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Spectacle returns to the Colosseum
The Colosseum
The Colosseum's restoration work cost over $19m
Rome's Colosseum - the ancient arena which hosted bloody battles with gladiators and wild beasts - will host a spectacle again after 1,500 years.

This is an historical event for this monument and this country

Culture Minister Giovanna Melandri
The audience will not witness any blood spilt or brutality though, but instead see Greek plays.

The two-week-long festival at the Roman amphitheatre, which begins on Wednesday, marks the end of eight years of restoration work costing LIT40bn ($19.3m).

"The Colosseum returns to its spectacular origins. This is an historical event for this monument and this country," Culture Minister Giovanna Melandri said.

Colosseum's tiers
Earthquakes have damaged the building
"We are not going back to [its] gruesome and tragic origins but will instead give space to art and culture," Ms Melandri said.

The Greek National Theatre will perform plays of Sophocles starting with "Oedipus Rex".

Limited audience

The amphitheatre, completed under Emperor Titus in 80 AD, once drew crowds of up to 75,000, who cheered as men were slaughtered in front of them.

For the current festival however, the audience will be limited to just 700 spectators because of the fragile state of the building.

The Pope carried the cross for two stations
The Catholic church claim the arena as a shrine
Many of the building's upper tiers are in ruins, damaged by earthquakes and neglect.

A new wooden stage costing LIT1.5bn ($725,000) has been constructed inside the arena for the event.

The stage will offer the stone passages some protection from further damage.

"The spirit behind this initiative is that of uniting preservation with cultural activities," Ms Melandri said.

In the past, the floorless Colosseum was covered with sand to soak up blood.

Tourist extra

Italian authorities said on Monday that tourists will soon be allowed under the arena into where wild animals were held before being hoisted up in cages to face gladiators.

Lions, panthers, hippopotami, snakes and elephants were sent from across the Roman Empire to be slaughtered in the amphitheatre, which also hosted mock naval battles.

After 403 AD, gladiatorial battles were no longer held, but animals continued to be killed.

The Roman Catholic Church claims the huge arena as a shrine where it believes Christian martyrs were fed to the lions. Some historians dispute this, however.

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12 Dec 99 | Europe
Pope backs Colosseum campaign
13 Jun 98 | Europe
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