Lonely Planet Writer

Rome's Colosseum recreates opening games with virtual reality

Time travel might still be a thing of the future, but the Colosseum’s brand new multimedia show comes pretty close. Dubbed Sangue e Arena, the production evokes the inaugural games that unfolded in 80 AD to celebrate the completion of the world’s most famous amphitheatre.

Colosseum at night, Rome. Image by ©Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock

Elaborate lighting, holograms, and cutting-edge visual and sound effects recall the lavish (and often gruesome) games that were commissioned by Emperor Titus and boasted gladiatorial combats, naval battles, and animal fights, all of which took place within the Colosseum and will be recreated in the immersive spectacle. It’s slated to run every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until 27 October of this year.

Sangue e Arena – the show. Image by Electa

“With Sangue, the Colosseum regains its original purpose as a place for entertainment and performance,” says Alfonsina Russo, the city’s archaeological director. “The show allows spectators to experience the emotions the ancient Romans would have felt: the courage of the gladiators, the thrill of seeing ferocious beasts arrive in the arena far from outside the Empire.” She continues, “We want the Colosseum to become a place to be experienced and lived, not just visited.” Titus’ reign kicked off with a series of catastrophes, including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, an outbreak of the plague and a devastating fire in Rome. Scholars theorize the extravagant games  –  which lasted a whopping 100+ days  – were orchestrated in an effort to placate a restless and disillusioned populace.

The show runs until 27 October. Image by Electa

The Eternal City is no stranger to multimedia and history mash-ups: Viaggio nei Fori, now in its fourth year, allows spectators to virtually experience the Imperial Fora, using state-of-the-art technology to transport them back to the Rome of the Caesars. The Auditorium della Conciliazione, meanwhile, currently hosts Universal Judgement, a four-part show that explores the creation Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel with live performances, special effects, HD-projections, and a soundtrack by Sting.

Words: Alexandra Bruzzese