No gladiators vs lions, but cheap seats now open in Rome's Colosseum

The view from the top terrace of the Colosseum, where ancient Rome's poorer social classes would sit during the games. The top floors of the amphitheatre were opened to the public for the first time in 40 years. PHOTO: REUTERS

ROME (REUTERS) - Visitors to Rome's Colosseum can now see the structure as poor Romans once did - minus the wild animals, gladiators and Christian martyrs.

The top floors of the amphitheatre which housed seats for the plebeian class have opened for the first time in 40 years.

The newly-renovated fifth floor of the nearly 2,000-year-old amphitheatre used to house the cheapest seats on the top tiers, high up and far from the action, and were used by poor plebeians, ancient Rome's lowest social class.

Below, the arena was the scene of many grisly events, from wild animal hunts in which thousands of beasts would be killed to public executions and to-the-death gladiatorial bouts.

The plebeian area is now open to small groups and offers visitors the chance to observe the iconic structure from a 40 metre-high (131 feet) perch.

It also offers views of other nearby historical sites such as the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, where emperors - the other end of the social scale from the plebeians - used to live.

The fourth level of the Colosseum has also been renovated, along with a hallway leading to the top terraces. Visitors in small groups are now allowed to visit the newly opened areas.

"Absolutely spectacular," was Scottish tourist Joanne Hobart's take on the view, while American visitor Miki Patel described it as "amazing".

According to Dario Franceschini, Italy's culture minister, this is the first time in four decades that tourists have been able to access the top levels of the Colosseum. The arena attracts more than six million visitors a year.

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