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In the lion's den: Rome to let tourists see Colosseum underground, where gladiators waited

ROME (AP) — Tourists will soon be able to visit the underground of the Colosseum, where gladiators once prepared for fights and lions and tigers were caged before entertaining a bloodthirsty public.

Rome culture officials said Wednesday that, after several months of work to make the area safe for visits, the public will be allowed to add the underground section to tours of the arena starting in late summer. No exact date has been set.

Architect Barbara Nazzaro told Associated Press Television News that tourists will be able to see the spaces where lions, tigers and bulls were kept in cages before they were hoisted on elevators to ground level for entertainment in the ancient arena.

Elephants were too heavy for the rope-hoisted elevators. They made their grand entrance into the Colosseum through main gates.

The ingenious system of lifts allowing wild animals to suddenly pop up at ground level made for an awesome sight, Nazzaro said. "This was very appreciated by the public," she said.

The animal show was just one part of a day's entertainment at the arena. First, the audience watched a hunting spectacle, then came executions, and finally the gladiators squared off, said Nazzaro, who worked on the project to open the space to today's public.

A piece of mortar recently broke off from a part of the Colosseum during closing hours, but caused no injuries. Officials say the monument is in need of constant monitoring and maintenance, but its overall stability is not at risk.