No doubt fostered by Ridley Scott's blockbuster movie Gladiator, that trend is on the rise, with the figure having already reached 1.6 million in the first half of this year, according to unofficial data from Italy's Culture Ministry.
At this time, visitors can explore only the amphitheater's ground and the first floor. But the restoration project has already brought about some important improvements. For instance, a wooden path now crosses the arena, allowing a better view of the chambers and dungeons where exotic animals and slaves were once kept before fighting.
Last summer, a newly built wooden platform positioned at one end of the path was used to stage Greek melodrama.
This month, a gladiator exhibition was inaugurated on the second level, in an area previously closed to the public. Featuring 150 exhibits, including armor, weapons, and helmets found during the excavation of a gladiator barrack at Pompeii, the "Blood and Arena" exhibition will continue until the end of the year.
The sponsorship money made available by a large Italian bank has also allowed archaeologists to dig up and study new areas, such as a private passage built by Emperor Comodus, the villain of the Gladiator movie.
The passage, which is six meters underground, connected the imperial box inside the Colosseum with an unknown point outside. Experts believe it was probably used as an imperial emergency exit.
Someday, Martines said, visitors may even be allowed access to the Colosseum's uppermost story, which offers a breathtaking 180-degree view of the eternal city. "It's all about keeping it in working order," he said.
(c) 2001 Deutsche Presse-Agentur