Italy fears for Colosseum as ‘cracks get bigger’ after each earthquake
The worst earthquake to hit Italy in three decades has added troubling cracks to the Colosseum, threatening the country’s most popular historic landmark.
Francesco Prosperetti, the special superintendent for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, said that each earthquake put ever more dangerous strain on the 2,000-year-old arena.
“With each earthquake the cracks are increasing,” Mr Prosperetti told Corriere della Sera.
The 6.5 magnitude earthquake that shook central Italy at 7.40am on Sunday left more than 25,000 people homeless and caused widespread destruction in around 100 towns in central Italy. It was the latest in a string of earthquakes to hit the country since 24 August, when nearly 300 people died in a 6.2 magnitude quake.
Drone footage shows devastating aftermath of Italy
Cultural officials are still counting the cost of the destruction to around 5,000 churches, bell towers, historic buildings and ancient walls brought down by the recent earthquakes .
The latest quake also damaged several churches and buildings in the heart of Rome. St Paul’s Outside the Walls, a historic basilica and popular Christian pilgrimage site, was closed to the public on Sunday after cracks appeared in its façade and cornices fell from the ceiling.
Schools were also closed in Rome on Monday as Mayor Virginia Raggi ordered security checks amid reports that one in five schools buildings may have been damaged.
Mr Prosperetti said a thorough inspection had been conducted at the Colosseum immediately after Sunday’s earthquake.
He said while some material had fallen on the top level of the ancient amphitheatre, that damage had been caused well before the earthquake and that particular area overlooking the Palatine Hill was already closed to the public.
Experts scoured historic sites including the Roman Forum, the Baths of Caracalla and the Pantheon as well as the Colosseum
which was declared safe and opened to tourists on Sunday. Alessandro D’Alessio, an archeologist who works with the superintendent’s office, said the ancient Romans were well aware of the impact of earthquakes and incorporated that in their construction.
“The (Colosseum) arches are the best structures to absorb movements and vibrations,” he told Corriere Della Sera. “The ancient Romans knew the earthquakes of the Appenines well. “
“Cicero and Tacitus (Roman writers) also wrote that the tremors made swords and shields vibrate. But the most feared quakes were those that came from the Castelli region (outside Rome).”
The Colosseum, built in 80 AD, is the largest Roman amphitheatre in the world and was once covered in blood during bitter gladiatorial contests that captivated ancient Rome. These days it attracts more than five million visitors a year.
But the ancient arena has been shaken by earthquakes several times over the centuries and suffered severe damages in the 1349 earthquake which brought down the south side of the amphitheatre.
It was also damaged by another earthquake in 1703 even though the epicentre of the quake was in the neighbouring region of Abruzzo.
Siesmologist Antonio Piersanti from Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and volcanology sought to play down any suggestion that Italy’s earthquakes were getting worse after the recent tremors.
“There is no evidence at this time to show we are in a situation any different to the past few years, “he told ANSA. “There are no signs of any type.”
Nevertheless the third powerful earthquake to hit Italy in two months struck at the heart of Italy’s cultural identity, destroying a Benedictine cathedral, a medieval tower and other beloved landmarks that had survived the earlier jolts across a mountainous region of small historic towns.
Tomaso Montanari, an art historian and leading critic, said the cultural cost of the quakes was immense and more should have been done to protect buildings and churches.
“The loss of our roots means we have lost the future,” Professor Montanari said. “In Italy the stones, the buildings, the churches and the artworks are the backbone of the country.”