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Rebuilding Rome in two and a half years

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Illustration James Provost

There are few reminders of the Roman Empire’s grandeur more arresting than the Colosseum, still standing after nearly 2,000 years. In order to remain standing for the next 2,000, however, the building needs some help. Researchers from Sapienza University of Rome have confirmed that the south side of the foundation—which rests on the softer ground that was once beneath an artificial lake created for the emperor Nero—is sagging. To even out the foundation, check for cracks, clean the stonework and make repairs, all while keeping the building open to tourists, Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities is undertaking the first-ever Colosseum restoration project. Scheduled to wrap in 2015, it’s priced at roughly $33 million and is largely financed by Italian shoemaker Tod’s. Here’s how they’ll do it.

1. Scaffolds positioned in front of the first four arcades will allow workers to clean and repair the building’s exterior while maintaining areas for tourists. The temporary metal stays used to protect the Colosseum’s arches will be removed, and the arches will be shored up more permanently.

2. A major aim is to increase the public space by 25 percent. Workers will accomplish this in part by building a visitors center with a café, a bookshop and a display of artifacts discovered during the renovation (including an 18th-century model of the Colosseum complete with secret passageways).

3. Throughout the project, scientists from Sapienza University will monitor the building using high-sensitivity accelerometers that can record accelerations as small as 1/10,000th the force of gravity. This will help officials prevent further damage to the masonry from traffic, subways, tourists, wind and earthquakes.

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