ROME's Colosseum originally was ablaze with vivid colors and racy graffiti, according to stunning new evidence revealed during much-needed restoration work.
Long regarded as a building clad only in white marble punctuated with red plaster tiles, the 2,000-year-old Flavian Amphitheater in fact featured richly ornamented with art frescoes, vulgar sex scenes and generations of graffiti in niches and galleries.
"They've uncovered complex decorations, floral patterns in polychromatic glory, including azure, ochre, pink and green. We never expected to find such multi-hued decorations, a veritable riot of color," said Colosseum superintendent Rossella Rea.
There were blocks of red and black travertine stone and sections of azurite in the plasterwork, which on the vault probably depicted a skyscape or seascape.
Some peculiar images have come to light, including two apotropaic phalluses – probably dating from after the fire in 217 AD – which were supposed to ward off bad luck.
There are also graffiti messages in praise of the gladiators and their exploits featuring palm fronds, wreaths, sword points and arrows.
The colorful decoration was found in a mid-level tier of the arena, which is undergoing a $26.6 million cleaning and restoration.
The frescoes were found in a corridor currently closed to the public while archaeologists were working to restore an area between the second and third floor of the Colosseum, which has fallen into disrepair in recent years.
"We have also found graffiti dating back to the 17th century as well as the signatures of spectators and foreign visitors" who had come to watch the Colosseum's famed gladiatorial contests and mock sea battles, Rea said.
"We hope to be able to find other traces in this corridor but that depends on the funds available to continue with the restoration," she added.
The frescoes are located in an area covering several square feet in a corridor which is around sixty metres long, Rea said.
The Colosseum, which was completed in 80 AD by the Roman emperor Titus and is now one of the most visited sites in the world, is in a pitiful state.
Bits of stone, blackened by pollution, have fallen off in previous years, and some experts have voiced concern that the foundations are sinking, giving the amphitheatre a lean.
The number of visitors to the Colosseum, which measures 188 metres (620 feet) by 156 metres and is 48.5 metres high, has increased from a million to around six million a year over the past decade thanks mainly to the blockbuster film "Gladiator".