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Five ancient sites getting a magnificent makeover, from Hadrian's Wall to the Colosseum

From Italy to Indonesia, major restoration works are underway to preserve and improve some of our most historic sites — and travellers can get involved.

Published 7 Jun 2021, 08:00 BST
Set for completion in 2023, the 32,300sq ft floor at the Colosseum will be made up ...

Set for completion in 2023, the 32,300sq ft floor at the Colosseum will be made up of hundreds of wooden slats that can retract to let light and air into the chambers beneath.

Photograph by Milan Ingegneria

1. Italy's Colosseum

It’s seen beasts, battles and bloody executions, and now the world’s most iconic arena is seeing… a floor. It might be one of Italy’s most popular attractions, but the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire has been without a floor since the 18th century. However, change is afoot — an architecture company has won a contract to restore the Colosseum’s floor to its former glory and allow visitors to admire the 1,950-year-old edifice from its centre, where gladiators once fought.

Set for completion in 2023, the 32,300sq ft surface will be made up of hundreds of wooden slats that can retract to let light and air into the chambers beneath — the same spaces where gladiators and wild animals once waited before entering the arena. It’s a step closer by the Italian government to realising its ambitious goal of returning the Colosseum to its original appearance. The site could host cultural events once again in the not-too-distant future, although swordfights will no doubt remain nothing more than a grisly footnote in the history books. 

2. France's Notre-Dame cathedral

After numerous setbacks following the 2019 blaze, the restoration of the 850-year-old Notre-Dame cathedral is set to pick up the pace this summer. Charity Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris has set up an appeal for donations to help restore and rebuild the iconic cathedral and preserve its priceless treasures. Donors can choose where their money goes, whether it’s on prized artworks, holy relics (which include what’s held to be Jesus’s crown of thorns) or grotesques — the statues of fantastical creatures that dot the parapets. 

3. England's Hadrian's Hall

Running for 73 miles across the neck of Britain, Hadrian’s Wall marks its 1,900th anniversary next year, and will receive a generous birthday present. The wall, built during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian in AD 122, is set to receive £30m in government and charity funding, with the goal of improving transport links and upgrading visitor centres. It’s hoped the wall will become one of the country’s most-visited landmarks. Key to the strategy is the wall’s Game of Thrones connection — the Wall that appears in George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels was inspired by a visit to the site by the author. 

Read more: Six of the UK’s historic trees and their curious stories

A charity has set up an appeal for donations to help restore Notre-Dame cathedral after the 2019 blaze.

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Turkey's ancient city of Laodicea

Ancient artefacts are still being unearthed in the 7,500-year-old city of Laodicea on the Lycus, in Turkey’s southwestern Denizli province, and restorations of its 15,000-seat theatre are nearing completion. Work on the theatre, which dates to second century BC, is expected to wrap up this summer, and will be marked with a celebratory art event — a hint of what’s to come in its new life as a venue for cultural shows and celebrations. Visitors looking to explore the ancient metropolis can find it a few hours’ drive north of Antalya and Bodrum, and just a short hop from the famous pools of Pamukkale. 

5. Indonesia's Sheba Hope Reef

Coral reefs are some of the planet’s most complex and ancient ecosystems, but they face a perilous future. Off the coast of the island of Sulawesi, what’s believed to be the world’s largest coral reef restoration project is well underway. At the Sheba Hope Reef, 19,000 reef stars, seeded with 285,000 coral fragments, have been planted as part of what’s hailed as the world’s biggest coral restoration project.

The venture is led by cat food brand Sheba, whose aim to ensure a healthy, sustainable population of fish benefits not just our feline friends, but also the 500 million people who depend on coral reefs for their livelihoods around the world. It’s predicted the restoration will increase fish abundance at the site by 300% by 2029. Want to get involved? Check out the channel on YouTube, where a percentage of the revenue from adverts helps to fund the project.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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