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Rome's Colosseum Gets Its Lion Elevator Back

Two thousand years ago, the famous Colosseum was the biggest gathering place in the seat of the Roman Empire. In fact, it was the world's biggest amphitheatre. Over time, much of the structure has been dismantled by age, neglect, and the systematic pilfering of its stones.

But someone is still adding to it. The Colosseum just got one of its original features back: a lion elevator.

Originally, there were some two dozen such elevators, which were used to hoist animals up to the arena level where they would face hardy gladiators—or luckless criminals. This gruesome machinery came nearly two millennia before mankind learned to harness electricity, so it was powered by harnessed mankind itself: Eight men had to push corkscrew-like paddles in a circle to make it work. When all the elevators were in operation during a busy match day, some 200 people would have been required to keep forcing animals into the arena.

The reconstructed lift reportedly cost $20 million to build—it's not as if Otis makes a version of a gladiator elevator—and was installed as part of a documentary film, the plainspokenly titled Colosseum: Roman Death Trap, which aired this year on PBS.

Click here for Frommer's full coverage of the Colosseum in Rome.

The full video of the 53-minute documentary is currently available for streaming online. We've embedded it here. The story of how the elevators were approximated and constructed begins at about 15 minutes in.  If it's not showing up for you, click here to watch it on the PBS site.