ROME (Reuters Life!) - Raging fire will appear to consume Rome's ancient Colosseum in a dramatic art spectacle over the next few nights aimed at igniting debate on the fragility of Europe's cultural heritage sites.
For artists Thyra Hilden and Pio Diaz, engulfing the vast Roman amphitheatre in virtual flames will be the culmination of a long-running project using video projections of wild fires to make landmark buildings appear to be burning.
"We wanted something to symbolize destruction and creation at once. We wanted to question whether something should exist or not and what the heritage means to us," said Diaz.
"What would happen if you destroyed a museum or building, is the culture gone? Do we need to build it again or do we have the same culture as we had before?" he asked, as images of flames were projected from the Colosseum's entrance arches, making it appear to burn from within.
The Colosseum, which first opened in 80 AD and housed bloody public spectacles including gladiator fights, mock sea battles and animal shows, is one of the most famous monuments from the ancient world.
But it has suffered due to neglect in recent years, prompting the cash-strapped Italian government to search for private sponsors willing to help pay for restoration work.
The urgency surrounding the site was highlighted in May when chunks of mortar plunged through a protective netting, and a string of collapses at the nearby forum have also raised fears about how long Rome's ancient buildings can remain standing.
Hilden said the artists had always targeted the archaeological treasure as the stage for their show due to its cultural significance.
"The Colosseum in our eyes is the strongest symbol of Western culture," she said. "When you put these manmade constructions, these icons under threat, it shakes our reality and roots."
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby, editing by Paul Casciato)