Rome attempts to fiddle with Nero's nasty reputation
Thursday 24 June 1999
The Domus Aurea, or Golden House, was Nero's monument to himself, built, with no expense spared, after the fire that destroyed Rome AD64. It was covered with marble and gold and the entrance was marked by a golden statue of the emperor, 30 metres high.
Built in just four years, Nero's palace was innovative in its proportions and its sheer luxury, and broke new ground in architecture and fresco painting. Most of it was destroyed soon after Nero's suicide AD68. What remained, hidden under big public baths on the Oppian Hill, was the pleasure palace, discovered in 1494. It once looked out over the site of the Colosseum, where a vast lake, the Stagnum Neronis, formed the centre of an immense park.
The Domus Aurea has been closed to the public since the early Eighties, for restoration and assessment as how to prevent further climate and water damage. The underground structure is not so much ruins as huge caverns, some 12 metres in height. It takes imagination to mentally remove the big sustaining walls erected later to support the Baths of Trajan overhead and which cut mercilessly through Nero's palace. The original spaceswould have been suffused with natural light.
Only 1,200 square metres of the 30,000 square metres of frescoed walls have so far been restored. Almost all of them were painted by Nero's chosen artist, Fabullus, whose mastery of perspective and trompe- l'oeil, his use of fake windows and fake frames, inspired Renaissance artists. The remaining decorations, most of which are grandiose mythological themes that Nero identified with, are still covered in salt encrustations or discoloured by water seepage. Recovering them is expected to take at least another decade.
The complex was intended to host hundreds of statues that had been plundered by Nero from Greece and Asia Minor. The most famous of these, the Laocoon, which was rediscovered in the 16th century, is now in the Vatican Museum.
One of the most impressive chambers is the Octagonal Room. Covered with a circular dome, that could reportedly slide back and release a shower of petals on to Nero's guests, it also had a movable floor.
"Certainly Nero has had some pretty bad press down the ages. I think in our discoveries here we see that for all that he was a real innovator. His desire for grandeur made him always seek the new, seek to push back the boundaries," said archaeologist Silvia Cavazzini. Adriano La Regina, the superintendent of archaeology for Rome, is not so tender. "He undoubtedly had aristocratic tastes but this doesn't take away from the fact that he was one of the nastiest tyrants in history. Hitler was also a lover of art and architecture."
Several of the rooms carrythe signatures of artists and writers who visited the Domus Aurea in previous centuries.
To celebrate the reopening of the Domus Aurea, the Italian capital is hosting three days of cultural events dedicated to ancient Rome, including a special screening of the classic film Quo Vadis? which starred Peter Ustinov as Nero.
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...