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Domus Aurea shut again PDF Print E-mail
Apr 01, 2010 at 03:25 PM
Collapse on the Oppian Hill

Those of you who have never seen the Domus Aurea are now out of luck (again) for what is bound to be a minimum of two years. I've been inside three times and it is really well worth the visit, especially if you have the imagination to conjure up in your mind what this basically empty structure must once have looked like. Now, the collapse of a portion of the hill covering of the magnificent palace built by the Emperor Nero after a fire (that legend says may have been set by him) burned much of ancient Rome in 64 A.D. has once again put the palace out of bounds for the lovers of ancient Rome. Clearly, the restoration work announced last June when the Domus Aurea (Golden House) was closed to visitors for the third time in as many years because of water leaks were too little and too late.

Officials said the cave in did not involve the Domus itself but an area of between 60 and 70 square meters covering one of the tunnels built by the Emperor Trajan in 106 A.D. . After Nero's murder in 68 A.D., his successor, Hadrian, sacked the palace and covered it over to build a Roman Bath on the Roman hill known as Colle Oppio. After Hadrian, Trajan did further work which involved a series of tunnels. But the effect is the same.

After being shut for decades because of structural problems, the Domus was reopened to visitors in 1999, closed again in 2005 because of water damage and reopened once more in January, 2006. More water damage caused another shut down in December 2008 that was supposed to last until 2011. European and Italian funds amounting to 3.2 million euros were allocated for restoration and water-proofing to protect against spillage through the hilltop above but before this was well underway, a large portion of the covering fell in on itself.

Domus Aurea interior

Originally decorated with copious gold leaf and other luxurious furnishings, the imperial residence was so big - 300 rooms, mostly, experts say, for parties and other receptions - that it reached the Palatine and Celian hills, reportedly covering 2.5 square kilometres of terrain. Its gardens were monumental, surrounding an artificial lake which in the place where the Coliseum was subsequently constructed. Nero had also commissioned a gigantic bronze state of himself, some 37 meters tall, dressed as the god Apollo, a Colossus that later gave its name to the massive amphitheatre built between 70 and 80 A.D by the Flavian Emperors Vespasian and Titus.

One of its most famous rooms is the Octagonal Hall which is said to have a mechanism that allowed a star-studded ceiling to revolve while rose petals and perfume fell on the emperor and his guests.

The Octagonal Room

Throughout the palace there were frescoes everywhere high up on the walls, either geometrical or others depicting monsters and other strange creatures. During the Renaissance, artists like Michelangelo used to gain access to these upper portions from caves or grottoes in the Oppian Hill . They don't seem to have had any idea that there was much, much more below and, in fact, the small paintings came to be known as grotteschi.


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