From the outside, Rome’s Oppian Hill is unassuming, home to a humble public park which is easily outshone by its neighbor, the Colosseum. But what lies beneath it is one of the Eternal City’s greatest treasures: the Domus Aurea.
Erected by Emperor Nero in 64AD, the palace, also known as the Golden House, was an opulent imperial residence that sprawled from the Palatine Hill to the Colle Oppio and Caelius Mountain, spanning one square mile. At its peak, the Domus boasted gardens, woods, and even artificial lake; statues hailing from Greece and Asia Minor adorned its rooms; gold and marble quarried from Egypt and the Middle East covered walls and vaulted ceilings; and even a grandiose, octagonal chamber with a domed roof graced the grounds, built sixty years before the completion of the Pantheon. The palace was inhabited until it was damaged in 104 AD by a wildfire. Eventually, Trajan reutilized the Domus’s walls for his eponymous baths, filling the palace with rubble.
Nero’s sumptuous quarters themselves were forgotten for the next 1,400 years. It wasn’t until the the 15th-century that excavators first stumbled upon the Domus. Legendary artists of the Renaissance, Raphael among them, made pilgrimages to the site, studying and later recreating the Domus’s motifs and designs in their own work. Fast forward to the present century: after extensive renovation, the palace finally opened its gates to visitors in 2014, and, as of a few months ago, are now offering virtual reality tours. With the aid of visual headsets, the 3D, multimedia experience provides a glimpse into how the Domus looked in its heyday, resurrecting Nero’s elaborate frescoes. The Volta Dorata hall and the exterior bordering the gardens are the focus of the guided walks, which must be booked in advance. Proceeds from the tours go to the continued restoration of the palace, whose budget is a whopping €30 million.
For information on the tours (running weekends, 9am-4.45pm) visit coopculture.it. For extra tidbits, check out the engaging blog: cantieredomusaurea.it, which gives insight into the dedicated and passionate workers behind this leviathan restoration project.
Via della Domus Aurea, 1
Tours available on Sat and Sun (English, Italian and Spanish)
Ticket: €14 (bookings essential)
For Bookings call: +39 06 399 67 700