Experience Nero’s Golden House as it looked back in the day
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.
History of the Domus Aurea
In 64 AD much of the centre of Rome was destroyed by an enormous fire. While there remains some discussion on whether Nero himself caused the fire, it is certain that it gave him the opportunity to build a huge new residence: the Domus Aurea, also known as ‘’The Golden House’’.
The entire complex occupied a space almost 25 times as big as the Colosseum—the opulent imperial residence 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 on the spot where you can find the Colosseum today. 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. Some of the dining rooms had mechanisms in the ceilings through which petals or perfume descended onto the dinners.
The Golden House: a hidden beauty
Following Nero’s death in 68, his successors wanted to distance themselves from the former emperor and his palace, and tried to erase every trace of it. The palace was stripped of all its luxury and treasures, after which the rooms were filled with earth and levelled to serve as a building ground for the Baths of Titus and later also for the Baths of Trajan. On the site of the lake the Colosseum was built.
Nero’s sumptuous quarters themselves were forgotten for the next 1,400 year, until late in the 15th century, when a Roman boy fell through a hole on the Oppian Hill and he saw a glimpse of painted figures.
Soon after, a host of adventurers and legendary artists of the Renaissance, Raphael among them, made pilgrimages to the site, studying and later recreating the Domus’s motifs and designs (called ‘grotesques’) in their own work. The paintings were highly influential and ‘Grotesque painting’ is still an existing term for Roman wall decoration (as well as carpets and furniture motifs), much seen in the 16th century.
Visiting the Domus Aurea
Fast forward to the present century: after extensive renovation, the palace finally opened its gates to visitors in 2014. Although there are still excavations and construction work going on, the place is open for visitors during the weekends when guided tours are organized.
When in Rome, this fascinating tour is highly recommended. The guides take you along the large and incredibly high rooms where some frescoes can be seen, and they tell you all about the history and architecture of the Domus Aurea. On weekends, there is even a Virtual Reality experience included in the tour–with the aid of visual headsets, the 3D, multimedia experience provides a glimpse into how the Domus looked in its heyday. The Volta Dorata Hall and the exterior bordering the gardens are the focus of the guided walks, which must be booked in advance.
A tour through the Domus Aurea offers a unique experience in Rome. Inside the Domus, the temperature is around 10 degrees Celsius, so we recommend wearing appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes. Please note that admission is only granted with a guided tour, and reservations are essential.
Current Exhibition: “L’Amato di Iside. Nerone, la Domus Aurea e l’Egitto“
Currently, there is an exhibition taking place in the Octagonal Room of the Domus: “L’Amato di Iside. Nerone, la Domus Aurea e l’Egitto” (“The Beloved of Isis. Nero, the Domus Aurea and Egypt”). This exhibition, open until January 14th 2024, provides a fascinating exploration of Nero’s connection to Egypt and the spread of the worship of Isis in Rome.
It also offers a remarkable opportunity to uncover the monumental spaces within the Domus Aurea through an extraordinary access point that allows for visits throughout the week.
Book your Colosseum Tour
entrance from Viale Serapide
Monday to Thursday:
9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. exhibition only, with limited access and groups of a maximum of 23 people (guide included)
Friday to Sunday:
9.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m. construction site and exhibition, with limited entry and groups of a maximum of 23 people (guide included)