Visit Nero’s Golden House – a must see in Rome
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.
The Domus Aurea has finally reopened to the public with many surprises: a new entrance, an improved illumination system, and an exhibit dedicated to Raphael.
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.
In the past year, the Colosseum Archeological Park that the Domus Aurea is part of underwent a big restoration. New frescoes have been discovered that weren’t visible before, and many sculptures that were kept in a storage room have been placed on the itinerary. The new lighting system is improved and more sustainable. The Domus now has a new entrance for the public that leads from the Parco del Colle Oppio directly into the Sala Ottagona.
For information on the tours visit coopculture.it.
Domus Aurea and exhibition “Raphael and the invention of the grotesque”
The Domus Aurea used to be made up of several buildings, grandiose gardens, woods, vineyards, and an artificial lake, placed where the Colosseum is now. Of Nero’s original Domus Aurea, only the east wing is left standing, complete with 153 underground rooms. Each hall was covered in colored marbles, frescoes, stuccos; these decorations were called “grottesche.”
The grottesche inspired many artists during the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. Because of this, Parco del Colosseo had a unique exhibit in store last year to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest Italian artists of all time, Raffaello Sanzio’s (Urbino 1483 – Roma 1520); because of COVID, the exhibit finally opened to the public this summer.
In the early 1400s Raphael and many of his peers came across, almost by chance, the remaining underground rooms of what had once been Nero’s Domus Aurea. The rich decorations were stunning to them in the same way they are stunning to us today. Raphael and many painters of his generation derived a particular style delle grottesche from what they saw in the Domus.
The exhibit, called “Raphael and the Domus Aurea, the invention of grottesche,” follows the main Sala Ottagona and the five nearby rooms where visitors can still admire traces of the grottesche. The itinerary is multimedia and interactive, with screenings and music that remind of us Ancient Rome.
“Raffaello e la Domus Aurea, l’invenzione delle grottesche” is open until April 2022 at the Domus Aurea every day from 9am to 6.30pm. Get more info and book your tickets for a guided tour at raffaellodomusaurea.it.
Via della Domus Aurea, 1
Monday to Thursday:
9.00 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. with limited access and groups of a maximum of 15 people every 15 minutes (guide included)
Friday to Sunday:
9.00 a.m. – 6.30 p.m. with limited entry and groups of maximum 15 people every 15 minutes (guide included)