When in Rome

Visit Nero’s Golden House

Immediately after the fire of 64 A.D which destroyed large parts of the centre of Rome, the emperor Nero ordered the construction of his new residence. It would cover one square mile, at that time a quarter of the surface of the city. Faced in precious  marble, its 11 meter high vaulted rooms decorated with gold and gems, his new residence was called Domus Aurea (House of Gold).

After his death, Nero’s successors removed sculptures and statues, stripped the rooms of their precious materials,, and filled the spaces with earth;  the great Baths of Titus and Trajan were  built on top in an effort to stamp out every trace of the emperor. (A colossal statue of Nero – 30 metres high- was placed near an amphitheatre which has since been called the ‘Coliseum’ after the long-vanished sculpture.)

The fabulous frescoes and stuccoes remained hidden underground for centuries, until a hole appeared in the park above due to a partial collapse of the room hidden underneath. Curious adventurers lowered themselves on a rope from the ruins of the Baths and were greeted with a view of frescoed vaults below. Falsely assuming they had lowered themselves into grottos, artists like Raphael copied the decorative motifs they saw and called them ‘grotesques’ from the word ‘grotto’.

In 1722, the first Domus excavation was begun. Work continued by fits and starts over the centuries. By 2002,150 rooms of an estimated 300 were recovered though not all cleared of rubble. Limited visits were allowed from time to time until 2010 when the site was closed due to flooding. The Domus is open again, at least for the first half of 2016.

A crowdfunding program is currently raising money to support the work. A portion of the admission ticket price also goes to the fund. Read about the work, book a ticket online- or just contribute – at

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