The Domus Aurea Reopened

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After a year of renovations and repairs, certain sections of the Domus Aurea, one of the most important archeological sites in Rome, will be reopened this winter according to officials in Rome. The site was closed at the end of 2005 when the archeologists reported extensive environmental damage from water infiltration, tree roots and harsh artificial lighting. A small portion of the site reopened in February, this will continue in stages through the spring, with the entire site reportedly open after the summer 2007. At the moment the site is open Tuesday through Friday, with visits reserved in advance.

Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea, or Golden House, is a massive structure that at the time of its creation in 66 A.D. occupied a third of the city and acts as a testament to the wealth, power and opulence of the emperor Nero. Erected after the fire of Rome conveniently gave Nero considerably more building space, but before his suicide, this magnificent palace was probably the scene of the greatest house parties in history with more than three hundred rooms dedicated to the pursuit of earthly delights and walls covered with complex frescoes and encrusted with precious stones. Gold leaf glittered from every corner. For Nero, the Domus, with its vineyards and expansive gardens, constituted a rus in urbe, “countryside in the city.”

Nero, one of Rome’s most decadent Emperors, eventually committed suicide and his memory damned by systematically taking apart the Domus, burying large parts of it with earth, and reusing its jewels and marbles elsewhere. It wasn’t until the 15th century when a young boy accidentally slipped through a hole on the Oppian Hill and discovered a hidden grotto filled with painted figures did the excavation of the Domus begin to take place. Soon such painters as Michelangelo and Raphael were shimmying down shafts to survey the intact frescoes. Art historians now believe that these experiences fundamentally influenced their later works in the loggias of the Vatican Museums. Much still remains buried under Trajan’s Forum and the Palatine, but the portions that will be opened, located on the Oppian hill, demonstrate some of the qualities that have made the Domus Aurea renowned for its artistic, as well as archeological, treasures.

The Domus Aurea was opened to modern visitation in the late 1980’s. However, more foot traffic has come with a cost. Part of the ceiling collapsed in 2001, and the entire structure was closed in 2005. Its reopening this year comes highly anticipated and with more controls. Visits will take place alongside the preservation efforts, giving visitors the unique chance to view up close the methods used by the restorers to make this house shine again.

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