Nero’s Golden Palace was known for its grandeur. Parts of the 3-story villa complex still stand today – the imposing stone walls, majestic arched ceilings and glimpses of the colorful frescoes. Fortunately, today you can still experience it in all its Roman-age splendor through the eyes of virtual reality.
Nero’s Golden House tours offer an immersive experience that takes
you back in time to the age of the infamous and extravagant emperor as you wander the halls he used to walk.
Here’s some practical info about visiting the Domus Aurea excavation site in the center of Rome.
The archaeological restoration site is open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:15 to 16:15.
Tours are available only during the weekend.
These tours include a virtual reality experience as part of the guided educational tour.
The Domus Aurea is no longer free on the first Sunday of every month.
There are 16 daily tours in Italian and 12 in English, alternating every 15 minutes.
There are also two tours in Spanish, at 11:45 and 15:30 and one in French at 12:45.
Please note that from March 24, 2020, to January 10, 2021,
Nero’s Golden House will host the exhibition “Raphael and the Domus Aurea:
the invention of the grotesques”, which is part of the celebration of the
500th anniversary of the death of the legendary High Renaissance painter
and architect Raphael taking place during 2020.
This exhibit will enhance your visit to the Domus Aurea by exploring the Renaissance period in which famous artists like Raphael discovered Nero’s villa and the painted treasures within.
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The residence complex built by Emperor Nero around 64 CE has been left to the elements for centuries and an army of archaeologists, architects, engineers, conservators, physicists, chemists, biologists and botanists have been working tirelessly inside its walls for years to protect and restore the remains that stand precariously under the weight of the Colle Oppio park above it.
The tour lasts 75 minutes and takes you through many rooms. Visitors will explore its cavernous halls below the grand vaults of the ceiling, which were once adorned with gold (hence the name Golden Palace) and precious stones. Today, traces of colorful frescoes can still be seen, hinting at its once extravagant beauty.
The feeling of grandeur is still present.
As visitors wander through the majestic ruins assisted in their journey by a guide and elements of virtual reality, they will enter the lavish and colossal world of Ancient Rome.
Some of the rooms visitors will be able to explore include the porticoed garden; a nymphaeum, a sacred room consecrated to the nymphs, which has a vault ceiling covered in pumice and a central mosaic of Ulysses offering the cup of wine to Polyphemus; the famous golden vault room with its brilliant decorations; the high cryptoporticus where traces of the Renaissance painters can still be seen; and the octagonal room with its grand open dome and radiating alcoves.
On February 4, 2017, the archaeological restoration site of Nero’s Golden Palace reopened
to the public with an exciting new addition to its educational tour, an innovative multimedia
experience aimed at improving the scientific value of the site and enhancing the experience for visitors.
This site specific project includes new technology such as virtual reality and video mapping through multimedia installations that have been added to transform the Domus Aurea tour into a more immersive experience that takes the visitor on a journey through the history and architectural details of the ancient site.
The new tour takes visitors through 12 stages, which include high-definition projections about the history of the Domus Aurea at the beginning of the tour and a high-definition augmented reality installation in the “Golden Vault Room”.
The introduction of this innovative technology in a historical setting full of significant cultural heritage puts visitors on a journey through time to more fully experience – cognitively and emotionally – the magnitude, beauty and significance of this corner of Roman history.
The great Roman fire of 64 CE devastated central Rome.
From the ashes of its aftermath, Emperor Nero had his new residence built to replace his Domus Transitorio destroyed by the fire.
It was to be a palace of immense proportions, a structure like no king, consul or emperor before him could have dreamed of.
Designed by architects Severus and Celer and decorated by Fabullus,
Nero’s villa extended across around one square mile between
the slopes of the Caelian, Palatine and Esquilline hills.
It had 150 rooms, which were sheathed in varieties of fine white marble.
The vaulted ceilings were embellished with gold – giving it the name Domus Aurea (Golden House), precious gems, shells, mosaics and frescoes.
The enormous complex also contained extensive stretches of land with villas, vineyards, pastures and woods full of domestic and wild animals.
The palace overlooked an artificial lake in the valley below and was filled with treasures that had been looted during campaigns in the Orient. In the vestibule, the Colossus Neronis, a 120-foot bronze statue of the emperor and namesake of Rome’s famous amphitheater, stood guard.
Upon entering his finished palace, the historian Suetonius claims Nero said: "At last I am able to live like a human being"!
However, he didn’t live that way for long.
Only four years later, he died, after which the enormous expanse of land that the narcissistic ruler had kept to himself was returned to the Roman people and his unattainable and outlandish Domus Aurea was partially buried for the construction of new buildings for public use: the Flavian Ampitheater (Colosseum) and the Baths of Titus and Trajan.
This was also intentional as the Senate had decreed all traces of the tyrannical emperor be erased after he died. Thus, the halls were pillaged and partially filled in.
The entirety of the Domus Aurea complex has still not been explored today because it remains in part concealed below other important archaeological sites in central Rome
After Nero’s Golden House was ransacked and buried to serve as the foundation for public baths,
the halls of the emperor’s former residence were transformed into a series of underground caverns.
Their curiosity led them down into what they thought were caves. Once inside, they began to copy the ornamental motifs.
Hence, these decorations were called grottesche, or the Italian word for cavernous.
However, their very interest in conserving this ancient art was also the source
of its destruction.
Opening up the abandoned spaces caused the frescoes and stuccoes to quickly discolor due to the humidity and were once again abandoned.
It wasn’t until after frescoes in Pompeii were recovered that scholars decided to return to the caverns in Rome, resuming their excavations in the Domus Aurea in 1772. The Domus Aurea grotesques can be categorized into two types of decorative trends. The first was found along the corridors and their barrel vaults.
These motifs follow the traditional style of the time period only more linear, making the architectural elements completely inconsistent.
The second type of decoration modernizes the decorative system, especially on the ceilings, whereas the presence of figures on the walls represent the first examples of the “fourth style”.
After the Renaissance painters had their turn imitating and preserving the
structure and art of Nero’s Golden Palace, the complex opened to the public in 1999
after 20 years of restoration.
Unfortunately, six years later it closed again due to safety issues.
Restoration continued and once again visitors were allowed to enter starting in February 2007 only to close again a year later. The Domus Aurea has now been accessible to the public since 2014.
The first “Conservation Plan for the Monument”, developed from an idea by A. Vodret, was drawn up by the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archaeologici of Rome in March 2011, written by F. Filippi, A. Vodret, I. Sciortino, E. Segala and M. Pesce. It was then presented to the Technical Committees for Archaeological, Architectural and Landscape Heritage of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities (MiBAC). Subsequently, the parts of the project that concerned consolidation of structures and decorations and tests of the proposed new arrangement of the waterproof roof were launched.
The constituent parts of the monument as it has been preserved for us by history
in all its transformations ensure its cultural importance and enhance its appeal.
However, they also create very specific and extremely complex conservation problems:
we are dealing with a delicate and precarious architectural complex.
Up above, a park consisting of a 2-3-meter thick layer of earth weighs on the vaults of the underground monument and tree roots penetrate into the ancient brickwork.
The relationship between different construction phases – Neronian and Trajanic – further complicates these conservation problems while the unusually large size of the complex multiplies them and sometimes makes it impossible to achieve conservation goals.
The archaeologists, architects, engineers, conservators, physicists, chemists, biologists and botanists who have been studying and working inside the Domus Aurea for many years all agree that to successfully reduce climate instability, the principal cause of risk to the monument’s conservation, beyond the plan to secure and consolidate the structures and painting cycles, we need to holistically tackle three aspects that the Soprintendenza has adopted as fundamental parameters of its General Intervention Plan.
The aim of the project is to conserve the Domus Aurea
in its peculiarity as an underground monument through an integrated intervention –
philological, archaeological and functional – which includes recovering the complex “above and below”
and rehabilitating the terrace of Trajan’s Baths within the context of the park.
The intention is to gradually create a new landscape that enhances the visual and physical perception of the ancient monuments, recreating the planovolumetric relationships between them and thus ensuring their spatial and cultural reconnection with the Colosseum Valley and the Central Area of the Palatine and Imperial Forums.
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