The famous palace complex of the Roman Emperor Nero is being restored since 2009 by the Parco archeologico del Colosseo (MIBACT). The project is supported by the German Archaeological Institute in Rome.
To understand the story of Domus Aurea, the “Golden House”, one must go back to a summer’s night between the 18th and 19th of July in the year 64 AD. That night, as Tacitus (c. 56 – c. 120 AD), senator and a historian of the Roman Empire, tells us in his annals, a fire broke out in ancient Rome. Raging for nine days the fire reduced nine of the thirteen districts of Rome to ashes and rubble. According to the rumors that spread quickly in Rome, the fire is said to have been laid on the orders of Emperor Nero, to be able to sing from a tower of the downfall of Troy. The persistence of such rumors may be explained by the fact that part of the city was used for the construction of Nero’s new palace complex, Domus Aurea.
The palace complex of Domus Aurea
Domus Aurea probably is the most impressive example of Neronian architecture. According to ancient historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, the wide spread complex, included an artificial lake, vineyards, cornfields, pastures and forests, populated with wild game and grazing livestock. We are informed that the buildings “seemed like cities” and offered an imposing view with a 120 feet high statue of Nero standing in the vestibule.
Most of what has survived belonged to the part of the Domus Aurea, which is located on the side of the Oppian Hill. It is believed, that these 142 rooms belonged to the main building of the complex. The exact dimensions of the building complex are not known, yet. The entire complex, which was not finished at the time of Nero’s death in 68 AD, was rebuilt during the reign of following emperors. After a fire broke out in the residence building in 104 AD the upper floor was levelled and the basement buried under the Baths of Trajan (106-109 AD).
Restoration work at Domus Aurea
During the time of Emperor Trajan the basement was filled up and all windows were sealed, to use the area as the base of Trajan’s Baths. Of the chambers added to widen the base, two collapsed in 2010, making immediate restoration measures necessary.
The reason for the collapse was a lack of structural safety, caused by the public park above Domus Aurea and looting. The ruins were used as a source for building material since the Middle Ages. What remained was only the inner part of the wall, the so-called nucleo, which consists of low-quality mortar and bricks. Due to the moisture this exposed nucleo was damaged over the centuries.
The first challenge for was to set up and implement a restoration concept that took into account all aspects of the building. In addition to the restoration of the static safety of the building, measures to prevent the ingress of rainwater were implemented. To stop excessive air circulation, which can result in the transport of dust particles and salt efflorescence in the masonry, air locks were installed. Furthermore, the algae infestation had to be reduced and roots, damaging the structure, were diminished. The park area covering Domus Aurea was redesigned in accordance to the restoration concept.
Since November 2014, Domus Aurea is open to guide tours again on the weekend, thanks to the work of Parco archeologico del Colosseo (MIBACT). The measures were funded by the Italian State and the German Archaeological Institute.