Domus Aurea – Restoring Emperor Nero’s Palace (Italy)

The famous palace complex of the Roman Emperor Nero is being restored  by the Parco archeologico del Colosseo (MIBACT) since 2009. 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.


Collapsed chambers at the base of Trajan’s Baths | © DAI Rome.


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.




Read more:

Restoration of the National Museum in Cherchell (Algeria)


Pergamon Resurrected! – New Exhibition on the 3D Reconstructions of an antique city (Turkey)

Rousay Island – Threatened Monuments of the Orkney Islands (Scotland)

On the Orkney island of Rousay, a team of the Roman-Germanic Commission explores coastal erosion-threatened monuments, such as the megalithic tomb and the Iron Age Broch of Midhowe and the Viking settlement of Westness.

The convenient location on the Atlantic Ocean and the immediate proximity to the main island have drawn people to this stretch of coast for over 4000 years. Three megalithic tombs, three brochs (round towers), a Viking settlement with a mooring point, burial grounds, as well as the Norman Skaill House and its church bear witness to a long history of settlement.
All these well-known monuments on the coast are endangered by the coastal erosion and partially destroyed already. But what else is there in the ground that gets lost undocumented in a further destruction of the coastal landscape?
A large number of monuments will not be preserved. Experts estimate that some of them will be irretrievably lost within a few years. Therefore, documentation and research conducted by the Romano-Germanic Commission (RGK), together with the partners of the University of Highlands and Islands (Kirkwall), are all the more important in preserving as much information as possible about the archaeological structures.



New Cooperation to Research and Protect the Cultural Heritage of the Orkney’s

The Midhowe Broch, Rousay, provided the perfect backdrop for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Archaeological Institute of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI, Kirkwall) and the Romano-Germanic Commission (RGK, Frankfurt) of the German Archaeological Institute. In the presence of Orkney Island Council representative Harvey Johnston, First Director of the RGK Prof. Eszter Bánffy and Prof. Jane Downes (UHI) sealed their intention to carry out joint research projects.

The newly forged alliance will hopefully not only give us more insight into the archaeology of the island but help to protect the valuable cultural heritage of the Orkney Islands.


Source: DAI Press Release (GER)

Image: Midhowe Broch, Rousay (© DAI )

Pergamon Resurrected! – New Exhibition on the 3D Reconstructions of an antique city (Turkey)

The exhibition “Pergamon Wiederbelebt! ” is shown from April 21 – July 15 2018 in Leipzig and presents 3D reconstructions of the ancient city of Pergamon. The official opening takes place on April 19 at 7 pm.

The focus of the exhibition in the Antikenmuseum der Universität Leipzig is on a new virtual 3D reconstruction of the antique city of Pergamon. The reconstruction was developed by the Chair of Design, Building Theory and Interior Design at the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg in cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). The exhibition presents a modern, vivid image of antique city spaces to the visitors. At the same time, the displays invite the observer to reflect on his own urban environment. The city of Pergamon is located on the west coast of Turkey. As the center of the Hellenistic dynasty of the Attalids and as a Roman metropolis, Pergamon was one of the most prominent urban centers of the ancient world. Since 130 years archaeologists, led by the DAI, have investigated the urban structures of Pergamon as well as the necropolis and the surrounding area of the city.

Pergamon resurrected!

Different reconstructions, going back to the beginning of the excavations in Pergamon, are at display, resurrecting the ruins of the ancient city. The reconstructions help to gain a better understanding for antique architecture and its relationship to manmade living spaces and natural areas. At the beginning of the visit a film installation of the new 3D visualization of Pergamon illustrates the urban environment. A virtual tour leading to the Acropolis visualizes the urban organism of the city. The exhibition then focusses on central urban areas, where people used to live and work. The show also presents the archaeological research and scientific documents on which the reconstructions are based.

In conclusion, the exhibition aims to promote different media of visualization of ancient architecture. In addition to older drawings of single buildings, a print of the 360 ° panorama of the artist and architect Yadegar Asisi is shown. Reconstructions are not only important as a tool for visualization and as an instrument to collect further knowledge, but they also serve as a digital preservation of valuable cultural heritage.


When: 21. April – 15. Juli 2018, opened tuesday thursday, saturday and sunday (12-5 pm).

Where: Aula der Alten Nikolaischule, Nikolaikirchhof 2, 04109 Leipzig.

Entry fee: 3 euro, 1.50 euro (reduced)

Aleppo Archive in Exile

Urban morphological ground-plans of the development of old city Aleppo

The pictures became viral and spread around the world: Once one of the largest trade centres in the Middle East, now a city remained in ruins. Scientific researchers of BTU Cottbus – Senftenberg have worked out on foundational documentations for future planning toward reconstruction of the city, particularly including a detailed digital map of the old city of Aleppo.

Aleppo, second largest city in Syria and one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the World, has been suffering for six years under the civil war. Prior to the clashes 2,5 Million people lived in the city. Today more than half of the population have fled their homes. During the civil war large parts of the city, in particular the old city which was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1986, have been severely damaged.

Under the supervision of the project manager Christoph Wessling, researchers had to deal with a never-ending task. Around 20 Gigabyte data were systematically worked out and further included within the map of the old city on the printing scale of 1:1000 (working scale of 1:500), which illustrates the urban structure and built status by the year 2011.

Until shortly before the outbreak of the civil war, the urban planners and architects of the university were involved in a cautious renovation and revitalization of the old city which was threatened by decay and depletion. In 2004, the German-Syrian project which was supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (German Corporation for Technical Cooperation) with € 20 million of funds, was awarded the Harvard School of Design prize, in the category of urban design and planning. At present the collected data of that time have been instrumental in facilitating the reconstruction process. The map has been created based on the cadastral plans of Aleppo and includes 16000 parcels of the old city, around 400 ground-plans of significant buildings such as the Souq area, the Citadel, the buildings south of the Citadel and numerous buildings, among others in the quarters of Bandarat Al-Islam, in Al-Jidayda as well as in Al-Bayade and Jibqarman.

Numerous maps and planning documents with ground floor plans and the recently designed public spaces have been included in the map. Moreover, the most significant urban transformations of the 20th century could be further traced through overlaying the urban and parcel structures of the 1937 cadastral plans with that of the pre-war cadastral plans. As a result, the urban structure that is currently hidden under the building ruins became visible. Where today only rubble can be seen, the map shows the foundation walls, paths, alleyways and parcel structures underneath.

With downloads!



The palace of Emperor Galerius.

Felix Romuliana – The Palace of Emperor Galerius (Serbia)

In the far east of Serbia can be found a very special example of ancient Roman culture: a splendid, breathtakingly beautiful palace built under Emperor Galerius Valerius Maximianus within an imposing and architecturally unique fortress.

Emperor Galerius Valerius Maximianus (ruled 293-311) was born in the middle of the 3rd century in the valley of the river Crna Reka, not far from the modern Serbian city of Zaječar, and it was in this valley, protected on all sides, that he erected his residence at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century, calling it Romuliana after his mother, Romula.

Western gate to the old fortified palace.
Western gate to the old fortified palace.

The complex is a special type of monument to Roman court architecture. The palace was built on the instruction of the Emperor as his retirement home and is at the same time the place in which he was buried and deified.

The visible parts of the complex were mentioned by travel writers back in the 19th century. The archaeological excavations which began in 1953 revealed the remains of the older and newer fortified palaces as well as numerous buildings serving public and private purposes.

The two palaces and the other buildings dating from that time were built in a relatively short period of 14 years (from 297 to 311). The single roadway which once linked the east gate (which has been restored and preserved under the Cultural Preservation Programme) with the west gate divides the complex into a north and a south section, each of which was used for different purposes. The northern half was the site of the imperial palace with a small temple and a sacrificial shrine in the courtyard; the southern half held public buildings (a large temple with two crypts and rect angular foundations and thermal baths) and the palace’s ancillary buildings.

An aerial view of the beautiful floor decoration.
An aerial view of the beautiful floor decoration.

The palace is decorated with wonderful mosaic floors with abstract motifs and figures. The most important of the numerous fragments of sculpture found during the excavations is the head of Emperor Galerius from a monumental porphyry sculpture.

In the light of its architectural value, but also because of the beauty and quality of the artworks, especially the mosaics, and as it is still a working archaeological site, Romuliana was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007.

Project: Bora Dimitrijević, Project Director, Director of Zaječar National Museum

Promoted byCultural Preservation Programme of The Federal Foreign Office

Source: Worlds of Culture, Ed. Federal Foreign Office