The Italian Almanac

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inside the Golden House

Italian News - December 13

The Domus Aurea, a celebrated monument dating from Ancient Roman times, is to be closed with immediate effect. The announcement was made at a media conference by the heritage minister, Rocco Buttiglione. One reason for the decision was to avoid injury to visitors and staff in view of the risk of collapses caused by water infiltration after recent heavy rainfall.

The Domus Aurea, the residence of the Roman emperor Nero, was built on the ashes of the great fire that destroyed much of the city in AD 64. The lavish imperial residence was designed by the architects Severus and Celer. It eventually occupied almost the entire centre of the city, squeezing out houses and public buildings over an area of about eighty hectares delimited by the Palatine, Esquiline, Oppian and Celian hills. It included a sea-like lake, the “stagnum Neronis”, and buildings as big as towns, earning itself the name Domus Aurea, or “golden house”.

The problem of water infiltration and the consequent danger of collapse had been known for some time. In 1999, just after the site was reopened when restoration work lasting two decades was completed, a working group of experts from the central and local government superintendencies was set up and for about a year investigated the recovery and stabilisation of the entire Oppian hill area, including the Domus Aurea. The working group, which included archaeologists and architects from both superintendencies as well as from various local authority offices with jurisdiction over the area, drafted a detailed report illustrating the interventions to be carried out. The experts also made an estimate of the funding necessary, calculating the cost at about 250 billion lire in old money.

The funds were never allocated, either by the government of the day or by subsequent administrations.