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You start immediately after a brief introduction of the historical context provided by our archaeologist. Wear the hard hat and 3D glasses so you can take in the phenomenal reconstructions and you are ready to start your journey.
We offer two precious gems in this experience: an incredible exploration of the colossal spaces of Emperor Nero’s villa, the famous Domus Aurea (The Golden House), recently reopened to the public in a remarkable state of conservation and a virtual 3D augmented reality enabling the chance to relive the splendour of the rooms, gardens and incredible porticos.
We only offer this tour of Nero’s Golden House on Saturday and Sunday due to the fact that the archaeologists are still at work on excavations and restorations on weekdays.
The visit to Nero’s Golden House
The Domus Aurea was an enormous complex of buildings, courtyards and gardens that extended from Palatine Hill to the Esquilino in Rome and covered the whole of Oppian Hill, that’s an area of over 90 hectares!
Nero's main residence was on Palatine Hill and from there an incredible number of buildings branched off which are still connected via giant underground arcades (similar to Nero’s Criptoportico on Palatine Hill, still accessible today and part of his Domus Transitoria which was destroyed by fire in 64 AD). Much more than a house, (domus in Latin) it was a city within a city, orbiting around a vast artificial lake, the Stagnus Neronis (where later the Colosseum would be built). The buildings were surrounded by cultivated land, vineyards, pastures and forests filled with all manner of domestic and wild animals. In the main courtyard of the Domus there stood a colossal statue, representing Nero as the Sun God. The pavilions of the Oppian Hills alone consisted of 200 rooms, many of them recovered by archaeologists, which you will explore on our visit of Rome's most esclusive site.
The huge complex of the Domus Aurea was designed for the emperor’s enjoyment in his free time. There he could stroll and feast with guests whilst enjoying beautiful works of art. The Golden House itself is a wonder in terms of architectural elegance and was filled with prized paintings and sculptures, many of which were collected or confiscated by the emperor in various provinces of the Roman empire. Probably among these were the original bronze of the Dying Gaul and the Galatian Suicide, taken from the Acropolis of Pergamon, and the famous statue of the Laocoon, which was found during the Renaissance and today can be found in the Octagonal courtyard of the Vatican Museums.
Nero undertook the creation of The Domus Aurea after the terrible fire of July 64 AD, which blazed for nine days, destroying as many as 10 of the 14 districts in which the city was divided. Many perished and the damage was extensive. According to a legend, Nero would have enjoyed the spectacle of Rome in flames evoking the destruction of Troy. However nothing could be further from the truth, since his own Domus Transitoria was badly damaged and historical sources tell us that the emperor returned quickly from Anzio to Rome - about 70 km away - to coordinate relief efforts. Nevertheless, his enemies spread the word that Nero himself had started the fire in the Circus Maximus and from there it was simply unstoppable. Most likely to create a scapegoat for himself, Nero placed the blame on the Christians, signalling one of the most famous and bloody persecutions in history. Among the murdered Christians, the apostle Peter was crucified. The site of his burial would become St. Peter’s Basilica centuries later.
Nero entrusted the project of his Golden House to his renowned architects, Severus and Celer. The works were completed at an incredible speed, with many of the contructions being completed in just 4 years. The remarkable life of Nero came to an end in 68 AD, when Nero committed suicide before the army and the Senate could find him to sentence him to death for killing his mother, Agrippina and his wife. Despite Nero’s immensely controversial life, he was proud of the achievement of the Domus: the ancient historian Suetonius cited him as saying: "Good, now I can at last begin to live like a human being. He died shortly after, aged just 31.
Svetonio described the rooms as follows: Parts of the house were overlaid with gold and studded with precious stones and mother of pearl. All the dining rooms had ceilings of fretted ivory, the panels of which could slide back and let a rain of flowers, or of perfume from hidden sprinklers, fall on his guests. The main dining room was circular, and its roof revolved slowly, day and night, in time with the sky. Seawater, or sulfur water, was always on tap in the baths.
Suetonius coined the name of the Domus Aurea (Golden House) because "everything was covered with gold and covered with precious stones and shells." The most spaces of the Domus Aurea are the unquestionably the various rooms and courtyards, many of which have been completely restored and are part of our unique tour.
Our Domus Aurea tour starts in what was a huge porch with columns, we then move on to a grotto containing a large bath with a small waterfall, despite the space being covered, it is anything but dark. The light enters from the side windows on the porch where it is then multiplied in the changing reflections of the water, bouncing off the alabaster walls and ceilings creating a wondrous light, such as an enlarged spotlight near a river. Here, we are close to the original pentagonal courtyard, which is remarkable in terms of size and structure. We are also a stone’s throw from the lush gardens. From here the tour continues to the east wing of the Golden House, where the talented architects, Severus and Celer really reached their pinnacle in the Octagonal Room, architectural heart of the complex. We pause for a moment before admiring the two adjacent rooms: the Room of Achilles and Skyros and that of Hector and Andromache, absolute treasures of well-preserved frescoes.
Next, we proceed to admire the most exclusive of all the spaces: the Octagonal Hall, where the magnificence of Nero’s palace never fails to leave us stunned. Our gaze is automatically drawn to the ceiling which is perforated in the form of an open eye and would have revealed that infinite of space filled with stars. From this romantic and ingenious viewpoint, Nero’s fortunate guests would lie on couches and feast whilst admiring the cosmos and the works of art in the centre of the room. This incredibly ambitious structure was an absolute innovation for Roman architecture and it is no coincidence that it became a model to achieve, as in the majestic Pantheon.
Read more on our blog: Nero's House of Gold and his eccentric life
Buried, forgotten and rediscovered: the Domus Aurea till the Renaissance
After the death of Nero a time of politacal instability followed. The emperor Vespasian, firmly took hold the reins of the empire and headed in a new direction with his government. The gardens of the Domus Aurea, disliked by the people and the senators for Nero’s clear abuse of power and waste of money, were returned to the Romans. In just ten years the site of the original artificial lake of the Domus was transformed into a huge amphitheatre, inaugurated by the son of Vespasian, emperor Titus in the year 80 AD to host gladiator battles, by then very popular throughout the empire. The giant statue of Nero, created in the image of the Sun God, was moved near the entrance of the amphitheatre using 24 elephants! It was from this colossal likeness that the adjacent amphitheatre took its name, the Colosseum.
By a few decades later, the emperor Trajan had successfully inflicted a lasting and damning posthumous memory of Nero, decreeing the destruction of any artefact bearing his name or image. The Domus Aurea was buried by the majestic Terme and The Domus Aurea, a kingdom of light, was scattered and cast into the shadows where it became a kingdom of darkness.
It was only in the early 1500s that the Renaissance culture, with its irrepressible passion for ancient texts and remnants, reawakened interest in the Domus. For the artists of the Renaissance it was not uncommon to venture on nocturnal expeditions into the damp tunnels and dangerous conditions looking for evidence of the Rome past. The most noble among these expeditioners was Umbrian Pinturicchio, handsomely salaried by papa Borgia to paint his apartments in the Vatican. Armed with torches, he ventured, into the Domus caves along with Raphael and his assistants, studying and sketching the strange tangle of the bizarre figures of the frescoes. From these journeys he reproduced what he saw in many rooms of the Renaissance period. Their signatures are still engraved on the ancient ruins and our archaeologist will help you to locate them and appreciate their meaning.
The amazing 3D Animation on the Domus Aurea tour.
What we offer in this guided tour is a genuine Rome journey to discover its ancient splendour, it is a voyage into what remains and can be appreciated and what can be recreated virtually in order to bridge the gap between modern times and the days of Nero. Thanks to today’s technology, we are given the chance to superimpose the virtual reality of the past onto the incredible ruins of the Domus Aurea. It shows us the thick walls traversed by light coming from the arcades, and beyond the porches gushing with beautiful fountains. Even the fragmentary frescoes are entirety recreated in their splendour and vivid colours so we can admire the famous "grotesque", as defined by Renaissance artists, who ventured into its dark tunnels, at first having no idea of where they were. Thanks to virtual renderings, today we can appreciate Nero's love of art and the striking works housed within its Domus Aurea, as never before, as only the emperor Nero himself and a few select guests enjoyed it. Nero’s palace was designed for the pleasure of one man: himself. Once a palace of light, before it was cast into darkness for centuires, today it is again illuminated, shedding rays onto porches, windows, marble and precious gems capable of spreading light and fragmenting it endlessly. You will see what he saw as you go around unnoticed in his great building. You feel an almost foreboding presence, threatening and lost in distant steps echoing from centuries before.
After your two hour tour, you will have a new knowledge of the Ancient Rome. You will take home not only beautiful photos but also great memories of you unique experience.
For a more complete experience we recommend that, possibly prior to this tour, you get the chance to discover Ancient Rome taking advantage of our Immersive Colosseum Tour
Near the main entrance of the Domus Aurea. Our guide will meet you there. Maps and photos upon booking.
This tour takes you through archaeological site of the Domus with uneven surfaces. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a bottle of water.
Our guides are fluent in English and have a contagious passion for Rome's inspiring cultural heritage. Experts in their fields, they will immerse you in the hidden histories and intriguing lives of history's great protagonists. So much to see, so easy to miss out: with the help of our guides, visit the most absorbing sites and uncover the stories that have changed the world. Don't miss this fascinating journey!