Rome’s Domus Aurea reopens to visitors

€31 million still needed to restore Nero's monument

The partially-restored Domus Aurea or golden palace built by Emperor Nero in central Rome has reopened to guided visits, six years after it closed due to safety concerns over cave-ins.

The tours take place at weekends so that archaeologists can continue their restoration work at the 2,000-year-old site which is situated on the Oppian Hill overlooking the Colosseum.

Visitors can inspect 15 stages of the restoration process and tours are held in Italian, English and Spanish, and tickets cost €12. The tours are held on Saturdays and Sundays from 09.15-15.45, departing every 15 minutes. Access is granted to groups of up to 25 people, all of whom are required to wear a protective helmet. The tour lasts about an hour and a quarter and visitors must book in advance.

News of the reopening comes as the culture ministry announced a campaign to raise the €31 million needed to continue the underground site's restoration which has been slowed down by roof collapses in recent years. Italy's culture minister Dario Franceschini appealed for corporate sponorship, reminding Italian companies that they can avail of a 65 per cent tax reduction.

After being off-limits for years the enormous complex was re-opened to the public in 1999, at a cost of €2.5 million, and began attracting an average of 1,000 visitors a day. It stayed open until 2005 before being closed again over security concerns. It reopened very briefly in 2007 but collapses caused by water seepage and damage from the roots of trees in the Colle Oppio park above led to its closure once more. In 2010 the monument was back in the news when a 60-sqm section of ceiling from the structure known as Trajan's gallery caved in following heavy rains.

Since then state archaeologists have proposed removing the trees and hundreds of tons of soil above the monument, replacing the park with a much lighter landscaped garden, radically reducing the weight, humidity and water damage to the Domus Aurea. Like the monument, the 16,000-sqm garden is in a state of serious neglect and in recent years has become synonymous with drugs and anti-social behaviour.

Built by Nero (37-68 AD) after Rome's great fire in 64 AD, the sprawling Domus Aurea complex covered much of the neighbouring Palatine and Coelian Hills by the time of its completion. Rooms were decorated with frescoes depicting fantastical creatures such as griffins and winged lions, while other walls were adorned with semi-precious stones and gold leaf. Emperor Trajan later built the famous Trajan's Baths on top of the Domus Aurea, while the Colosseum was built on the site of a drained lake belonging to the extravagant complex.

During the Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Pinturicchio and Michelangelo lowered themselves down on ropes into the Domus Aurea to learn from the perspective used in the ancient frescoes. The artists also carved their names into the walls as proof of their visit.

To book a tour tel. 0639967700 or visit website.

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