Golden HouseThe Domus Aurea is the enormously extravagant palatial complex built by the infamous Emperor Nero after the Great Fire of 64 AD. The complex was built in a space which was cleared by the fire (sparking rumours that Nero himself was the arsonist), and covered an area approximately the size of three football fields. It is located today in the valley between the Oppian, Velian, Palatine and Caelian Hills and is right next to the Colosseum.
Domus Aurea means 'golden house,' and this was due to the vast array of gold leaf decoration on the huge villa. There were terraces with lavish columned porticoes, and a huge man-made lake (rumoured to have at one point contained a whale) surrounded by a portico where the Colosseum now stands. In order to construct all this Nero had the ground level of the valley raised 4 metres except for the area that was to be his own private lake where the ground level was lowered.
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Inside were stuccoed ceilings faced with precious stones and ivory veneers; in a feat of swift and elegant execution elaborate frescoes were painted throughout, some of which are still visible and are under strict care so that they are not damaged any further by the damp. For the first time, mosaics were incorporated into the ceilings as well as the floors - although now lost, these had a huge influence on Christian art in the ensuing centuries. Above the central octagonal court was a dome, with an ingenious crank system that allowed the ceiling to revolve like the heavens, while diners were sprinkled with rose petals and perfume.
After Nero’s death another fire damaged a large portion of the complex. The Emperor Trajan had his baths built on top of Nero’s villa, filling it in with rubble. Today the remains of the Domus Aurea are surrounded by a public park on the Oppian Hill - you will see children playing in the playgrounds and amidst the ancient ruins.