The Roman emperor Nero was not known for his restraint, and the Golden House (Domus Aurea) reflects his decadent taste and lifestyle. Built after Rome’s great fire in AD 64, the remains of this sumptuous pleasure palace, covering nearly one-third of the ancient city of Rome—dwarfing the nearby Colosseum—are now open to the public.
Nero’s Golden House—designed primarily for the ruler’s leisure and entertainment and named for its facade decorated in marble and gold leaf—covered much of the area around the Palatine, Esquiline, and Oppian Hills in the heart of ancient Rome. The palace originally had more than 300 rooms exquisitely decorated with precious ivory, mosaics, frescoes, gem-studded ceilings, and grand fountains. Among the most important architectural aspects were two dining rooms flanking an octagonal room, the dome ceiling of which could be rotated to look like the sky. There were also sweeping gardens with an artificial lake and a colossal statue of the emperor. Today only around 20 percent of the original complex is still standing, including 30 rooms that reopened to the public in 2014.
You can view the palace’s architecture and art, more than 2,000 years old, only as part of a hard-hat Domus Aurea tour led by an archaeologist guide, so booking ahead is imperative, especially in summer. Tours of the Golden House include a virtual reality experience: you don augmented reality 3D glasses to see what the palace would have looked like in its heyday. Many tours combine a visit to Nero’s house with the nearby Colosseum and Roman Forum.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Nero’s Golden House, an active archaeological site, is a must-see for ancient history and archaeology buffs.
- The multimedia tour makes use of Oculus Rift VR glasses, which are not recommended for children under 13, or for those with epilepsy or serious eye conditions.
- There is some walking involved to visit the site, so wear comfortable shoes.
- The Golden House is not accessible to wheelchairs or strollers.
How to Get There
The Domus Aurea is located in the center of Rome on the Palatine Hill. Take metro line B to Colosseo, the closest stop.
When to Get There
Nero’s Golden House is open for tours only on Saturdays and Sundays, so be sure to book in advance, especially in the summer months.
The Rediscovery of Nero’s Palace
After Nero’s suicide, subsequent emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Trajan buried Nero’s domus to build their own palaces above. The last of these buildings were Trajan’s Baths, under which the complex was rediscovered in the 15th century. Before the site was excavated and opened to the public, Renaissance artists including Pinturicchio and Raphael would lower themselves down inside the buried villa on ropes to study its intricate frescoes and decorations.