The Domus Aurea is a villa and plot of land in the heart of Rome that Nero had constructed as his palatial party house and part-time residence. Nero’s Golden House takes its nickname from the extravagant gold leaf that adorned virtually every corner of the walls. The Domus Aurea was only in existence for a short time, however, and was never fully completed. Nero committed suicide in 68 C.E. and most of the Domus Aurea was torn down by subsequent leaders who saw it as a shameful display of wanton excess. As a result, the Domus Aurea history is brief, but this attraction lives on as one of the great ruins in Roman history.
The Domus Aurea in Rome Italy at one time consisted of about 125 acres (historical estimates vary) and featured a manmade lake, a huge park and vineyard, and countless examples of compelling statuary and art. Nero had the Domus Aurea built to glorify himself and thrown extravagant parties. Of all of the archaeological findings that have been unearthed at the site of Nero’s Golden House, not one overnight room was found, among 300 other rooms, dedicated to leisure and entertainment. Interestingly, there have not even been any bathrooms or kitchens discovered. It appears as though the Domus Aurea must have been the most earliest resemblance of an exclusive, luxurious, and extravagant night club, one whose parties were hosted by the Emperor of Rome.
The gold leaf in the paint is certainly not the only decorative instrument that later leaders found to be repugnant, or at the least, ostentatious. There was also precious stones set into the walls, veneers of ivory on the walls, and frescoes painted by the finest artists in the Empire. Nero himself, upon the opening of the impressive construct, is reported by Pliny the Elder to have said something to the effect of, “I am at last beginning to be housed like a human being.” This gives some insight into the emperor’s own estimation of himself and his idea of his stature among men and the gods. If the construction of Nero’s Golden House were not enough proof of Nero’s overblown sense of self, perhaps the giant bronze statue of himself that he commissioned, the Colossus Neronis, would do the trick.
This is one of the most engaging sites and some of the most interesting remains and archaeological ruins in the city of Rome. The only section that is well preserved and still standing is the Esquiline Wing. Visitors of the Domus Aurea can tour the grounds and see the early and revolutionary employment of architectural conventions like vaulted ceilings and domes that relied on concrete and brick.
After the great fire of Rome in the first century, much of the land that was owned by aristocrats in the areas of Palatine Hill, Esquiline Hill, and Caelian Hill was destroyed. Nero took the opportunity to convert this land into his own countryside within the city, complete with a man-made lake and acres of parkland. They party would not last long for Nero, but you can visit the remains of the Domus Aurea and the Esquiline Wing to this day. If you are scheduling a trip to Rome, this is one of the ancient attractions you should consider putting on your list of places to see. The story of the Domus Aurea history told by a tour guide is worth the modest fee for admittance on its own.
Image: Howard Hud