By Alice Mariscotti-Wayatt
I knew Rome was going to be packed out with tourists, so once I’d got the essential activities out of the way (Sistine Chapel and eating my weight in pizza) I was keen to find some slightly more off-the-beaten-track experiences.
The Secret Palace Beneath Rome
Which is how I came across Nero’s Golden House, AKA the Domus Aurea. Intrigued, I booked my place on a tour that promised to combine an authentic trip into the recently-excavated remains of ancient Rome with a modern virtual reality experience.
So who was Nero? Probably not a nice guy. He was Roman Emperor between the years of 54 and 68 AD, and had a reputation for both tyranny and extravagance. The Golden House was named for its extensive use of gold leaf, but that was hardly the only excess. The palace was decorated throughout with rich frescoes and mosaics. And it’s said that rose petals dropped from domed ceilings, showering diners and guests below.
Sadly no rose petals greet today’s visitors – this palace has been buried for almost 2,000 years, and the gold is long gone. Instead, you’re going into a real, working excavation site. You need to wear sturdy footwear, something warm, and they’ll hand you a hard hat before you enter.
You’re shown around the astonishing maze of rooms by an archaeologist, who can discuss the challenges they’re facing excavating a long-buried palace right in the heart of Rome. They’ll also show you the fragments of decorated plaster and frescos that have survived, and can help you visualise what the rooms would have looked like in their heyday.
Modern Technology, Ancient Views
To give your imagination a hand, the tour cleverly incorporates a virtual reality section, to recreate the palace in its full glory – just as it must have looked when Nero used it. While you sit in one of the ancient rooms with your headset on, your surroundings transform – you’re in the same room, but as it was when it was very first discovered.
Then the years roll back until you’re surrounded by the rich decor of Nero’s time. Gradually the scene moves so you can get a view of the palace from the outside, and take a stroll through the stunning gardens.
The final view is a glimpse of Rome as it may have been in Nero’s day. The striking skyline of long lost marvels, including a 30-metre-high statue of Nero as the Sun god, are just the alternative views I was hoping for, and all a few metres away from the queues at the real-life Colosseum.
Plan your Visit
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