the domus aurea
The rich decorations of Nero’s palace, the magnificent domus aurea.
Nero’s golden house: the domus between pomp and innovation In 64 AD, A great fire devastated Rome and destroyed the residence of the Roman emperor Nero (domus transitoria).
Nero built his home, the domus aurea (“golden house” in Latin) on the slopes of the Palatine Hill on an area of about one hundred hectares. Built in brick and not in marble, as we sometimes tend to believe, the architecture of this new residence offered particularly daring and innovative architectural solutions.
The octagonal hall of the domus is characterised by curvilinear rhythms and is covered by a dome with a large central dormer window that let in light – a style that anticipated the architecture of the second century.
Furthermore, the domus aurea is characterised by rich decorations, geometric motifs in stucco, paintings and interesting figurative images. There were stuccoed ceilings set with semi-precious stones and ivory plates, not to mention, the vast gold coating that gave the house its name.
Another innovation of this residence was the decision to mount mosaics on the vaulted ceilings, which, until then, had been reserved exclusively for floors. Later this technique was adopted by Christian artists to decorate the numerous churches.
The domus aurea was a vast construction and most of the surface was covered in gardens that included, in addition to pavilions for parties, vineyards and woods. In the valley between the hills was a semi-artificial lake that later became the site where the Colosseum was built.
When the emperor Nero died, the domus aurea was returned to the people of Rome and most of its precious decorations were stolen. The Baths of Titus, the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Trajan Baths and the Temple of Venus were built in its place.
In about forty years, the domus aurea was buried by new buildings. However, the unique paintings and the decorations on the walls survived almost intact until the 15th century, preserved from humidity until they were rediscovered and became a place of great curiosity for different artists. Now the frescoes have faded and we can only partially enjoy them by imagining the colours and the emotions that the rediscovery of that ancient and particular world sparked in the Renaissance.