Archaeologists unearth massive new sections of Roman Emperor Nero's lavish pleasure palace

The ancient Domus Aurea site (Golden House) in 2014
(Image credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

Archaeologists are rushing to uncover and preserve Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, or "Golden House," one of the most lavish palaces constructed in the Roman Empire, Archaeology reports. The Domus Aurea serves as a reminder of the notorious emperor's tyrannical, opulent, and lascivious lifestyle; before Nero eventually took his own life in 68 AD, he raised the Domus Aurea on grounds flattened by the devastating fire of 64 AD, leading to the speculation that he burned Rome himself. To quote the historian Suetonius:

[The Domus Aurea's] courtyard was so large that a 120-foot colossal statue of the emperor himself stood there; it was so spacious that it had a mile-long triple portico; also there was a pool of water like a sea [...] In other parts of the house, everything was covered in gold and adorned with jewels and mother-of-pearl; dining rooms with fretted ceilings whose ivory panels could be turned so that flowers or perfumes from pipes were sprinkled down from above; the main hall of the dining rooms was round, and it would turn constantly day and night like the Heavens; there were baths, flowing with seawater and with the sulfur springs of the Albula; when he dedicated this house, that had been completed in this manner, he approved of it only so much as to say that he could finally begin to live like a human being. [Suetonius, in Archaeology]

The pleasure palace eventually fell into disuse and was abandoned by Nero, only to be discovered again more recently. Only now are archeologists finally learning the extent of Nero's greed.

While working to restore the structure, which occupies the space of more than 30 Sistine Chapels, archaeologists unearthed surviving sections of the Domus Aurea that have never been explored. One area, 8,000 square feet wide, supported the Bathes of Trajan, while another unearthed area revealed nine graves — the work of Middle Age inhabitants who occupied the Roman ruins. Another section of the palace recently uncovered revealed entertaining and dining spaces. The columned portico that stretched 800 feet and opened into the artificial lake, described by Suetonius, has now also been further documented.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.