The Palace of Nero, the Emperor of "Quo Vadis", Exposes Its Frescoes

The frescoes are greatly affected by humidity

Nero is one of the most famous and infamous Roman emperors, and many will recognize its figure as the emperor in the novel (and movie) "Quo vadis" by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

A fierce anti-Christian and a megalomaniac, he was suspected to have put Rome on fire just to get an inspiration for his own version of how Troy must have ended...

The efforts of many archaeologists to preserve Nero's Golden Palace from decay and humanity made it possible to be partly reopen to visitors next week. "Visitors will have access to half of the palace, wandering through a maze of underground passageways," officials said Wednesday.

They can also go up a 43-foot (14 m) scaffolding and to see the frescoed ceilings, as researchers struggle to clean the paint. "People will have the chance to get to know the monument itself and the efforts to maintain and preserve it," said archaeologist Irene Pignatelli. "The aim of this type of visit is to show how the residence can be assaulted (by weather), how to intervene and what happens after the restoration."

Visitors will wear helmets and the groups won't overpass 20 visitors.

The Domus Aurea residence was built over the ruins of the fire that destroyed much of Rome in A.D. 64 and suspected to have been put by Nero and completed in A.D. 68, the year of the Nero's violent death.

The palace reopened in June 1999, after a restoration of 18 years, but two years later, it was briefly closed to the visitors when part of the ceiling collapsed and again in 2005 after heavy rainfall almost caused the collapse of parts of the building. "In the winter, humidity in the palace ranges from 82 % to 98 %," Pignatelli said. "You can almost swim in the Domus Aurea."

"High humidity causes the walls to break and creates crusting. Algae and fungus are also appearing on the frescoes," she said. "The frescos would suffer even more if all of a sudden the environment became completely dry again," said Angelo Bottini, the state's top official for archaeology in Rome. "Further restoration is being planned, especially on the external structures of the palace, to remove earth and tree roots."

"The vaulted ceilings were once encrusted with pearls and covered with ivory - luxuries that were funded by heavy taxation that Nero levied on Rome's population," said Pignatelli.

Marble and precious materials were brought from Greece, Egypt and Asia. "We have to imagine this place as full of light, luxurious, with precious colorful materials and golden leaves," Pignatelli said. "Today, we only see what time and decay have given back to us."

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