Rome Domus Aurea Ceiling Falls--6 May 2001

The fallen ceiling was discovered on the morning of May 6.  Initial reports that the ceiling of the Octagonal Room in the Domus Aurea had fallen were incorrect.  Media reports on the morning of May 8, backed up by pictures, show that what fell was an 80 centimeter section of a nearby reinforcing vault which was added when the Trajan Baths were built on the Opian Hill above the Domus Aurea.

The part of the vault that fell was adjacent to a pre-existing hole in the vault ceiling.  This was one of the holes punched through by earlier explorers (perhaps as early as the Renaissance) and that hole would have seriously weakened the surrounding masonry.  As it was in the fall of the small section of the Aurelian wall two weeks ago, the problem here appears to be water saturation after heavier than normal spring rains.  In this case, however, the archeological authorities are also pointing to damage by roots of large trees and shrubs in the irrigated park which was built among the ruins of the baths in the 1930s.  The only long term solution, according to them, is to remove all of the trees and shrubbery from the Opian park.  This, of course, is strongly resisted both by tree-lovers and by users of the park.

Slightly less than $50 million is already budgeted to stabilize the Opian, but, according to the Rome Superintendent of Archeology, Adriano La Regina, another $75 million will be needed to do the job right.  In an interview published on May 8, he said that it would take almost $700 million to save all of Rome's endangered monuments, including other sites where water infiltration is a serious problem:  the Palatine (where roots are also causing damage), the forums, the Aurelian walls, the Basilica of San Pancrazio, and the Domus Aurea.

The Domus Aurea has already reopened for tourist visits, but the area under the vault has been fenced off.

Background:  The Golden House of Nero (Latin - Domus Aurea) was constructed by Nero between AD 65 and 68, after the great fire (after which the emperor expropriated an area of more than 200 acres [81 hectares] of land in the center of Rome).  Nero had already planned and begun a palace, the Domus Transitoria, that was to link the existing buildings on the Palatine Hill with the Gardens of Maecenas and other imperial properties on the Esquiline and adjoining hills. To these he now added a large part of the Caelian and Oppian hills and the valley between them and the Palatine. This whole area was laid out as a park with porticoes, pavilions, baths, and fountains, and in the center an artificial lake was made that, under the emperor Vespasian, was drained to provide a site for the Colosseum. On the slopes of the Velia at the east end of the Forum a grandiose colonnaded approach and vestibule were constructed, within which stood a colossal gilded bronze statue of Nero.  The domestic wing of the palace stood on the slopes of the Oppian Hill facing south across the lake.

Little has survived of the palace. Because the expropriations involved in its building were deeply resented, Nero's successors hastened to put large parts of the palace to public use or to construct other buildings on the land.  Of the sumptuous wall paintings and stucco decorations described by Pliny, all that was visible by the 16th century to inspire the grotesques of Raphael and his followers were the wall paintings in the grotte, or caverns, of the palace.

The Golden House is historically important because it expressed the aesthetic of monumental architecture that was to characterize the imperial
style of Roman architecture under Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian.

Internet Links:

Severus and Celer (architecture):


Comune Roma


Plan, Athena Review

Maecenas -- Images -- very good images

Nero -

Domus Aurea (Scroll down) -- Platner and Ashby

Domus Transitoria (Scroll down) -- Platner and Ashby

The La Stampa articles on the collapse are at:
and at