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Emperor Nero’s “Golden Palace” comes to life in virtual reality 3D

by Andrea Carli

A journey that takes you away from reality, plunges you into a parallel world, history binding the two: from February 4th, the huge “Golden Palace” belonging to Emperor Nero will come to life with a multimedia tour of Domus Aurea in Rome.

The experience affords many a thrill: visitors float through time, centuries and millennia flowing beneath their feet. The virtual reality viewer first steeps the austere walls of Domus Aurea into utter darkness, only lit by the 14th-century torches during the visits of master painters Pinturicchio or Raphael, then backs up to light the colonnades and lush gardens.

The tour can be enjoyed only during weekends, and needs to be booked . According to Alessandro D'Alessio, scientific supervisor for Domus Aurea, this 3D visit to one of Rome's most fascinating locations aims to be more than a mere spectacularization of Nero's legendary palace.

Rather, it reconstructs the palace itself on the basis of rigorous philological criteria, crucial in the correct interpretation of the immense spaces that were wiped out as early as thirty-some years after Nero's suicide – by Emperor Trajan, who built his Thermae (Trajan's Baths) on their foundations.

Nero had the Domus built after the fire of 64 CE, as his new imperial residence; it was called “Aurea,” “golden,” due to its priceless marble walls and the gold and precious stones decorating its vaults.

The most important artists of the time designed and decorated the palace: architects Severus and Celer and painter Famulus. The palace was finished in 68 CE.

The enormous compound comprised vineyards, pastures and woods and stretched right out to the Palatine hill, where an artificial lake was created. In the middle of the lake was a colossal statue of Emperor Nero as Sun God.

The damnatio memoriae in the wake of the unpopular emperor's death was such that the Colosseum was built in lieu of the vast lake, while the luxurious halls of Domus Aurea in the area of the Oppian Hill were stripped of their marble, sculptures and ornaments and filled to the brim with earth, to be used as the foundations to Trajan's Baths.

Thus, the sumptuous frescoes, stuccos and decorations of Domus Aurea remained concealed underground and it was only in the 1400s the site was first explored, particularly by artists who looked to the ancient world with renewed interest.

Pinturicchio, Raphael, the key players of the Renaissance, found their inspiration in those gorgeous friezes, which were called “grottesche” since they decorated Trajan's grottos. The extraordinary beauty of Domus Aurea thus nurtured more extraordinary beauty in these artists' work. 3D was yet to come.