Domus Aurea Opens in Rome

John Hill
29. June 2021
Domus Aurea, new entrance by Stefano Boeri Architetti. (Photo: Lorenzo Masotto)

Delayed by the pandemic, the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero's first-century palace, opened to the public on June 23rd. It features a new entrance by Stefano Boeri, new lighting by ERCO, and the exhibition Raphael and the Domus Aurea: The Invention of the Grotesques.

Nero's huge palace complex was built after a fire destroyed much of Rome in 64 AD. After his successors strippd the buildings for materials and artworks and filled in the palace's vaulted spaces to erect other buildings upon, the Domus Aurea was lost. Then Renaissance artists Raphael, Giulio Romano, and others excavated and explored decorated rooms they thought were underground grottoes, inspiring them to create paintings and sculptures eventually referred to as "grotesque." 

It's fitting, therefore, that the inaugural exhibition in the newly opened Domus Aurea is devoted to Raphael Sanzio, originally timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the famous artist's death. The main setting for the exhibition is the Octagon Room, which is reached by Boeri's new entrance ramp. On his firm's website, the architect describes it as "a walkway that creeps between the ruins, on the verge of touching them..." Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister, said during the opening of Domus Aurea, as quoted at the New York Times, that the ramp is a demonstration of "how contemporary architecture can perfectly fit with 'conservation of the patrimony of the past.'"

Domus Aurea, Octagon Room with the sculpture, Atlante Farnese (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli), installed as part of Raphael and the Domus Aurea: The Invention of the Grotesques. (Photo © ERCO illuminazione)

Lighting of Domus Aurea was handled by ERCO, while the multimedia Raphael and the Domus Aurea exhibition was curated by Vincenzo Farinella and designed by Dotdotdot (video below). The client for the overall project was Electa Mondadori spa.

The June 23rd opening of the Domus Aurea closely coincided with the opening of the underground area of the nearby Colosseum (both are part of the Parco archeologico del Colosseo). The openings come a month and a half after a team of engineers, architects, and other consultants won a competition to create a new movable floor for the Colosseum. 

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