A Guide To Visiting The Domus Aurea, Rome

Also known as Nero’s Golden House, the Domus Aurea, Rome, is a truly unique site. This is a significantly lesser known place compared to many other nearby sites such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill which are literally just across the street.

Not many first-timers in Rome visit, and there are some strict time-slot limits for visiting, which means the site is never crowded, providing a fantastic respite from Rome’s tourist crowds.

In this post, I will share the history of the Domus Aurea, Rome; the most important places inside the site you should make sure to see; and lots of practical information to help you plan your visit.

You should also read my post The Most Interesting Rome Underground Sites.

Domus Aurea Rome

The History Of Domus Aurea, Rome

In a city that’s filled with fascinating ancient buildings, the Domus Aurea has the ability to captivate and wow visitors – even without properly existing. The story of this ruined palace is intrinsically linked to the Emperor Nero, who commissioned the Domus Aurea – also known as Nero’s Golden House – to be built following the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.

Built between 65 and 68 AD on a huge swathe of land between the Palatine and Esquiline Hills, the site took up more than 200 acres (81 hectares). It wasn’t Nero’s first attempt at building an enormous home for himself.

He’d already started the Domus Transitoria, which linked buildings on the Palatine and properties on the Esquiline with passageways.

The Domus Aurea, literally meaning Golden House (hence the name Nero’s Golden House), was even more sumptuous than the first. The residence, as described by the historian Suetonius, was lavish on a grand scale: “Its courtyard was so large that a 120-foot colossal statue of the emperor stood there.”

Domus Aurea Rome

The historian also said that the palace had a mile-long triple portico and a pool of water “like a sea”, among other things. He describes rooms being decorated with ivory panels, walls of gold, and even pipes that sprayed perfumes.

This opulent palace had incredible artworks, spectacular interiors and open landscapes where animals roamed. Also according to Suetonius, after the house was built, Nero said that now he could finally live like a human being.

But, never finished, this imperial residence was doomed – like the emperor himself. Convinced that the senate wanted him dead as a “public enemy”, Nero committed suicide on the 9th of June, 68 AD.

Domus Aurea Rome

With Nero’s death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty was over, and so was Nero’s time of excess. Civil war and violence lay around the corner for Rome; three emperors followed, reigning only 18 months in total. It wasn’t until Vespasian came to the throne in 69 AD that a decade of relative peace ensued for the Empire.

Vespasian was somewhat embarrassed by the existence of Nero’s opulent home. He attempted to erase him from history and, so, dismantled the palace and returned the land to the people.

The building was stripped of its riches, the artificial lake was drained, and even the giant bronze statue of himself was removed and repurposed as the deity Sol at the Colosseum, which was being built at the time.

In fact, this statue – an attempt by Nero to copy the Colossus of Rhodes (a wonder of the ancient world) – was the landmark that gave the Colosseum its name.

Domus Aurea

Over the years, the rooms of the Domus Aurea themselves were filled with earth and covered, used as foundations for the baths of Emperors Titus and Trajan. In the 6th century, after Rome was sacked and invaded, the Oppian Hill was left abandoned and the Domus Aurea, among other buildings, was left for nature to reclaim. It was essentially buried and forgotten.

One thousand four hundred years later, however, in the 15th century, it was about to be rediscovered. A young Roman, walking around the Esquiline Hill one day, suddenly found himself falling through a hole in the earth.

Rather than falling into a natural cave, he had fallen into a room painted with human figures. This inadvertent discovery of the Domus Aurea was to be hugely influential.

Soon, notable Roman artists at the time paid visits to the grotto, lowered through the hole on wooden planks secured with rope to take a peek at the ancient artwork.

These artists included the likes of Raphael and Michelangelo, who studied the paintings and were inspired by this newly discovered antique art. This is the fourth style of Imperial Roman painting, which was more complex and detailed than previous styles.

Domus Aurea

The Renaissance, just arriving in Rome at the time from Florence, was super-charged by the discovery of these ancient paintings. The style helped to inform work by artists at the time; Raphael’s work in the loggias at the Vatican, for example, seem to be directly influenced by the frescoes.

Over the following decades and centuries, various notable figures visited the Domus Aurea. You can still see graffiti left by some of them; tourists such as Casanova and Marquis de Sade left their signatures scratched into the walls.

Sadly, the newly discovered Domus Aurea wasn’t looked after. Vineyards were planted over it in the 18th century; a public park was built over it in 1871 (incorporating the ruins of the baths and the palace), which was enlarged by Mussolini.

Plant and tree roots infiltrated the structure, causing irreparable damage to Nero’s Golden House.

In recent years, however, restoration work has been undertaken to protect the Domus Aurea and excavate further portions of the once-grand palace.

Trees causing damage with their roots cannot be removed as it would further damage the ruins; the weight of the earth on top of many of the rooms is damaging, with collapses not uncommon (there was one in 2010). Work on preserving the Domus Aurea continues.

Even so, it can still be visited to this day, though only on guided tours.

Domus Aurea Rome

What To See When The Visiting Domus Aurea, Rome

The Octagonal Room

One of the most important rooms in the whole of the Domus Aurea, the Octogonal Room is still an impressive space – even without the opulent decorations of its heyday. It’s believed that the floor of the room would have been wooden, and on the walls would have hung Nero’s most prized artworks.

A series of courtyards led to the room, with each of its eight sides opening up onto it. Like at the Pantheon, the Octagonal Room featured a dome with an oculus in the middle. It also featured a nymphaeum next door, too, which was fed with flowing water.

Of all that remains of the Domus Aurea, it is this Octagonal Room that perhaps can best transport visitors back to the opulence of the palace’s past.

Nero's Golden House

Nymphaeum and Mosaic of Ulysses and Polyphemus

In the ancient Roman world, a nymphaeum was a religious building dedicated to nymphs, female water deities of rivers, springs, and other bodies of water. Once upon a time, these were simply grottoes converted into the purposes of worship, but later were purpose-built and often furnished with a water source, too.

Nero’s nymphaeum at the Domus Aurea was, of course, an entirely artificial and ornate affair.

One feature of the nymphaeum remains – the octagonal mosaic depicting Ulysses and Polyphemus. The mosaic tells one part of the story of the Odyssey, in which Ulysses offers wine to the cyclops Polyphemus, after which he falls asleep and Ulysses blinds him in order to escape his cave.

Domus Aurea Rome


One of the elements for which the Nero’s Golden House has become so famous is its frescoes. Sadly, since their rediscovery in the 15th century, they have not been well protected. Many of them have faded due to moisture getting into the rooms. However, remains of this palace’s frescoes can still be seen.

According to Pliny the Elder, many of the artworks in the Domus Aurea were the work of Famulus, a fresco-painter. It’s said that the artists and his assistants who worked with him in his studio, visited the Domus Aurea only for a few hours per day, working only when the light was particularly bright.

Pliny also noted that Famulus always painted while wearing a toga, rather than working clothes, and used scaffolding to reach the high parts of the room. Often painting large, mythological scenes, his work was noted for its vibrant colors, with deep blues, purples and reds, as well as a sense of animation in his figures.

It’s in the Room of Achilles and Sciro that Famulus’ frescoes are best seen. They have undergone much restoration work, and they’re obviously not in their prime, but you can still see the impressive nature of the artist at work.

Here you’ll see geometric patterns, bold colors and lifelike figures. Elsewhere, intricate marble covers the room as it would have done in much of the palace during its heyday.

Domus Aurea Rome

Golden Vault

The Golden Vault is also one of the prominent rooms of the Domus Aurea. This room, with its enormous ceilings, would have been completely gilded in its heyday, and also included marble paneling. One of the main features of this room, however, is the sizable mosaic from Greek mythology, telling the story of Zeus abducting Ganymede.

Today this notable space can be completely restored before your very eyes – this part of the tour of the Domus Aurea involves putting on a virtual reality headset to bring the room back to life, before it was stripped of its precious decorations.

Domus Aurea Rome

Practical Info For Visiting The Domus Aurea, Rome

Domus Aurea opening hours

The Domus Aurea is open Friday through Sunday, from 9:00 am to 6:15 pm.

Domus Aurea tickets

The cost of the ticket for Domus Aurea includes a tour and a virtual reality experience, which maps out a few of the rooms as well as an overview of the complex. Tickets cost €15 for adults; tickets for children between the ages of 7 and 12 cost €11. There is a €1 service fee for booking. Each time slot (every 15 minutes) has only 23 spaces, so booking in advance is recommended.

This is the official site to book your Domus Aurea experience.

Domus Aurea Rome

Should you get a guided tour?

Yes! In fact, you can visit the Domus Aurea only on a guided tour. That’s a good thing because visiting by yourself could mean you lose out on a lot of the history. And the site is actually quite big, dark and difficult to explore otherwise.

The tour takes you through the main rooms and lasts around 75 minutes. As well as the guide, there are also projections that are displayed on the walls of some rooms, to give you an idea of what they would have looked like almost 2,000 years ago; the virtual reality headset also gives you the chance to see rooms in all their restored glory.

Tours are available in Italian, English and Spanish only.

Aside from the standard tour, there’s also the option to join a tour of the Domus Aurea with archaeological officers, architects, and restorers. However, this takes place on Thursdays and is only available in Italian.

There are also periodic art exhibitions and festivals that occur throughout the year, hosted by the Domus Aurea. These also need to be booked in advance. Make sure to visit the official website to check if there’s any exhibit taking place when you intend to visit.

Domus Aurea Rome

Best time to visit

It’s never too crowded in the Domus Aurea, as the tickets are limited. Unlike the Colosseum or Pantheon, for example, you’re not going to feel like you’re packed in with hordes of other tourists or always standing in a queue.

That means you can visit the Domus Aurea either in high tourist season or low season without much difference in crowds at all. Just make sure you book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Also, because most of the tour is under cover, and inside buildings, it can be visited any time of year. So when it’s raining, you can avoid the rain, and when it’s hot outside, you can enjoy cooling off for an hour or so – that’s because it’s around 10 degrees cooler in the ruins than it is outside!

Domus Aurea

What to wear at Domus Aurea

There is no actual dress code for visiting the Domus Aurea, but you’ll be thankful after reading this. You’ll see that upon making your reservation, you’ll receive an email with your ticket and additional information for visiting, and the email will also suggest to bring an extra layer.

Surprisingly, it can get really chilly down in the Domus Aurea, even on the hottest summer day, so make sure you bring a sweater or jacket to wear.

Yes, even on a warm day, you can still feel the cold underground. I was only wearing a t-shirt when I visited and (shame on me) I forgot to fully read the email and did not bring an extra layer. Thankfully another visitor had a spare one I could use!

It’s also a good idea to consider the footwear that you opt for; it’s quite damp and uneven in places, so comfortable shoes are recommended.

Domus Aurea

Security checks

As with visiting large sites in Rome such as the Colosseum and Vatican, your bags will be checked prior to the tour. It’s also good to know that large luggage such as suitcases are not allowed, and there’s also no storage on the site, so this should be arranged elsewhere in case you need it.

Is photography allowed?

Contrary to many other sites in Rome underground such as San Clemente Basilica, photography is allowed inside the Domus Aurea; there are many places where pictures are encouraged, in fact.

Even though it’s underground, the lighting is good enough to capture some great photos. Note that you are not allowed to use the flash on your camera. You do need to take care of the multimedia projections, however, as taking photos of this is forbidden.

Domus Aurea


Toilets are located on the premises of the Domus Aurea, right before walking in.

Disabled Access

The Domus Aurea has been made accessible for those with disabilities, or who need to use a wheelchair. If you are an EU citizen and disabled, you and an accompanying person will be granted access to the Domus Aurea free of charge.

How to get there

The closest metro station to Domus Aurea is Colosseo, which is a 5-minute walk away; to get to Colosseo from Termini, take metro line B. If you want to take the bus, then hop on the number 75 from Termini, alighting at Colosseo; bus routes 51, 85, and 87 also stop here. From there it’s a 5-minute stroll uphill to Domus Aurea.

As it’s close to the Colosseum, walking here from that particular site is easily done; the Domus Aurea is also only 25 minutes away on foot from Termini, so if you want to walk and you’ve got time, it’s doable.

Further Readings

If you are visiting the Domus Aurea, make sure to also explore these nearby sites:

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