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The remains of a vast palace built by the Emperor Nero, including a 50-seat latrine where slaves and workers would chat while they attended to their needs, opens to the public for the first time today.
The Domus Transitoria was a huge palace on the Palatine Hill, in the heart of ancient Rome, which was constructed in the first century AD by Nero, one of Rome’s most notorious emperors.
The palace was partially destroyed during a fire in 64 AD in which Nero famously fiddled – or played the lyre – while the imperial capital burned.
He then embarked on the building of a new palace, called the Domus Aurea, which was constructed on top of the cavernous remains of the Domus Transitoria.
The remains of the palace, on the Palatine Hill, which overlooks the Roman Forum, have been opened after a 10-year restoration.
Visitors descend a steep flight of steps into a warren of underground chambers, including one which contains two rows of stone latrines.
A shallow channel with running water ran in front of the latrines.
“Romans would clean themselves with a sponge attached to a wooden stick, washing it in the water,” said Stefano Borghini, an architect who was part of the restoration team.
“It may seem strange to us but these big communal latrines were seen as places to socialise and to chat.”
Graffiti left by members of the palace household can still be seen on the frescoed walls of the palace, including a scratched drawing of a little bird.
Archeologists believe the latrines were built for slaves or workers who were engaged in reconstruction after the devastating fire, which raged for six days and destroyed 70 per cent of Rome.
Visitors receive virtual reality goggles which bring the dank chambers to life, showing them as they were 2,000 years ago – part of a huge palace decorated with marble pillars, lavish frescoes, mosaic floors and fountains.
The walls were painted with garden scenes, including trees, flowers and song birds.
Inspiration for the design of the sumptuous residence came from a palace built for the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy in Alexandria, said Alfonsina Russo, the director of the archeological zone that encompasses the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.
“It reflects the personality of Nero, one of the most controversial figures of the Roman Empire,” said Prof Russo.
Many of the statues and frescoes that adorned Nero’s first palace can be seen just a few steps away in the Palatine Museum.
The remains of the palace were discovered in the 18th century but were not accessible to the public until now.
It was called the Domus Transitoria because its courtyards, pavilions and ornamental pools were so extensive that they allowed the emperor and his acolytes to cross from the Palatine Hill to the nearby Esquiline Hill.