Rome, June 18 - The fabled but rundown Golden House of Roman Emperor Nero is looking to the private sector to help fund a new multi-million-euro restoration project that should see it reopen after a 13-year closure in four years' time.
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said Wednesday the legendary Domus Aurea would require yet another major restoration. He said the project, in which he hoped "a big private group will be involved", would cost an estimated 31 million euros. "The State will do its part but we'd really like to see the intervention of a major firm," as shoe king Diego Della Valle, the Tod's owner, has done for an ongoing restoration of the Colosseum, Franceschini said. The Domus has been shut since 2005 for work to make it more stable.
After Franceschini's announcement, archaeologists said restorers will tackle the "very challenging" job by uprooting the 16,000-square-meter garden that now covers the Domus, and which is in a state of "serious" disrepair.
After that, they will excavate the underlying structures, strengthen the vaults, rebuild the pergolas, clean up the frescoes, and generally render the entire site safe for visitors.
Then a landscape architect will redesign the garden to recreate its function at the time of Trajan, who built his baths atop the pleasure dome after Nero committed suicide in 68 AD. "It was a place for sport, chatting, and culture, and that's what we hope to restore it to," said monument director Teodora Filippi.
The last reported occurrence of damage to the Domus was on March 30, 2010 when part of a ceiling in subsequent baths above it fell in.
The collapse occurred over what was once the central dome of the sprawling structure.
Some 60 square meters of the baths built on top of the Golden House by Trajan, came down because of seepage from heavy rains.
At the time of the last collapse, then Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno said he was "very worried" about the state of the structure, one of Rome's most celebrated tourist attractions.
The special commissioner for the site, Luciano Marchetti, said "more collapses were possible".
The situation, he said, was "one of extreme alert".
The Domus Aurea, built by Nero soon after the great fire in Rome in 64 AD, was closed after masonry fell from flaking walls and a high level of dangerous seepage was detected.
A recent project, still uncompleted, aimed to open up 2,600 square metres of the site.
The top of the Domus on the Colle Oppio (Oppian Hill) is covered with parks, trees and roads whose weight and polluting effect are a constant threat.
Archaeologists have also been trying to unearth more of the massive baths that Trajan built.
The golden palace of the ill-famed Nero (37-68 AD) first re-opened in June 1999 after 21 years in which it was Rome's best-kept secret - open only to art officials and special guests.
Some five billion lire (2.5 million euros) were spent in refurbishing the visitable rooms filled with frescoes of weird animals like winged lions, griffins and tritons which led to the original coinage of the word 'grotesque', from the Italian word for cave (grotto).
Architecturally, the Domus's 'piece de resistance' is the eight-sided Sala Ottagonale where Nero is supposed to have entertained his guests with his singing and lyre-playing on a rotating floor.
According to Roman historian Suetonius, Nero surprised his guests by having marble panels slide back to shower guests with petals and perfume.
When the Domus was completed, it actually stretched for 50 hectares and covered most of the neighbouring Palatine and Celian hills as well.
Nero was reputed to have remarked that finally he was beginning to be "housed like a human being".
After Nero's suicide in 68 AD the Flavian emperors who succeeded him proceeded to bury all trace of his legacy.
The Flavian amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum, was built on the site of Nero's palace-side lake, while Trajan built his baths on top of the main part of the pleasure dome.
The Colosseum is so-called because of the massive statue of Nero-as-Apollo, a colossus, that his successors dragged beside their own monument, after changing the head.
The Domus also has a cherished place in Italian art history because Renaissance greats like Raphael and Michelangelo lowered themselves through the oculus on ropes to gaze at and copy the ancient wall drawings - a crucial stage in the full rediscovery of how to apply the laws of perspective to painting.