“A New Pompeii”: The Mysterious Hidden Ruins Near the Colosseum
A view from the Oppian Hill. You can see the magnificent Colosseum standing beyond the trees.
Signs of Rome’s ancient past may be visible everywhere, from the archaeological sites lining Via dei Fori Imperali to the fragments of statues and columns dotted around the city centre, but that’s only half the story. Beneath the streets of the city there are countless fascinating ruins waiting to be uncovered. Not just a chunk of wall or a mosaic floor, but potentially “a new Pompeii”.
This is the label that’s been given to a hidden archaeological site on the Oppian Hill (Colle Oppio), just a stone’s throw from the Colosseum. The ruins, which are buried deep beneath a park, were discovered in the 1990s and are believed to include the remains of the Baths of Titus – a large complex of thermal baths built in the 1st century AD and decorated with beautiful mural designs. The site was originally re-discovered centuries ago, and plundered for its marble and other building materials for new churches and fountains. Artists took inspiration from the murals, and the designs in the Bath of Titus have been identified as the source of the “grotesque” style.
A reconstruction of the Colosseum as seen from the Oppian Hill. You can notice the Colossus next to it, the giant statue of Nero, from which the Colosseum, originally named Flavian Amphitheater, took its current name.
But what exactly remains of the ruins beneath the Oppian Hill, and when will visitors get to explore this intriguing new archaeological site? Not for a while, it seems. The city authorities have said that it would cost millions of euros to excavate such an extensive area, and it doesn’t seem to be a priority. At least the ruins are protected for the time being, as they’re so deeply buried that they’re at no risk of being damaged.
As this “new Pompei” is one of many ancient sites in need of funds, history-lovers will have to hope that a wealthy benefactor suddenly takes an interest in the project. Just as the Pyramid of Cestius was given a €2 million clean-up thanks to the generosity of a Japanese businessman, perhaps the subterranean ruins of the Oppian Hill will one day be brought to light….
Although you’ll have to wait to explore the Oppian Hill in its entirety, there is something spectacular you can see in the meanwhile – the sprawling remains of the Domus Aurea. Join a Domus Aurea Underground Tour with Roma Experience to visit Nero’s luxurious pleasure palace on the Oppian Hill for a fascinating insight into the imperial lifestyle.
On this in-depth five hour tour, which also includes a visit to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, you’ll get to explore the atmospheric ruins of the palace known as the “Golden House”. This sumptuous villa covered a quarter of the ancient city, and contained gardens, vineyards, and even an artificial lake. It was extravagantly decorated with gold leaf, marble, semi-precious stones and evocative frescoes, some of which can still be seen today. Perhaps one of the most remarkable facts about the Domus Aurea is that it had 300 rooms, but apparently no sleeping quarters – it was literally just a pleasure palace, somewhere for the emperor to relax and socialise.
The Domus Aurea was re-discovered in the 15th century when a young man tripped, fell down a hole, and found himself in a strange, painted cave. It was an instant tourist attraction, with visitors including Michelangelo, Raphael, and later Casanova and the Marquis de Sade. But it was only relatively recently that the Domus Aurea was opened to the general public, and enriched by the innovative addition of a virtual reality headset, which allows visitors to see what the palace would have looked like in Nero’s day.
These remarkable ruins near the Colosseum may not be as well-known, but they are certainly worth a visit; many visitors have commented that a visit to the Domus Aurea was the most memorable part of their trip to Rome. To follow in the footsteps of Nero, join us for an unforgettable Domus Aurea tour.