Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Golden days for Nero's palace
The octagonal room at the centre of Domus Aurea
The sumptuous residence of the tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero is being reopened to the public after 20 years of restoration.
The 150-room ancient palace was known as Domus Aurea or Golden House because its walls were adorned with jewels and gold leaf.
"This amazing palace was the image of Nero - novelty in the art of enjoyment, in games with light, painting and design and a whole new king architecture - he was a clever man," said archaeologist Silvia Cavazzini.
It was finished in 68AD, in the same year that the emperor killed himself.
"We've done 1,200 square metres (4,000 square feet) out of a total 30,000 - there's a lot more to do, and we need around $30m to finish," said restoration work suprevisor Professor Adriano La Regina.
From Friday, tourists will be able to wander through a labyrinth of passages lined with frescoes that had all been covered by mould and calcium deposits.
The palace was buried under tonnes of dirt until 500 years ago when it was uncovered by robbers and then archaeologists who brought to light many important ancient sculptures.
Its discovery led Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo and Raphael to lower themselves down into the palace on ropes to marvel at the frescoes.
The opening of the palace is part of Italy's Millennium celebration plans to restore much of its significant ancient heritage.
Nero reigned from the age of 17 in 54AD to 68AD and built the palace from the ashes of the fire which destroyed much of Rome in 64AD.
His enemies believed that he started the fire just so that the palace could be built. Legend has it that he wanted the residence to cover a third of the city centre.