Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Monday, 12 December 2005

Rain closes Nero's golden palace

Domus Aurea, or Golden Palace, in Rome, Italy
The villa was renowned for its extravagance

The palace of the Roman emperor Nero is to close after days of heavy rains in Rome threatened to bring down parts of the building, officials said.

"Safety is no longer guaranteed" at the Domus Aurea, or House of Gold, Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione said.

It is unclear how long the major tourist attraction will be closed, but Mr Buttiglione said it could be shut for more than two years.

It reopened in 1999, after being shut for 18 years for restoration work.

It was briefly closed to the public again in 2001, after part of a ceiling collapsed.

Gold and pearls

Completed in AD68 - the year Nero committed suicide - the sprawling palace was called the House of Gold because of the amount of gold leaf which adorned much of it.

Its vaulted ceilings were once encrusted with pearls and covered in ivory, and its maze of passageways are lined with frescoes.

The emperor ordered it built after a fire in AD64 destroyed much of Rome.

Until its closure it was drawing an average of 1,000 visitors a day.

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