The legacy of Nero, the Roman emperor who reigned from AD 54 to AD 68, has long intrigued historians and archaeologists. Now, an extraordinary archaeological excavation within the frescoed Palazzo della Rovere courtyard has unearthed structures and decorations that experts believe could be the remains of Nero’s theater, hidden near what is now the Vatican.
Led by Daniela Porro, the special superintendent of Rome, the excavation has revealed what appears to be the rehearsal venue for Nero’s poetry and musical performances. While Roman writings mentioned such a place, its precise location remained a mystery until this “exceptional” discovery.
Working on the site since 2020, archaeologists have uncovered a part of the theater’s hemicycle-shaped seating area. Additionally, they found elegant columns crafted from precious and valuable marbles, along with refined decorations in gold-leaf on stucco. The excavation also unveiled storage rooms believed to have housed costumes and scenery for the performances.
The dig, confined within the walls of the grand Palazzo della Rovere on Via della Conciliazione, near St. Peter’s Square, has yielded more than just evidence of Nero’s artistic pursuits. The site likely contains remnants of the Horti di Agrippina, where Caligula once built a large circus for horse racing. Moreover, traces of production and pilgrimage activities from the medieval age, and even artifacts from the 15th century, have also come to light.
Among the exciting discoveries are rare specimens of medieval glass goblets, cooking pots used for baking bread, ancient coins, fragments of musical instruments, and combs crafted from bone. Archeologists also unearthed “tools” employed in the creation of rosary beads and small insignia of medieval Christian devotion, worn by pilgrims in their clothing.
Archeologist Marzia Di Mento, overseeing the dig, expressed her enthusiasm for this extraordinary find, emphasizing that it is a dream come true for archaeologists. The opportunity to excavate in this historically rich area is exceedingly rare, and the findings will require years of study to unlock their full historical significance.
As the work progresses, the team of archaeologists will meticulously study, catalogue, and analyze all the artifacts. Ultimately, the area will be covered for protection, and the grand Palazzo della Rovere and its garden will be restored to their original Renaissance splendor.
This remarkable excavation sheds new light on Nero’s artistic pursuits and offers a window into the intriguing history of Rome’s rich past. With the potential remains of his theater now brought to the surface, historians are eager to piece together the fascinating puzzle of ancient Rome and its illustrious emperors.
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