After his first residence on the Palatine Hill was destroyed by the big fire that broke out in the year 64 AD, Nero built the Domus Aurea. It was the largest and most sumptuous of the imperial residences extending from the Palatine Hill as far as the Colle Oppio and part of the Caelius Mountain covering about one square mile. It included an artificial lake, gardens, and a wood.
The architects were Severus and Celeris,while the paintings were by a certain Fabullus or Famulus. The rooms were finely decorated and enriched by many statues that came from Greece and Asia Minor. The house continued to be inhabited until it was thoroughly destroyed in the year 104 AD by a violent fire.
Successively the Thermae Traiani were built on the Domus Aurea after filling in its rooms and plugging its accesses. The building of the Thermae allowed the conservation of some rooms of the Domus Aurea up to our times. Ever since its discovery during the Renaissance, many artists, who put their signatures high up on the walls where they can still be seen today, let themselves down into the caves of the underground rooms of the Domus Aurea to copy the paintings on the vaults by candlelight.
The main core of the Domus Aurea consists of two pentagonal courtyards that act as a connection between the western and the eastern sectors. There is a large octagonal room between the courtyards with a pavilion vault that according to Svetonius revolved unceasingly day and night.
The walls were decorated up to a certain level with marble slabs now lost, while the upper part and the ceilings were decorated with paintings and stuccoes of mythical figures (Achilles and Scirus, Ulysses and Polyphemus, Hector and Andromache).
The rooms are now dark and gloomy (all the openings having been plugged for the construction of the thermae rising above), but originally light was the predominant feature when all the rooms were open on the portico that offered a fine view of the valley with its artificial lake and the gardens that surrounded it.