As restorers keep working on the Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s villa in ancient Rome, more incredible findings continue to emerge. The latest is a room decorated with panthers, centaurs and a sphinx, which archeologists have dubbed ‘the Sphinx Room’.
The space came to light – 2,000 years after it was built – as restorers were working on the vault of a nearby room late last year.
"It is an exceptional and thrilling find," said Alfonsina Russo, the head of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, which includes the Domus Aurea.
A major portion of the rectangular-shaped room is still underground, and will probably remain so for fear of the complex’ stability, reports news agency ANSA.
Decorations include aquatic creatures, architectural motifs of the time, vegetal garlands and branches of trees, flowers, fruits, birds, a man armed with a sword fighting a panther, and the small sphinx that inspired the nickname of the room.
The Domus Aurea was built in 64 AD after the great fire that ravaged Rome. When it was completed, it covered 50 hectares on the Palatine and Celian hills. After Nero's death by suicide, the emperors who succeeded him stripped the palace of its marble, jewels and ivory, then filled it with earth and built over to bury all trace of Nero’s legacy. It was not rediscovered until the 15th century.
The Domus Aurea first re-opened in June 1999 after being closed to the public for 21 years; only art officials and special guests were allowed in.
Restoration of the Domus Aurea’s spaces and rooms, some filled with frescoes of winged lions, griffins and tritons, has cost some €2.5M. 150 rooms have been rediscovered so far.