Suetonius mentions in his “Lives of Caesars” that the so-called Nero’s Golden House had a special dining room that moved day and night, like a celestial vault. In 2009, a building was found that fits the ancient descriptions, and which dates back to the reign of Nero (54-68 CE).
The aforementioned villa of Nero, also called Domus Aurea, was a Roman palace of Emperor Nero located between the Palatine and Esquiline Hills. Construction works began in 64 and were carried out until 68 CE. They were discontinued after the emperor’s death. It was in the “Golden House” that Nero spent his last day of life in 68 CE.
According to the latest research, the dining room was located at the top of the rotunda, named coenatio rotunda, on the site on the Palatine side1. The room was situated on a round, slowly rotating platform with a wooden floor. The platform was made to rotate continuously to keep up with the day and night. The driving force behind this complicated mechanism was probably water2. This theory was put forward by French researchers who conduct research at this place, and the proof of it are traces of water and water sediment found in the immediate vicinity of the ruins of the banquet hall. Additionally, we know that this area was supplied with water using the Aqua Claudia aqueduct.
There was a ceiling under the dome of the building, which, when the mechanism was activated, made the guests feel as if they were under a heavenly vault. Moreover, perfume was sprayed on people eating food and huge amounts of rose petals were dropped. This is how Suetonius describes the dining room:
There were dining-rooms with fretted ceils of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolved day and night, like the heavens.
– Suetonius, Nero, 31
Only the base of the building has survived to our times. On its preserved upper part there are depressions that are 30 cm deep and 16 cm in diameter. These were places with bronze spheres that made it possible to move the aforementioned wooden platform.
The dining room probably had the form of a terrace, and Nero’s guests could enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
After the death of Nero, the building was abandoned, the upper part was demolished, and the base was lost under the new palace – Flavian- which was completed in 92 CE during the rule of Domitian.