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Domus Transitoria

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Domus Transitoria

Before the famous Domus Aurea (Golden House) was built, Nero had a dream to connect two hills – Palatine Hill with Esquiline, imperial residences (the so-called Domus Palatina) with the Patron’s gardens. The date of this project is considered to be 64 CE, i.e. the date when a great fire broke out in Rome, which also consumed a large part of the city, turning it into rubble. It destroyed the work of the people involved in the implementation of this project.

Domus Transitoria, loosely translated, means “transition house”, was destroyed but the emperor did not despair for a long time and quickly found an idea to develop the areas exposed by the fire. This new idea was, of course, the Golden House.

Destroyed, covered with rubble and earth, giving the ground for Nero’s new dream (which ultimately suffered a similar fate, as a result of the damnatio memoriae issued by the Senate, and thus erasing from life all traces and remains of the hated government, but probably not by all, the emperor), Domus Transitoria was waiting for its discoverer. Until the first half of the twentieth century, it was believed that nothing had survived to our times, taking into account the events described above and the fact that the Palatine estates were arriving with new emperors or were constantly changed and rebuilt. Domus Transitoria is located partly below Domus Flavia Domicjana, Domus Aurea and partly below the Temple of Venus and Roma.

It was only thanks to the Italian archaeologist Giacomo Boni, who was the first to reach the rooms hidden under other palaces, that the wall frescoes depicting scenes from Homer’s works, a unique fountain and a room innovative in its form were discovered. Fragments of marble were also found in the sidewalks and on the walls and it is believed that this was the first time that real marble was used, imported from outside the Apennine peninsula. Previously, only imitations were used.

The fountain – nimphaeum – visible in the northern part of the room located in the central point, was made on the floors of Nero’s passion for art. The architects scaled up the Greek theatre scene accordingly. They even took care of details such as small Corinthian-style columns. The whole is made of polychrome marble.

Opposite the fountain, there was a pavilion, surrounded by twelve columns (where perhaps Nero was resting).
On opposite sides of the main room are four smaller rooms. Presumably, they served as dining rooms and the people inside could enjoy the view of the fountain. The ceilings in these rooms were made on the basis of a barrel vault. On them, there were panels containing expensive stones, and on the walls there were telescopes. The interiors of the rooms were separated with delicate stuccoes. The breakthrough solution that the architects were tempted by was the octagonal room.


So far, such solutions have already been seen in thermal baths in Baja. The difference, however, was that the domes there were on a larger scale and were more massive, supported on uniform walls. The use of this element on the ground of a “residential house” in open spaces and corridors would not be possible without innovative construction solutions, namely cement. During the time of Caligula, the recipe was changed and the opportunities that followed began to be used. As a result, it became possible to create a room resembling a circle (i.e. an attempt to depart from the octagonal shape). The circular dome rested on four unconnected walls that were curved according to the curvature of the circle. The apse, characteristic of the frigidarium and therefore the original pattern, has been changed or evolved into a corridor. The characteristic oculus remained on the sewing of the dome, through which the sun’s rays fell inside. Also visible in the diagram are the columns supporting the metal grates and the small pool on one side behind them, made of white marble and decorated in turn with coloured ones.

The use of this type of room will appear in Domus Aurea and the top achievement of Roman architects will be the Pantheon in the future.

Author: Wojciech Kubisztal (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Suetonius, Nero, 31: "He made a palace extending all the way from the Palatine to the Esquiline, which at first he called the House of Passage, but when it was burned shortly after its completion and rebuilt, the Golden House."
  • Tacitus, Annales, XV.39: "Nero, who at the time was staying in Antium, did not return to the capital until the fire was nearing the house by which he had connected the Palatine with the Gardens of Maecenas".

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