Spotlight on: Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini, Rome

Rome is certainly not short of historical attractions, but when I visited, one literally hidden away turned out to be the highlight of my trip. Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini is the archaeological remains of two ancient Roman houses, discovered beneath the Palazzo Valentini, the base of the provincial administration of Rome.

As commonly done in Renaissance Rome, 16th-century builders had filled in the ancient structures with landfill, using them as foundations for the Palazzo Valentini. In doing so, these builders also preserved the ruins beneath, which archaeologists rediscovered in 2007 when work begun on an underground car park. This surprise discovery was then carefully excavated, with it only being opened to the public three years ago.

An ancient Roman road, buried underneath today's modern counterpart
An ancient Roman road, buried underneath today’s modern counterpart

While the scale of the Colosseum is stunning, but the state of the art technology used here takes it to a new level of interaction quite unlike anything else I’ve seen.

The use of lighting highlights what you should be looking at and picks out details otherwise missed
The use of lighting highlights what you should be looking at and picks out details otherwise missed

The ruins themselves were houses belonging to Roman aristocratic families or possibly senators in imperial Rome. Whole rooms, stairs, mosaic floors and other artefacts were discovered preserved. Now, a glass floor covers these treasures, allowing you to walk directly on top of them in a small guided tour. As you walk around, a clever light and sound display ‘fills in’ what is missing, forming a virtual reconstruction and picking out key items for you to look out, such as the intricate design of a marble floor, the red paint remaining on the stair walls or the outline of a swimming pool.

What remains of an intricate floor, cut in two by the construction of the building above
What remains of a detailed mosaic floor, cut in two by the construction of the building above

Another new aspect of the tour is a lesson on Trajan’s Column, with a display on how the area of the Column would have looked at the time of construction. Following this, a virtual reconstruction video gives a close up look at the bas-reliefs on the Column which tell the story of Emperor Trajan’s military campaign to conquer Dacia (modern Romania).

Intricate carvings tell the story of the Roman victory in the Dacian Wars
Intricate carvings tell the story of the Roman victory in the Dacian Wars

With only two English language tours a day and limited numbers, it is advisable to book online or via phone before your visit to ensure you don’t miss out. Tickets were €10 at the time of my visit in November 2013.  The remains are located in the Piazza Venezia, just around the corner to the monument to Victor Emmanuel II.

What Le Domus Romane does is make Ancient Rome come alive in a history lesson unlike any other. It may sound like a bold claim, but if you are going to do one thing in Rome, do this!

Lighting is used to fill in the gaps in this intricate design
Lighting is used to fill in the gaps in this intricate design
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