The conservation works to be carried out in the north-western area of the Domus Aurea, aimed at tackling the two main objectives of intervention on the monument, are now underway.
As already illustrated, the consolidation of structures and the general isolation of the area (aimed at protecting surface layers and frescoes) represent the bulk of interventions in the Domus.
The conservation of the barrel vault in Room 16 of the “Little Barracks” (numbers 7-17 on the overall plan) is the first intervention now in the final phase, aimed at isolating the rooms of the Domus and at conserving and consolidating this sector.
Work to protect and excavate the Trajanic Galleries 20A and 20B also aims at the structural safeguard of the rooms; all this with the objective, among other things, of freeing this sector from the provisional works carried out some time ago and of securing some structures (especially 20B). We therefore decided to uncover the outer surfaces of vaults 20A and 20B in order to identify the structure connecting them, currently unclear given the deep layer of soil above them; we therefore carried out the digging work needed to remove the overlying earth.
The reconstruction of the vault of room 16 highlighted the extreme fragility of the wall tops in this room; this state of affairs was evident on close-up examination, possible after the removal of restorations carried out in the 1960s and 1970s and the removal of weeds.
At the same time, we completed the external brickwork between rooms 16 and 17; this operation allowed us to tackle the reconstruction of the vault of 16 and, subsequently, the construction of the vault over 17.
As can be seen on the plans, the sector of the Domus Aurea where this work was carried out also highlights a delicate aspect: interference between the tasks entrusted to the various companies working in the area.
As of today (November 2013) the reconstruction of the vault over room 16 of the “Little Barracks” is almost complete; numerous activities and studies have lengthened the time required, and specifically:
- the execution of numerous tests on the type of mortars to be used and the consistency and arrangement of the tufa blocks.
- The laying of some pipes for the discharge of rainwater as part of the general drainage plan for the upper area.
Meanwhile, studies on the layout and altitudes of the garden are in the final phase and will shortly allow us to set definitive heights and slopes.
The progress of works has provided a large amount of information on the structural typology and geometry of the “Little Barracks”. Our attention focused particularly on two aspects:
- The vaults of both 17 and 16 showed clear evidence that they were initially constructed at a given height, subsequent demolished in an uncertain but contemporary period, and finally rebuilt with the impost height raised by about 55 centimetres. This supports the theory (among the many advanced) that this architectural sector may have belonged to a preliminary design for the Domus Aurea, later modified while works were underway, or even that it belonged to a pre-existing structure later incorporated into the monument.
- The need to “level” the heights of the upper garden or even a later intervention under Trajan aimed at building the baths, may have led to this reconstruction variant. Needless to say, research is underway.
- A further structural feature caught our attention when we freed the wall tops in rooms 16 and 17; the images attached show a construction choice which seems to be present in all the “rooms” of the little barracks hitherto studied: the individual rooms seem to be built as independent compartments next to one another, almost like a row of boxes; in other words, the walls between the rooms do not “communicate”, bearing the load of the pair of vaults resting on them, but rather are built next to one another with each brick “box” taking the weight of that portion of vault belonging to its own room.
We are (impatiently) awaiting an opportunity to carry out an in-depth study of the next rooms of the “little barracks”.
The working group consists of: Fedora Filippi (Archaeologist), H. Beste (DAI, architectural studio, recordings and graphic reconstructions of the vaults); M. Bellini (designer of the structures) and M. Pesce (SSBAR technician).