Recently the Domus Aurea has gained significant visibility with a series of public events at which it was present.
18 November saw the Domus Aurea Project Workshop, organized by us in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute in Rome: large numbers of people participated in both the morning and the afternoon sessions.
During the morning session, presided by Prof. Fulvio Cairoli Giuliani, Fedora Filippi, Director of the monument, gave a paper on the overall rehabilitation project, an appraisal of 5 years of hard work. A brief survey of the monument’s institutional history highlighted the fact that on several occasions during the past century and the start of this century rehabilitation projects were begun, aimed particularly at resolving the problems of decay caused by the percolation of water from the park above, without ever succeeding in achieving this objective. This time, noted Fedora Filippi after outlining the data on the works and the choices made, we have a definitive project to replace the current park with an integrated protection system, to be completed in four years… the Domus can make it, it is surrounded by experts who have studied its behaviour and structural peculiarities in depth, developed a plan for intervention and a uniform methodology; this is an asset that must be preserved, enhanced and extended. If this work is not completed the benefits of the investments in consolidating the interior of the structure will soon be lost. The paper ended with the hope that this monument, that gave something of itself to the Italian Renaissance, will itself be reborn. We have a duty to give the Domus Aurea back the light it needs if it is to continue to produce cultural value (this, and no other, is its lofty mission), but above all to give it back the dignity of its historical authenticity.
Heinz Beste, an architect from the German Archaeological Institute in Rome who has collaborated with the project since 2006 with a research convention, discussed the graphic documentation, essential if work to rehabilitate the ancient architecture is to be carried out correctly. He demonstrated the recording techniques adopted, exploiting the new potential offered by instrumental recordings in parallel with traditional recordings based on the crucial direct observation of the structure. Over the past few years, we have worked hard to define correctly the topographical layout of both the interior and exterior of the monument, both in the known ancient levels and in relation to the current urban context. All these activities were necessary both to define individual consolidation projects inside the monument, on both its structures and the decorations on its surfaces, and to design the new Integrated Protection System. Naturally, a new and increasingly detailed understanding of the monument is of fundamental importance from a purely academic point of view as well. This demonstrates, once again, that processes of safeguard and conservation are inextricably linked to our understanding of ancient monuments and that both are connected to enhancement.
During the morning, we also presented a technical report on the Project for the Integrated Protection System and the New Sustainable Park.
Sandro Massa, responsible for the physical design process, illustrated the thermo-hygrometric study and the results of the various tests carried out. Vincenzo Angeloro dealt with the technological, hydrological and hydraulic problems of the System whilst Gabriella Strano illustrated the methodological, historical and landscaping choices governing the project for the new park: on the one hand it completes the Integrated Protection System and on the other restores public perception of the connections between the two ancient monuments, the Domus Aurea and the Baths of Trajan through its design.
During the afternoon, the workshop tackled the more general issue of the conservation problems of underground monuments. This discussion was of enormous interest, in part for the large amount of information shared and the experience brought to the table by the directors of monumental complexes dealing with the difficulties deriving from their underground condition and the presence of decorations.
Sandro Massa introduced the topic from a general methodological point of view with a series of examples and experiences, including negative ones, in funerary contexts in Italy, Egypt and the East.
Gisella Capponi, Director of the Istituto superiore per il restauro illustrated, on behalf of the group of specialists who participated, the conservation work on two rooms in the Domus Aurea, started in the 1980s to test the effects of hermetic closure from the outside.
Rita Volpe, Sovraintendenza Capitolina per i Beni Culturali, discussed the problems, very similar to those of the Domus Aurea, in the sector underneath the large exhedra in the Baths of Trajan where extremely important remains of decorated rooms have come to light with both frescoed surfaces and walls covered with mosaics.
Ida Sciortino presented the conservation work completed by SSBAR in the Underground Basilica at Porta Maggiore, an extraordinary complex with 1st-century stucco decorations, where serious problems caused by outdoor pollution, the presence of the railway and radon, a gas that develops in underground spaces and whose levels most be controlled, were resolved.
Barbara Mazzei, Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, gave an interesting general paper on the conservation problems of Christian catacombs and on the various solutions adopted, with special reference both to climate issues and the consolidation of the tufa rock into which the underground rooms were dug.
Marian Magnani Cianetti, SSBAR Architect, illustrated the rehabilitation and enhancement project for the Jewish catacombs at Villa Torlonia, with reference both to issues specific to consolidation and to the problems concerning the insertion of the complex inside a historic park.
Pietro Zander, Archaeologist at the Fabbrica di San Pietro in the Vatican, concluded with an interesting paper on the Vatican necropolis, focusing on the conservation problems of this extraordinary complex, located beneath various structural layers covering thousands of years that make up St Peter’s Basilica, one of the world’s most visited and frequented places.