EMPEROR Nero's 2,000-year-old Golden Palace in Rome is in serious danger of collapse and will have to close for two years.
Officials are concerned recent downpours have weakened the Domus Aurea's ceilings and walls, Italy's culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, said yesterday. He added that the cost of repairs would be 43 million.
The news that the 32 rooms open to visitors are no longer safe came after patches of brick and plaster showed signs of falling away. In recent years, there have been at least two incidents in which holes in the ceilings have appeared. Experts believe water has seeped into the walls and ceilings, causing them literally to crumble away.
Other archaeological sites in Rome, such as the Palatine Hill and Baths of Caracalla, have also shown signs of collapse. Last month, a section of wall along the Palatine Hill crumbled away and the remaining section has been shored up by scaffolding and visitor numbers reduced.
Nero's Golden Palace opened only six years ago after a 21-year restoration project following similar concerns over rainwater seeping into the brickwork.
It was built by Emperor Nero - famous for fiddling while Rome burned - during his reign from 37 to 68AD. He had a 160ft statue of himself covered with gold and jewels erected at its entrance.
The palace used to be one of Rome's best kept cultural secrets, and initially only art officials and special guests were allowed in to visit the rooms, adorned with spectacular frescoes of winged lions and griffins.