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5 Residences of the Roman Emperors You Can Visit

Updated on November 16, 2015

Roman emperors, aside from their notable deeds, were often known for their luxurious life style. They built beautiful villas and enormous palaces, sometimes creating amazing works of art, some elements of which can still be seen today and looking at them we may get a good impression of what it could be like to live as an emperor in Ancient Rome.

1. Domus Augusti, the House of Emperor Augustus

Fresco from House of Augustus
Fresco from House of Augustus | Source

Several years after he came to power, Augustus decided to buy a house on the Palatine Hill for his permanent residence. The palace didn’t mean to be extremely luxurious or stunning in its size or beauty. In fact, it had to be the complete opposite, for Augustus wanted his palace to show the modesty and the humbleness of its owner, both which were very highly praised virtues of the Romans those days. His residence was a two-story building, not much bigger than the average wealthy Roman house, and, though it was decorated with beautiful frescoes and expensive marble, Domus Augusti was a perfect representation of what the people of Rome wanted their ruler to be – moderate and humble. The emperor’s house is naturally located in Rome and opened for tourists these days.

2. Villa Adriana, Emperor Hadrian’s villa.

The canope at Villa Adriana
The canope at Villa Adriana | Source

Hadrian was known as one of the Five Good Emperors, for despite that he wasn’t perfect in his reign, it was filled with many wise deeds and humanistic reforms. Hadrian was also very close to his people, sometimes even sharing food with his soldiers and having supper in their company. Among other things the emperor liked Greek culture and architecture very much, so, when he decided to move from the palace on Palatine Hill because he didn’t like it, he built his new villa following the models of classical Greek architecture. The villa was built in the 2nd century AD in Tivoli, modern day Italy, and along with many beautifully decorated rooms it had several pools and beautiful gardens, rich decorated mosaics and statues. The emperor’s residence also had beautiful baths, some of them based in sulphur springs which are still being used today; the remains of the gardens that were also found during the excavations, along with a philosophy room and even a theater, creating a large cultural complex and reflecting the emperor’s tastes. And while now most of the buildings are ruined, you can still imagine very well how beautiful it was when the emperor lived there. After Hadrian several other emperors used the villa as their residence, which makes it even more interesting place to visit.

3. Domus Aurea, Emperor Nero’s palace.

Domus Aurea
Domus Aurea | Source

The name Domus Aurea literally means “golden house,” and though the palace lies in ruins these days, the ones who visit it can still imagine all the extravagance and beauty it used to have when it was built. This luxurious palace was built on the Palatine Hill after the Great Fire of Rome in 64th AD and originally was not only a huge villa itself, but an enormous territory around it, with magnificent gardens, an artificial lake and a colossal statue of the emperor himself. Concrete was a brand new discovery those days, which made the process of building relatively fast and opened the new architectural possibilities for the decorations of the palace. One of them—which was an unusual for those days—was to decorate not only the floors, but even the ceilings with mosaics, for concrete ceilings were very good for holding them. The palace was decorated by magnificent frescoes of a unique style, and actual golden leaves which is what gave the building famous name. Roman historian Suetonius describes the palace’s dining room as an “astronomical one,” telling how the room was actually rotating, representing the change of night and day, and the visitors were being showered with perfumes and flower petals.

It is said that the palace, built inspired with classical Greek style, too, had several baths, one with sea water and one with sulphur among them. Domesticated animals, both local and exotic, ran around the gardens. While the sight of this enormous complex was probably really impressive, it was almost completely ruined and buried under the ground after Nero’s death. Part of it survived, though, and is located under the other Ancient Roman ruins—the baths of Trajan. It still has the remains of beautiful frescoes and statues, and visiting its rooms you can imagine how huge the building could be while it was still standing on Palatine Hill.

4. Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia.

Diocletian's Palace, Golden Gate
Diocletian's Palace, Golden Gate | Source

Emperor Diocletian built his palace in the 4th century AD, though these days the whole palace complex, though very well-preserved, became the center of the city of Split in Croatia. The emperor built this enormous complex of marble and other expensive materials in preparation for his retirement, and even though a good half of it was occupied by military units, the other half was served solely to Diocletian’s personal use. The palace was very much like a military fortress, with several watchtowers protecting it from invaders (all are still well-preserved), huge gates, and some traditional elements of Ancient Roman military architecture. Except the emperor’s luxurious apartments, richly decorated with Egyptian statues and located along the sea coast, it had the temples and public buildings. The palace was very strictly divided: one half was serving for emperor’s private needs, the other was nothing more than soldiers’ buildings, military structures, storage rooms, and servants’ houses. The Diocletian Palace is considered one of the best-preserved architecture examples of its kind and leaves a great impression for its huge territory and beauty.

5. Villa Jovis, Emperor Tiberius's residence.

Villa Jovis
Villa Jovis | Source

Emperor Tiberius moved to his villa on Capri Island to get rest from the political intrigues and to be far from the people who wanted to assassinate him, since the island and the particular location of his rooms were very hard to reach. This villa was completed in 27 AD, and historians described it as the largest one of those which was located on Capri. The villa perfectly fits into the island’s mountainous landscape, located on one of the highest peaks of the island and having several terraces and opening a stunning view of the island and the sea around it. It was separated in two parts—one for emperor’s private needs, containing the luxurious rooms and baths, and the other for political meetings and administrative work.

Beautiful garden were located around it, while aside from them the land was surrounded by woods. One more interesting fact about Tiberius’s villa is its unique technique of water supply, for it was impossible to build an aqueduct what would deliver fresh water so high in the mountains, and the engineers working on the project of this fascinating building had to invent a unique system of collecting rain water which would fulfill the needs of the villa. The huge water tanks they used for that purpose can still be seen today, even though not all of them are preserved. Another interesting fact about this building is that not only Tiberius, the future emperor Gaius, better known these days as Caligula, spent his teenage years there. Ironically, Tiberius was assassinated in this villa, and some speculate it could be Caligula who killed him. The building these days has several preserved terraces, which give a very good idea of what it looked like in the 1st century.

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    • Linnea Lewis profile image
      Author

      Linnea Lewis 22 months ago from South Carolina, USA

      You're very welcome!

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 22 months ago from Australia

      Thank you for this virtual tour. One day I shall visit them!