of ancient Rome have another treasure to behold: the home on the Palatine hill overlooking the Forum where
Gaius Octavius Thurinus (later called Octavian and then Augustus, Rome's first emperor)
lived with his third wife Livia in about 30 BC.
The ruins have been off-limits to the public since the 1960s, when archaeologists searching for the ruined
house of Augustus found a tiny clue buried deep in 2,000 years' worth of rubble. The single fragment of painted
plaster, discovered in masonry-filled rooms, led the experts to unearth a series of exquisite frescoes commissioned
by the man who would later become Rome's first emperor. The frescoes, located in an area of the Palatine hill
which has never been opened to the public, are built on top of what archealogists believe is the "lupercale" or
underground grotto where Romans worshipped twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city.
say these frescoes decorating its four rooms -- a dining room, bedroom, reception hall and study (which overlooked
the Circus Maximus so Octavian could watch the chariot racing without going to the arena) -- are among the
most splendid surviving examples of Roman wall paintings, on a par with those found in the towns of Pompeii
and Herculaneum. Archaeologists believe they may have been painted by an Egyptian, perhaps a slave brought
back after Octavian's 31BC triumph over the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of
Actium. One of the four restored rooms is decorated with scenes of an elegant garden. Another, called the "room
of the masks," has a theatrical theme featuring a trompe l'oeil stage with
two doors ajar and comic masks peering from small windows overlooking a garden. On one fresco in the bedroom,
the shadowy figure of a man and a woman in traditional Roman togas can be seen, while the ceiling is decorated
with the figures of soldiers and horses. Graffiti on one wall is believed to have been left by the builders,
who seem to have sketched out geometric designs, possibly for mosaic floors, and left their names. The art
is so delicate that no more than five visitors at a time will be able to enter the rooms. Nevertheless, they
are expected to attract large crowds.
Augustus ruled Rome from 27BC until his death in 14AD. His rise ended the Roman Republic and marked the beginning
of the Roman Empire. Known for his peaceful reign, he reformed the tax system and road network, developed
a postal system and the city's first fire and police forces. He also introduced laws to improve morality to
regulate marriage and family life and to control promiscuity. In 9AD, for example, he made adultery a criminal
offence, and he encouraged the birthrate by granting privileges to couples with three or more children. Emperor
Augustus is also known for his famous last words:"Did
you like the performance?" --
referring to the play-acting and regal authority that he had put on as emperor. Following his death, he was
declared a god by the Senate of Rome and he was buried in a marble mausoleum which he had begun to build 40
years before he died.
The entrance to the home is on via di San Gregorio, 30 and tickets can be purchased at the entrance to
the Roman Forum (off via dei Fori Imperiali). Hours are 8:30 am to one hour before sunset; tickets cost 11
Euro and allow entrance to the
Forum, the Home and the Coliseum.