Suetonius described a circular banquet hall with a perpetually revolving floor in Nero’s Golden House. People have thought he was talking about the famed octagonal hall and was just confused about the shape and which part of it moved.
A remarkable structure uncovered during routine structural support work on the Palatine Hill, however, suggests that the floor might indeed have revolved to mimic the movement of the heavens.
The dig so far has turned up the foundations of the room, the rotating mechanism underneath and part of an attached space believed to be the kitchens, she said.
“This cannot be compared to anything that we know of in ancient Roman architecture,” Villedieu told reporters during a tour of the cordoned-off dig.
She said the location of the discovery atop the Palatine Hill, the rotating structure and references to it in ancient biographies of Nero make the attribution to the emperor most likely.
The dining room is 50 feet in diameter. The pillar underneath it is 13 feet wide, the largest one known in Roman architecture. Four spherical structures surround it, filled with an unidentified dark substance that archaeologists have sent to be analyzed.
There are also 7 arches underpinning the floor of the dining room, 4 on the top level (one of them complete), and 3 on the bottom level. Presumably the pillar, spheres and arches were all part of the rotating mechanism.
It’s not confirmed that this is the dining room Suetonius mentioned. There are no inscriptions or specific indicators, but the structure was definitely built after the great fire of 64 A.D. and before the Senate declared him an enemy of the state after his death in 68 A.D.
Its astonishing grandeur and architectural complexity certainly suggests it was imperial work, and the Domus Aurea was extravagant beyond anything seen before or after. It covered 200 acres over 4 of Rome’s 7 hills and included a massive lake which was drained by the Flavians to build the Colosseum.
That dining room would have had a prime view of the lake, in fact, and its waters might even have powered the revolving mechanism.