Italy: Discovery of the Ruins of Nero’s Theater

September 08, 2023
The structure of Nero's theater

In the heart of Rome, a few steps from the Tiber and St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, a huge construction site has revealed the existence of a theater built in Antiquity by the Emperor Nero. The imperial estate, in use since the 1st century BC, has enabled archaeologists to recover a significant amount of artifacts, offering new keys to understanding life in the Italian capital during this time.

It is a mythical place, sought after since Antiquity, that archaeologists have just unearthed on a large excavation site located in Rome. For nearly three years, researchers took turns to discover, stratum by stratum, an immense complex a few tens of meters from St. Peter's Square and Vatican City.

In the courtyard of the Palazzo della Rovere extends a small maze of rooms, corridors and various cavities. Many artifacts have been found there and recovered by archaeologists. The dates make it possible to estimate the period of construction of a theatre, built in the first century under the impetus of the Emperor Nero.

But, by digging deeper, the scientists realized that the first stones laid as the foundation of the building date from the last decades of the Roman Republic, prior to the rise of Octavian Augustus in 27 BC.

The palace, which takes up a block along the wide Via della Conciliazione leading to St. Peter's Square, is home to an ancient Vatican chivalric order that rents the space to a hotel to raise funds for Holy Land Christians.

The Governor General of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, confirmed during a press conference announcing the archaeological discovery that the hotel chain that they had settled on was the Four Seasons.

According to media reports, the hotel should be open in time for the Vatican's 2025 Jubilee, during which an estimated 30 million people and pilgrims are expected to flock to Rome.

Authorities have called the excavation results “exceptional” because they offer rare insight into a stratum of Roman history, from the Roman Empire through the 15th century. Among the finds are 10th-century colored glass goblets and pieces of pottery that are unusual because so little is known about this period in Rome.

Marzia Di Mento, the site's chief archaeologist, noted that previously only seven glass chalices from this era had been found, and that excavations at this site alone have revealed seven more.

In addition, archaeologists found marble columns and coatings decorated with gold leaf, which led them to conclude that Nero’s theater mentioned in the texts of Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and philosopher, did indeed exist, and that it was located near the Tiber.

Officials said the portable antiquities would be moved to a museum, while the ruins of the theater structure itself would be covered up once all studies were completed.