Ever been to Colle Oppio, one of the seven hills of ancient Rome? This green hill is far more interesting than you might imagine at first sight. Sometimes called Oppian Wonderland by archaeologists, Colle Oppio never ceases to amaze, one never knows what will emerge from this ancient Roman hill.
Colle Oppio slopes gently down to the Colosseum on one side and to the Celio and Monti neighborhoods on the other. At the bottom end of Via Celimontana (a bit further than the Retrome breakfast cafe) you’ll find the stairs to climb the hill that became a park -designed by Raffaele de Vico- in 1938. But don’t let the park’s sometimes dingy appearance fool you, Colle Oppio is one of the oldest and richest archaeological sites in Rome.
Colle Oppio consists of a large area of about 11 hectares, partly covered by the ruins of the Thermae di Traiano /Baths of Trajan. Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) built his baths on top of Domus Aurea / Nero’s (37-68 AD) much hated Golden House built in 64 AD. Designed by the brilliant architect Apollodorus of Damascusa around 109 AD Trajan’s complex had several pools (warm, hot, cool), gymnasia, changing rooms and two libraries.
The buried ruins of Nero’s golden house were rediscovered in the 15th century. Artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael visited the ruins to admire the magnificent frescoes preserved underground. Unfortunately, exposure to air and water did a great deal of damage. Following a period of 21 years in which it was Rome’s best-kept secret (open to art experts and special guests only) Domus Aurea re-opened to in June 1999 after a 2.5 million euro restoration. The authorities closed the golden house for one year in 2005 due to safety issues and for an indefinite period in March 2010, when a large part of the vault in one gallery collapsed after heavy rain.
It’s not all bad news though. In July 28, 2011 a large mosaic of Apollo – Apollo and the Muses – emerged from the bowels of the hill not far from the Cryptoporticus of Trajan (where Napoleon once stored his gunpowder), and also the place where the fresco of the “ideal city” had been found.
In February 1998 archaeologists discovered a fresco of a bird flying over a city at the end of a 60 by 8 meters long tunnel. Soon after they designated the fresco the “ideal city”, because of its beauty. It depicted a city with turreted city walls, a blue river crossed by a bridge and outdoor walkways. One could see a mausoleum with golden tones and a row of red houses near a four-sided colonnade, a temple and other buildings on a hill. In the center of the city a golden statue of colossal dimensions, probably Apollo, watched over the intersection of two roads. According to art critic Federico Zeri the city could have been ancient Londinium (London).
Considering all the above one would expect a bit more tender love and care for Colle Oppio from the Italian Government or the city of Rome. None of that, the ruins of the Baths of Trajan and the Nero’s Golden House are fenced off (there is still the danger of collapse) and the park feels neglected. Sadly enough it only rekindles the debate about the sorry state of Rome’s eroding archaeological sites. What a waste!
Book your stay in one of our Retro designed rooms for an unforgettable time in Rome (you can almost touch Colle Oppio).