The other one of my top two favorite things we did in Rome was visit Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini. The palazzo was built in 1585 and went through a series of partial demolitions, renovations, expansions and owners (several cardinals and other important people) over the next several hundred years. Since 1873, it has been the base of the provincial and prefectural administration of Rome (I’m not sure what that means, but I read it on Wikipedia, so it must be true and completely accurate. Just kidding! I verified it elsewhere.).
This is a picture of the palazzo, which is located on Via IV Novembre 119/A (very near Piazza Venezia). You might see a couple of intimidating-looking guards standing near the entryway and think you’re not supposed to go in through there, but you are. Don’t worry, they won’t even acknowledge you, let alone arrest you…just walk on by into the inner courtyard.
Once you enter the small courtyard, there will be a doorway on your left where you can pick up your tickets if you have purchased them in advance, which I strongly recommend you do. It’s also where you will enter the building for the tour itself. Also located in the courtyard is a small café if you’d like a bite to eat or a drink…nothing fancy, and I think there were only two tables to stand around. There’s also a restroom (one each for men and women). It was clean and nice to be able to stop into before spending 2 hours on the tour. One thing to note is that there is nowhere in the courtyard to sit (except the toilet). So if you get to the palazzo early for your tour, you will be standing the whole time.
Okay…on to the good part! We were greeted in the courtyard by the “tour guide” and led inside, down about 15-20 steps into the excavated area of the palazzo. You will find yourself standing atop the excavations on a plexi-glass floor. For many in our group, this was very disconcerting at first – especially since it’s very dark throughout the tour – but you do get used to it after a while. The guide will escort you into the first room, which just seems like a big empty space at first. But then, the fun begins…and it turns into a multi-media extravaganza. You will listen to a recorded story about the ancient Roman palace you are standing in, spotlights will direct your attention to things underfoot or on the walls, holographic images will fill in the blanks and the room will magically become like what it used to be.
You continue to walk from room to fascinating room, marveling at how advanced the Romans were and being simply blown away as you look at things that were left behind and subsequently covered by two thousand years of dirt, stones, life, etc. Archeologists have uncovered partial mosaics on the floors, intricate marble designs on the walls, pieces of pottery (some amazingly and almost completely intact), even a dinner plate with fossilized food scraps (!!!).
About halfway through the tour, you will be brought to a gift shop (total waste of time), but will also have the chance to grab a seat and rest your feet for a few minutes. The tour continues with more fascinating virtual reconstructions and a very interesting movie about the history of Trajan’s Column. You then have the opportunity to step outside into a tiny gated area and get as close to Trajan’s Column as you ever will (I’m a really bad judge of distance, but maybe 15-20 feet away?). This is the only place on the tour that you are allowed to take a photograph (which is why there are hardly any in this post!).
After this, the tour is over and you are lead back upstairs, left marveling at the amazingness you just witnessed. This tour is something that I would recommend for everyone. It gives you such a different perspective and comprehensive understanding of what life was like waaaaaaaaay back when (at least for the very wealthy).
Here are a few good things to know if you want to visit Le Domus Romane:
- Tours are conducted every day but Tuesday (and holidays), from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
- Groups are limited to about 12 people (and that even seemed like too many to me)
- Tickets cost 12 euros for adults and 8 euros for children from 6 – 17 years old (free for children under 6, but I really don’t think it would be the best idea to take kids that young anyway…just my opinion).
- If you book online, which we did, there is a 1.50 euro fee. SIDE NOTE: I booked online when we were already in Rome, and a lot of the upcoming English tours were already filled. We were able to get in only on our very last day in Rome. Also, make absolutely sure you are booking the proper tour for the language you speak! It’s pretty easy to figure it out online, but just make sure you’re booking the right one.
Have you toured Le Domus Romane? Were you as blown away as I was? Let me know in the comments below!