Ruins of ancient Nero's Theater discovered near Vatican

Ruins of ancient Nero's Theater discovered near Vatican

Ruins of ancient Neros Theater discovered near Vatican

Rome’s next luxury hotel has some very good bones: Archaeologists said Wednesday that the ruins of Nero’s Theater, an imperial theater referred to in ancient Roman texts but never found, have been discovered under the garden of a future Four Seasons Hotel steps from the Vatican.

Archaeologists have excavated deep under the walled garden of the Palazzo della Rovere since 2020 as part of planned renovations on the frescoed Renaissance building. The palazzo, which takes up a city block along the broad Via della Conciliazione leading to St. Peter’s Square, is home to an ancient Vatican chivalric order that leases the space to a hotel to raise money for Christians in the Holy Land.

The governor general of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Leonardo Visconti di Modrone, confirmed during a news conference announcing the archaeological discovery that the incoming hotel chain was the Four Seasons. News reports have said the hotel is expected to be open in time for the Vatican’s 2025 Jubilee, when an estimated 30 million people and pilgrims are expected to flock to Rome.

Officials hailed the findings from the excavation as “exceptional,” given they provide a rare look at a stratum of Roman history from the Roman Empire through to the 15th century. Among the discoveries: 10th century glass colored goblets and pottery pieces 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 of the era had been found, and that the excavations of this one site turned up seven more.

In addition, archaeologists found marble columns and gold-leaf decorated plaster, leading them to conclude that the Nero's Theater referred to in texts by Pliny the Elder, an ancient Roman author and philosopher, was indeed there, located at the site just off the Tiber River.

Officials said the portable antiquities would be moved to a museum, while the ruins of the theater structure itself would be covered again after all studies are completed.

The theater is named after Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, who served as Roman emperor from A.D. 54 to his death in 68. Officials are calling the discovery of the theater, located just east of Vatican City, "exceptional." It was likely where Nero rehearsed poetry and put on musical performances.

More than a millennium after his death, Nero remains one of ancient Rome's most infamous rulers, accused of playing his fiddle while the city burned to the ground during an epic fire.

While much has been written about the atrocities and poor governance that occurred under his leadership — he allegedly killed his own mother and two wives and lavishly and indulgently spent Rome's money — he's also remembered as a lover of music and the arts, leading him to offer public performances at his theater, an act that the elite usually didn't partake in. He was particularly fond of playing the cithara, a portable harp-like instrument with seven strings.

Last year, a severe drought in Italy also revealed an archaeological treasure in Rome: A bridge reportedly built by Nero that is usually submerged under the waters of the Tiber River.