This Golden House became the passing wonder of Rome. Its buildings alone covered 900,000 square feet, and yet were but a small part of a mile-square villa that overflowed from the Palatine upon the neighboring hills. A great park surrounded the palace, with gardens, meadows, fish ponds, game preserves, aviaries, vineyards, streams, fountains, waterfalls, lakes, imperial galleys, pleasure houses, summerhouses, flower houses, and porticoes 3000 feet long. An angry wit scratched a representative comment on a wall: “Rome has become the habitation of one man. It is time, citizens, to emigrate to Veii- unless, indeed, Veii itself is to be comprised in Nero’s home.”

The interior of the palace gleamed with marble, bronze, and gold, with the gilded metal of countless Corinthian capitals, and with thousands of statues, reliefs, paintings, and objects of art bought or looted from the classic world; among them was the Laocoon. Some of the walls were inlaid with mother-of-pearl and various costly gems. The ceiling of the banquet hall was covered with ivory flowers from which, at a nod of the emperor, a perfumed spray would fall upon his guests. The dining room had a spherical ceiling of ivory painted to represent the sky and the stars, which was kept in constant slow rotation by hidden machines. A suite of rooms provided hot baths, cold baths, tepid baths, salt-water baths, and sulphur baths. When the Roman architects Celer and Severus had nearly finished the immense structure and Nero moved in, he remarked, “At last I am lodged.” A generation later this Roman Versailles, too costly and dangerous to maintain amid surrounding poverty, had fallen into neglect. Over its ruins Vespasian built the Colosseum, Titus and Trajan their enormous public baths.