One of Rome's prime tourist attractions, the ruins of Nero's Domus Aurea, is set to be re-opened to the public sooner than expected .
Visitors will next year be allowed in to the fabled 'Golden House' while it is undergoing repairs to its leaky and flaking walls and ceilings, Rome's architectural superintendent Angelo Bottini says .
The Domus was closed in December because of urgent safety concerns, and was expected to remain shut for two years .
But now, Bottini says, culture lovers will be allowed back in after the roof is water-proofed next spring .
"Once the roof is safe from leaking water people can come back in. They'll be able to see the repair work for themselves. We're thinking of putting up a special visitors' route amid the scaffolding," Bottini said .
Bottini added that the project will enable experts to "finally" unearth more of the massive baths that Emperor Trajan built over the Domus, "allowing visitors to see how the whole complex fits together" .
Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli has cited the restoration of the Domus among the city's major priorities, along with much-needed work on the Circus Maximus and a run-down Baroque gallery, Palazzo Barberini. In December, Rutelli's predecessor Rocco Buttiglione said it would take five million euros for the "most urgent" work on the damaged ceilings .
But after that two-year project, a further 60 million euros would be needed over ten years to preserve the monument for future generations .
Buttiglione's announcement that the 32 rooms open to visitors "were no longer safe" came after patches of brick and plaster showed worrying signs of becoming detached .
In recent years, there have been at least two incidents in which holes in the ceilings have appeared .
The top of the Domus is covered with parks, trees and roads whose weight and possible polluting effect was highlighted by some experts when the site was re-opened six years ago .
It had been closed for over 20 years after water seepage sparked fears of possible structural subsidence .
The Golden Palace of the ill-famed Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) re-opened in June 1999 after 21 years in which it was Rome's best-kept secret - open only to art officials and special guests .
Some 2.5 million euros was spent in refurbishing the rooms filled with surprisingly fresh and lively frescoes of weird animals like winged lions, griffins and tritons .
The images led to the original coinage of the word 'grotesque', from the Italian word for cave or grotto .
After Nero's suicide in 68 AD the Flavian emperors who succeeded him proceeded to bury all trace of the man who even in his own life was a byword for dissolution, cruelty and excess .
The Flavian amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, was built on the site of Nero's palace-side lake, while Trajan built his baths on top of the main part of the sprawling pleasure dome, located mainly on Rome's Colle Oppio (Oppian Hill) .
Ironically, the Colosseum is so-called because of the massive statue of Nero that his successors dragged beside their own monument - after changing the head, according to some ancient accounts .
Another irony is that, by burying the place, they actually preserved it so that the finest wall-paintings outside Pompeii, with almost equally vivid colours, can be admired today .
Other interesting touches are the chalk and tallow marks left by Renaissance masters like Raphael who were let down through a hole in the roof to admire its splendours .
At the time of its re-opening in 1999, officials said it would take another 25 million euros to uncover all 150 rooms of the palace .
They said the Domus Aurea had the potential to become a site rivaling that of the Palatine with its palaces of the first Caesars .
Among the highlights of any visit will be the frescoes, of course, many of them illustrating the emperor's taste for the exotic in scenes from Homeric myth .
Architecturally, the star of the site is the Octagonal Room where Nero is supposed to have entertained his guests with his singing and lyre-playing, all on a rotating floor .
At suitable moments in the fun, the sybaritic emperor is also reported - by Roman historian Suetonius - to have given the signal for marble panels to slide back, showering guests with petals and perfume .
When it was completed, a 50-hectare complex covering most of the Palatine, Celian and Oppian hills, Nero was reputed to have remarked that finally he was beginning to be housed like a human being .