nerone_fuoco_www.experientialitaly.comFrom April 12, Rome’s most controversial emperors, Nero, will be the star  of an exhibition hosted in the Colosseum and in the areas of the Roman Forum/Palatine that he created before and after the fire of Rome – July 18, 64 AD. Until September 18.

Commemorating Nero is like commemorating Adolf Hitler. He was condemned as a monstrous embodiment of evil because St Peter and St Paul were killed in Rome during his reign. Victors write history and the Christians won against pagan Rome, at least until recently. But not only Christians condemned Nero. He was considered cruel and impious by leading pagans.

The contemporary polemicist Suetonius, who described the emperor as pretty, blond, blue-eyed, big-bellied, spindly legged with a squat, pustular and smelly body, added that ''if anyone confessed to secret vices, Nero forgave him all his other crimes''.

In recent years, revisionist historians have pointed out that Nero, who became emperor at 17 and reigned for 14 years until AD68, was moderate and popular at first. They deny Nero was responsible for the week-long fire that destroyed Rome in AD64 while he allegedly fiddled at his seaside villa.

Nero blamed Christians, crucifying and burning some of them covered with pitch so they became night-time torches. He then founded an efficient fire brigade and rebuilt Rome.

Polemicists may have exaggerated Nero's excesses. The Nero exhibition will try to redress the balance but it will be hard to deny that in his last years he was mad, bad and dangerous. He had his mother and stepbrother killed, among other atrocities.

Perhaps his problem was that he was a failed artist.

Seeking recognition as a singer and poet, he entered singing contests. But Nero had less talent as a singer than as a sadist. When he was hunted down after the Senate condemned him as a public enemy, he allegedly said before committing suicide: ''What an artist dies in me.''

The Nero exhibition, one of a series on Roman emperors, will be held on Neronian sites in the Roman Forum, such as the ancient Senate house, the  Temple of Romulus, the Palatine Museum, the long portico of what was one of Nero's residences and the Colosseum, where exhibits will cover the great fire of Rome and include charred wooden  remains.


In fact, Nero's successors built the  Colosseum as an entertainment centre to replace the artificial lake of his enormous Golden House and to obliterate his name.

Instead, with time and Hollywood's help, the Colosseum mistakenly became associated with Nero and the image of him slaughtering Christians there.

The Vestal Virgins' residence, rebuilt after the Neronian fire of AD64, was reopened to the public on January 27.

The remains of the three-storey brick building on Via Nova, at the centre of the  Roman Forum , overlooks a garden, flanked by statues of Vestal Virgins, where there are three rectangular pools of water surrounded by rose bushes, as in ancient Roman times. The residence once had marble pavements, a heating system, bedrooms, reception and dining rooms and a kitchen but all that remains is the structure.

The virgins were six priestesses or nuns who, in the adjacent temple of Vesta, preserved the perpetual flame of a hearth considered essential for Rome's well-being. They also preserved objects that supposedly proved Rome's link with Troy.

They took up their position before puberty and had to remain celibate during 30 years in office. If they broke this rule, they were buried alive; if they kept it, they could later marry. They were not confined to their residence but had a privileged place at spectacles such as those at the Colosseum and were entitled to travel in carriages like those used by magistrates.

The Vestals date from the foundation of Rome and the tradition lasted more than 1000 years, until abolished by the Christian emperor Theodosius in 394.

Their residence, a centre of religious life in pagan Rome, stood opposite the centre of political Rome marked by a black stone where republican-era speakers addressed crowds. The rows of seats where the audience sat have been rediscovered. This site will also be opened to visitors this year.

Via Nova, a street rising from the Forum to the Palatine Hill, has been reopened.

At mid-point is the top entrance to the Vestal Virgins' residence. It is lined with what used to be shops, laundries and apartments and leads to the Palatine, where the house of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, can be visited.

Its modest scale is a striking contrast to the residences of later emperors such as Tiberius, which is being restored in the Forum, and Nero, whose sumptuous Golden House, also being restored, will be the subject of a video in the Colosseum during his exhibition.

Guided Tours to the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, including the Vestals' site, are still available.