Inner sanctum of first Roman emperor to go on show

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ROME, Dec 10 (Reuters Life!) - Four frescoed rooms in the eastern wing of the house of Augustus, where he lived before becoming Rome’s first emperor, will open to the public for the first time next year after three decades of restorations.

Italian archaeologists said on Monday the rooms dated from around 30 B.C. and had been buried -- which may explain why some of the paintings are so well preserved -- after Augustus moved to another residence on a higher level of the Palatine Hill.

The tiny rooms, first discovered in the late 1970s, are mostly painted in vivid red, blue and ochre. They include a cubicle on an upper floor known as the “studiolo”, or small studio, where Augustus was thought to withdraw for privacy.

The decorations on the walls and vaulted ceilings were found almost intact in some parts of the building, while in others they had to be pieced back together from a myriad of fragments.

“The level of preservation of the frescoes and the colors is extraordinary,” said Rome’s Mayor Walter Veltroni during a presentation of the rooms to journalists.

“It bears witness to the wonders of a city which is like a box of hidden treasures,” he said.

The rooms will open to the public on March 2 together with the house of Livia, Augustus’ wife, but visitors will only be allowed to enter in small groups to avoid damaging the delicate frescoes.

Excavations on the Palatine in recent decades have turned up a steady stream of precious archaeological finds, but preserving the ruins of ancient Rome is costly.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said some 12 million euros ($17.59 million) would be devoted to the conservation of the site, an amount that some experts say is a third of what is needed every year.

Reporting by Silvia Aloisi, editing by Paul Casciato