ROME The restored ruins of two opulent Roman villas and private thermal baths have opened to the public here, equipped with a 3-D reconstruction that offers a virtual tour of the luxurious residences found in downtown Rome.
A 2,000 square-yard complex, dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries, features well-preserved mosaic and marble floors, bathtubs and collapsed walls that archaeologists believe belong to a domus the richly decorated residences of Rome's wealthy and noble families.
"We found part of a residential high class neighborhood, where probably senators and knights used to live," archaeologist Paola Valentini said. Visitors will be able to walk on glass catwalks above the villas' underground remains, immersed in semidarkness just a few feet from the modern city.
Another historic site, Emperor Augustus' frescoed palace atop Rome's Palatine Hill, will partially reopen to the public March 2 after decades of restoration work, officials said.
Palatine is one of the city's famous seven hills.
Since the palace was closed in the 1980s, experts have spent over $17 million to restore the porticoed garden of Rome's first emperor and piece together precious frescoes that time had reduced to fragments. The palace was built in the 1st century B.C.
Groups of up to 10 people will be guided through the decorative marvels in Augustus' studio and in the hall where the emperor received guests, as well as rooms in the nearby palace built for his wife Livia.
Augustus seized control in the power struggles following the assassination of his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, and ruled Rome from 29 B.C. until his death in 14 A.D. Revered by contemporaries as a wise and godlike leader, he ushered in a period of peace and prosperity for the empire.