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Golden Moment

The Roman emperor Nero was widely loathed, particularly after the great fire of Rome in 64 AD (which lasted nine days and destroyed the crowded heart of the city). Though Nero denied involvement, he is thought by some scholars to have torched the city as the first step in a comprehensive urban planning project. After the fire, Nero began constructing a planned classical city, with wide roads, large open spaces, and plenty of Greek sculpture. He also built himself a new downtown palace: the Golden House.

After Nero's overthrow in 68 AD, his reform-minded successor Flavius Vespasian ordered that a new stadium (the famed Colosseum) be built on the site of Nero's palace. With relish, his engineers promptly drove pilings right through its living and dining quarters...

[The stadium, financed by the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish temple, could be flooded to stage large-scale naval contests and boasted such modern amenities as a retractable roof (sail-like awnings) and pay toilets.]

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