Ruins of Roman Villas Opening to Public

The restored ruins of two opulent Roman villas and private thermal baths will open to the public Saturday, along with a 3-D reconstruction that offers a virtual tour of the luxurious residences discovered in downtown Rome.

The 19,375-square-foot complex, dating from the second to fourth centuries, features well-preserved mosaic and marble floors, bathtubs and collapsed walls that archaeologists believe belonged 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.

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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. A 3-D virtual reconstruction recreates the elaborate decorations of the ancient residences through colored lights and projections.

The two villas were likely inhabited by a senator, his family and servants, and included libraries, halls, gardens, kitchens and stables, archaeologists said.

One villa was abruptly abandoned during a fire in the fifth century, they said.

Among the remains on display are parts of a basalt Roman road and a floor made of 500,000 multicolored mosaic tiles.

The site was excavated under Palazzo Valentini, a late 16th-century building housing the offices of the Lazio region, near the Roman Forum. Excavations began in 2005 and continue, archaeologists said.