If you find your imagination stretching to picture Rome as it was two millennia ago, make sure to check out this "new" ancient site just a stone's throw from Piazza Venezia. As commonly done in Renaissance-era Rome, 16th-century builders filled in the ancient structures with landfill, using them as foundations for Palazzo Valentini. Unwittingly, the builders also preserved the ruins beneath, which archaeologists rediscovered in 2007 excavations. It took another three years for the two opulent, Imperial-era villas to open to the public on a regular basis.
Descending below Palazzo Valentini, which has been the seat of the Provincia of Rome since 1873, is like walking into another world. Not only are the villas luxurious and well preserved, still retaining their beautiful mosaics, inlaid marble floors, and staircases, but—unlike any other site in Rome—the ruins have been made to "come alive" through multimedia. Sophisticated light shows re-create what it all would have
looked like while a dramatic, automated voiceover accompanies you as you walk through the rooms, pointing out cool finds (the heating system for the private baths, the mysterious fragment of a statue, the porcelain dumped here when part of the site became a dump in the Renaissance) and evidence of tragedy (the burn layer from a fire that ripped through the home). If it sounds corny, hold your skepticism: It's an effectively done, excellent way to actually "experience" the villa as ancient Romans would have—and learn a lot about ancient Rome in the process. A multimedia presentation halfway through also shows you what central Rome would have looked like 2,000 years ago.
The multimedia tour takes about an hour. There are limited spots, so book in advance over the phone, online, or by stopping by in person; make sure you book the English tour. The tour should be enjoyable for older children, but little ones might be afraid of how dark the rooms can be.