Nero's Golden Palace ceiling collapses due to rain
A large section of the ceiling has collapsed at Roman Emperor Nero's famous 2000-year-old Golden Palace due to heavy winter rain.
Nero's Domus Aurea or Golden Palace has had a troubled history and has been opened and closed several times over the last few decades as restorers and structural engineers struggle to keep the mighty complex from collapsing.
In 2005 the palace was shut after masonry fell from flaking walls and a high level of dangerous seepage was detected, it reopened a few months later only to close again a short while later for further work to make it completely safe.
Officials said that around 60 square metres (645 sq ft) of ceiling had collapsed and pictures taken above ground showed a huge hole in the ground with buckled metal fencing balancing precariously on the edge.
Firefighters carried out a search of the area but there were no reports of any people being trapped or injured in the collapse which follows months of unseasonably wet weather in Rome.
It was not immediately clear if the part of the ceiling that had collapsed was the same one that had fallen before.
Piero Melloni, a civil protection official who was at the scene, said: "It's obvious that the rain caused the collapse.
"It appears that a large part of the ceiling in the central vault has collapsed. We are working to make it safe and fire crews are checking to see if anyone is trapped but we don't think there is."
They were also joined from officials and archaeologists from the Italian Ministry of Culture who were also examining the area and Rome's centre right mayor Gianni Alemanno said: "I am very worried. I am keen to see what the archaeologists say."
The top of the Domus, which overlooks the Forum to one side and the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum to another, is covered with parks, trees and roads whose weight and polluting effect are a constant threat.
It was built after the great fire that destroyed Rome and historians believe that Nero allowed the fire to rage unchecked just so he could build his lavish palace.
After Nero's suicide in AD 68, the palace was stripped of its marble, jewels and ivory within a decade and it was later filled in and built over.
It was eventually rediscovered in the 15th Century after a local fell through the ground and into the remains of the structure.
Within days people were letting themselves down on ropes so they could admire the frescoes that remained among them artists Raphael and Michelangelo who carved their names on the walls.
Last September archaeologists have uncovered what is believed to be the famous rotating dining room of the Golden Palace a room which moved thanks to a complicated feat of Roman civil engineering that involved spheres underneath powered by canals of water.