He famously fiddled while Rome burned, but a rock musical based on the life of the Emperor Nero has provoked a clamour of outrage in the Eternal City.
The musical will be performed on a huge covered stage that has been specially erected amid the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum, once the beating heart of the empire.
The 45ft-high stage has been erected on top of the Palatine Hill, where emperors once built richly-decorated palaces, and overlooks the Colosseum, just a few hundred yards away.
The stage and seating, which will accommodate 3,000 spectators, has been described as an eyesore by archaeologists and heritage campaigners, who say it should never have been allowed.
The musical, “Divine Nero – Rock Opera” – will run from June 1 until September 10, with campaigners worried that blaring music will spoil the ambience of the ancient site.
“The stage that has been built on top of the Palatine, in the heart of the Roman Forum, is beyond the realms of imagination. It tramples on the protection of the area,” said Nathalie Naim, a city councilor. “It’s absurd that such a large structure should have been given authorisation.”
Valeria Grilli, of the Italian Environment Fund, said: “The people who are meant to be preserving our cultural heritage have allowed a music show that has one objective – to make money.”
The building of the stage has blocked an important archaeological dig, experts say. A team of French archaeologists was due to start a dig at the site this summer but have been told that they no longer have access.
The stage is located close to where Nero built a sumptuous, rotating dining hall to show off his wealth and power. Described in detail by the Roman historian Suetonius, its remains were found in 2009.
The dig should have resumed in May and the French archaeologist in charge of the project was “almost in tears, beside himself,” said Filippo Coarelli, a professor of archaeology from Perugia University in Umbria.
“They were told at the last minute that the dig has been suspended indefinitely,” Prof Coarelli told La Repubblica newspaper. “Within the site are heavy lorries and huge cranes – practically the whole area has been taken over,” he said.
“This is a very fragile archaeological area and the stage has been built above the remains of a temple dedicated to [Roman emperor] Heligobalus. It’s unacceptable that such a place can be used for a spectacle like this. It’s a mess.”
Heritage officials defended the event, saying that it would bring in much-needed revenue for further exploration of the archaeological site.
The organisers will pay the city of Rome €250,000 for the use of the location, as well as three per cent of ticket sales, and have pledged not to damage the site.
The musical, to be performed in Italian and English, will boast special effects and have a cast of dancers, acrobats and actors who will recount the story of Nero’s tumultuous life.
Regarded by historians as an ineffectual and brutal emperor, Nero ruled from 37 AD - 68 AD. When much of Rome was destroyed in a fire, he attempted to divert blame from himself to the Christians, then a small religious sect, prompting a campaign of persecution.
He built a vast palace, known as the Domus Aurea or Golden House, and erected a giant gilded statue of himself, known as the Colossus, which gave its name to the Colosseum amphitheatre. Deserted by his legions and declared a public enemy by the Senate, he committed suicide in 68 AD.