The Torlonia, their collection and a new museum: a true event!
Along with the exhibition on Raphael, it should have…
Smack dab in the middle of Rome a giant, ancient monument has been sitting empty & visitor-less for many decades now. This is bound to end in the spring, though, when the Mausoleum of Augustus finally reopens to the public.
The shrine, located by the Ara Pacis Museum close to Via del Corso, has been affected by restoration works that have been ongoing for several years – the last part of which, starting in 2017, were funded by Italian telecommunication company TIM.
To be perfectly blunt, the Mausoleum is the family tomb of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, that is to say the house of emperor Augustus. It was one of his many projects after winning the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, and it served both as a vault and an archive – it originally housed the Res Gestae Divi Augusti inscription, the marble slabs listing Augustus’ accomplishments.
That same inscription now features prominently on one side of the adjacent Ara Pacis Museum, the white modern building preserving the “Altar of Augustan Peace”, commissioned by the Senate of Rome to celebrate the emperor’s return from Gaul and Spain.
A first attempt at restoring the Mausoleum fell short in 2014, and this latest batch of renovations was supposed to end in 2019: what the archaeologists working on the site are finding is a place – like many others that were built during the ancient Roman era – that underwent many changes of use.
For instance, by the end of the 10th century, the monument had been buried under debris and silt from the river Tiber. From afar, it looked like a hill – and a strategic one at that, so it’s no wonder that in the 12th century, the powerful Colonna family turned it into a fort. When they were exiled from Rome, the area changed hands several times, to become a chapel, a garden, a vineyard, a quarry, even a circus!
In its most recent transformation, it was used for over two centuries as a concert hall, built on top of the upper floors of the mausoleum – it would have continued that way if the fascist regime had not decided to strictly associate itself with the undertakings of Augustus.
However, in spite of the grandiose project to turn the surroundings into a martial piazza, the shrine was never renovated, and laid abandoned for over 80 years.
The work of the engineers and archaeologists in the past six years has been to consolidate and, at the same time, go back to the essence of the original monument.
Over 50% of the Mausoleum of Augustus as it used to look is gone forever. Pillaged, destroyed, or its parts removed and relocated in other parts of the city: if you look at the drawing at the end of this paragraph you can get a clear idea of how it used to look like. As rebuilding isn’t possibile, as it would imply tearing down all the buildings in the immediate area, the aim is to preserve what’s left.
It doesn’t look like it’s huge to the passers-by who walk the “Tridente” fashion district nearby, but believe us when we say that this was the biggest round-shaped tomb in all of Europe, even bigger than the Mausoleum of emperor Hadrian – which we now call Castel Sant’Angelo.
Aside from its obvious architectural importance, this particular monument was also the final resting place of many important characters in ancient Rome, not just Augustus: from Agrippa to Germanicus, from Octavia to Nero, to Claudius, Caligula and Tiberius… it’s humbling to finally have a place to ponder on their ventures, their lives, even their wrongdoings.
The opening is scheduled to happen in the month of April, presumably in conjunction with the anniversary of the Founding of Rome, on April 21st.
According to the city administration, admission should be free of charge.
The Mausoleum of Augustus is easily reached from the subway station at Spagna (Spanish Steps) and is walking distance from our managed accommodations Via di Ripetta or Paradiso Penthouse.