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Alas, poor Augustus PDF Print E-mail
Apr 06, 2013 at 03:04 PM

Corriere della Sera

ImageGaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Divi Filius Augustus  (lived 63 BC - to 14 AD) who as heir to Julius Caesar went on to become the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, is not getting a fair shake from his modern-day descendents. Over the last 20 years, the city of Rome has been renovated and enhanced in a variety of ways: there are more pedestrian walkways and piazzas, a world-class concert hall complex in full swing, museums that have been modernized and revamped and new exhibition spaces built by internationally-known architects.

But one monument, the mausoleum honoring the man once known as Octavius - you know, the one who defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony at the sea battle of Actium (Greece) in 31 BC, who conquered Egypt and who ruled the Roman Empire for 41 years beginning in 27 BC - has been more or less abandoned: to stray cats, unmowed grass, dog poo, homeless illegal immigrants, and litterers of any nationality. Even worse, a major 17 million euro renovation and urban redevelopment plan approved by the city government that was to be completed prior to the 2000th anniversary of the Emperor's death (August 19th, 2014) appears to have been put on hold for lack of funds.




The tomb built by the emperor in 28 BC on the Campus Martius in Rome (it is located on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, near the corner with Via di Ripetta, and just a stone's throw from the Tiber river, the church of San Carlo al Corso and the newly refurbished Museum of the Ara Pacis) has come on hard times before. In 410, during the sack of Rome by Alaric, it was pillaged by the marauding Visigoths. In the Middle Ages the artificial tumulus was fortified as a castle occupied by the noble Colonna family until their (temporary) banishment in 1167. That was when its down-spiraling decline began and it fell into ruin.

The circular mausoleum (the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, now Castel Sant'Angelo, is also circular in form) is made up of several concentric rings of earth and brick and planted with cypresses on top. Reportedly, it was originally capped with a conical roof and a bronze statue of Augustus. Twin pink granite obelisks flanked the arched entryway. The completed Mausoleum measured 90 m (295 ft) in diameter by 42 m (137 ft) in height. Inside the mausoleum, niches held urns with the ashes of the deceased members, relatives and friends of the imperial family including Augustus, his wife Livia, Germanicus, Augustus' grandnewphew, Nero, Caligula, Tiberius, Claudius and his son Britannicus, Poppaea Sabina, wife of Nero and, finally, Nerva. The ashes no doubt have been scattered and lost but a skilled reconstruction would surely be able to re-create its original décor and arrangement.

It was not until the mid-1930s that the site was opened and given prominence as an archaeological landmark, along with the newly reconstructed Ara Pacis (the "Altar of Augustan Peace" is an altar to Peace, the Roman goddess and was and consecrated in 9 BC by the Roman Senate in celebration of the peace brought to the Empire by Augustus' military victories in Spain and Gaul. The restoration of the mausoleum had a place of prominence featured in Benito Mussolini's ambitious attempts to connect the aspirations of Italian Fascism with the former glories of the Roman Empire. Buildings in the area were demolished to make room for a large, monumental area. But the project only went so far and since the end of World War II little attention has been paid to the site.

Since 2006, and following the refurbishing of the area surrounding the Ara Pacis, the city of Rome has sought to find a solution for the area and an international competition was won by an Italian-German team of archeologists and urbanists. However, since then things have again come to a standstill.

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