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The tomb of Augustus in Rome to be restored after decades of neglect

by Andrea Carli

Rome’s first emperor Augustus, if he were still alive, would definitely appreciate it. But he would be less pleased to hear that Romans and tourists have to wait until (at least...) April 2019 to see the restoration on his tomb completed. The good news, at the moment, is that his Mausoleum, one of the most important monument of Ancient Rome, will be open to public.

Sadly, Rome’s artistic heritage, a priceless asset, is not always protected like it should be. Since 1970s this large tomb, which was built by the Roman Emperor in 28 BC in the area of Campus Martius and housed Augustus's ashes as well as those of the emperors of the Julio-Claudia dynasty (with the exception of Nero), has been abandoned and neglected. This ruin remained a ruin.

Now the municipality of Rome has launched the second phase of the recovery of this circular sepulchre thanks to a €6 million donation coming from an Italian telecommunications company (Fondazione TIM ).

Conservative restoration work started on October 31, thanks to €4.27 million allocated by Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the municipality of Rome.

“We are bringing the sparkle back to a masterpiece of ancient Rome, abandoned for years right in the heart of the city,” stressed mayor Virginia Raggi during the press conference.

It wasn’t and it will not be an “easy” restoration. The edifice is around 45 metres high and almost 90 metres in diameter. Augustus's Mausoleum was far larger than Hadrian's (now known to us as “Castel Sant'Angelo”) and was probably an imposing white marble cylinder, elegantly decorated and topped by a colossal bronze statue of Augustus, the marble copy of which is almost certainly the statue known as “Augustus of Prima Porta.”

To give new life to the spaces around the monument, the site will be surrounded by a green area measuring approximately 300 linear metres on the east, north and west sides, allowing the public to immerse themselves in the history of Augustus and the Mausoleum.

The area will be bordered by a hoarding featuring gold coloured images and texts on a black background, telling of the life of Rome's first emperor and the various uses of the sepulchre over the centuries. Twelve lenticular printed panels and five hollow masks showing the face of Augustus add surprise and depth to the tale, giving the optical illusion of movement in the images depicted and a three-dimensional feel.

Finally, the hoarding space will be “immersed” in a musical atmosphere that will offer pieces taken from the repertoire of the program of excellence of the period of the Auditorium of Augustus. In addition to the special features on the hoarding, the Mausoleum will be lit up every day from dusk by 55 varying-sized LED modules which will provide light of various colours that can be changed, creating spellbinding images.

The restoration project was envisaged by the archaeological excavations and studies aiming to acquire more in-depth and, very probably, definitive knowledge of the original architectonic structure of the Mausoleum and what still remains of its decoration.

The extent of the plundering that has taken place over the centuries, in fact, coupled with the complex, diversified architectonic transformations that have gradually altered the intended purpose of the monument, have given rise to great uncertainty about the various reconstruction hypotheses dating from the late 15th century to the present day.

During its millennial history Augustus’s mausoleum has been also an amphitheater to host the “Giostra della Bufala,” a spectacle similar to Spanish bullfights, and a stage for theatre performances used for banquets, circuses and various spectacles.

On May 13th, 1936 the Augusteo, one of the most famous temples of music in Europe, hosted its final concert: Bernardino Molinari conducted music by Rossini, Martucci, Paganini-Molinari, Respighi, Wagner and Verdi. Later the Mausoleum was to have become Mussolini's tomb, but this did not happen and the important monument was abandoned. Until today.


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