The Mausoleum of Augustus

It’s not for everyone, but I find Piazza Augusto Imperatore fascinating. The centerpiece of this piazza (which includes the Ara Pacis museum (building designed by Richard Meier) as well as multiple interesting Fascist era buildings) is the remains of the giant, circular mausoleum of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus.

Depiction of a statue of Augustus on the fence/exhibit (discussed below)

Unfortunately, the Mausoleum of Augustus has been severely neglected and not open to the public for 80(!) years. Promises have been repeatedly made to do some much needed stabilization and open it to the public, but it sits there, surrounded by fences, completely inaccessible.

In 2006 a winner to a competition was announced for a project to restore and re-integrate the surrounding piazza. The plans included restoring the Mausoleum. A completion date of 2009 was announced; yet, 2009 came and went. I was again heartened by a 2017 announcement that 6 million euros had been dedicated to both stabilizing the Mausoleum and opening it to the public. What’s changed since 2017? Not much — including nothing new on the official website. Seriously, 6 million euros and you can’t post an update every couple of months? The date for the Mausoleum’s completion was stated as “Spring 2019” (I’m writing this in January 2020).

Somewhat like the much-later Mausoleum of Hadrian — now Castel Sant’Angelo — the Mausoleum of Augustus was an enormous, round structure built to hold the ashes of the first imperial family. We have a number of drawings and potential reconstructions of what it may have looked like, starting with the engraving at the top of this post.

Piranesi’s drawing of the floor plan of the mausoleum

Here’s what it looked like when I was last in Rome, a few months ago:

Mausoleum of Augustus in 2019 — note the orange construction netting.

 

Mausoleum, side view.

 

A bit of the Richard Meier Ara Pacis museum is just visible behind the Mausoleum.

 

This is as close as you can get.

I appreciate that the fence surrounding the site contains an exhibit on the history of the Mausoleum, in all its many uses over the centuries. The information is in Italian and English, and has some cool visual effects as some of the graphics move and change as you walk by.

Depiction of the Mausoleum in 28 C.E.

 

In 1546, it was used as a fortress.

 

Copy of a painting when the Mausoleum was used as an amphitheater for bull fights.

 

It also went through a period as a garden.

 

In 1907, when it was an auditorium.

 

The auditorium addition being demolished…

 

… and the ruins in 2017.

Not only the Mausoleum, but the buildings around the piazza also deserve to be interpreted and explained.

One of the major Fascist era buildings of the piazza.

 

One of many artistic touches throughout the piazza, above a sign for Piazza Augusto Imperatore.

 

An overpass, which, if you look closer…

 

… is marked with fasces and “A XIX” to refer to the 19th year of the Fascist Era, 1941.

This piazza, the Mausoleum, and the Fascist-era buildings are just waiting to be discovered by locals and tourists alike. This piazza could be a true gem, reflecting the many different eras of this incredible city.

Which brings me to the punch line. After I had already drafted this blog post a week ago, but just before I posted it, some news came out. If true, it’s some great news: the Mausoleum is scheduled to open in “Spring 2020.” So, I revised this post to take out the worst of my griping about the lack of progress. But we’ll have to see if it’s open when I return to Rome this spring.

Apparently, there will be a very cool virtual reality program that shows you the Mausoleum over the ages, including the different uses discussed on the exhibit fence (video in Italian only, below). Fingers crossed that this actually happens — and that they will start the effort to bring the whole piazza back to what it should be. ‘Course, I may just be Charlie Brown trying to kick that football.