Rome to restore the Mausoleum of Augustus | DW Travel | DW | 23.05.2017
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Rome to restore the Mausoleum of Augustus

After years of decay Rome is now to restore and open to the public the final resting place of Roman Emperor Augustus. It will open to the public in 2019.

The scaffolding will be up at the Augustus Mausoleum, towering above Rome's historic center close to the Tiber River and famous Spanish Steps, while two years as restoration work takes place.

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi said she hopes the return of the mausoleum will give the city a little more quality of life. Its location is intended to become a meeting place for both Romans and tourists.  

Italien Rom Mausoleum Kaiser Augustus (picture-alliance/akg-images)

The original mausoleum without later additions

Biggest circular burial place of antiquity  

Augustus, who was born Gaius Octavius in 63 B.C., was heir to his great-uncle Gaius Julius Caesar. Following his death, Augustus defeated Caesar's assassins and became the sole ruler in Rome until his own death in 14 AD.     

Pillaged in 410 by Visigoths, who scattered the emperors' ashes, the mausoleum was converted into a castle in the Middle Ages by the Colonna family, claiming to be descendants of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which was demolished by cannon fire during a clash with a rival family, the Orsinis. By the 16th century, the site had been turned into a formal garden with a palazzo built into the walls.

After serving as a shelter for political refugees from Florence, it was transformed into the "Giostra della Bufala" and used for bullfights in the 18th century. After Pope Pius VIII put an end to that past-time, the building was used for fireworks displays and theater performances. The mausoleum was converted into an elegant concert hall in 1908.

Italien Rom Statue Kaiser Augustus (picture-alliance/Heritage Images/CM Dixon)

Statue of Augustus

But the mausoleum fell into ruin after the auditorium was closed in 1936 and came to be regarded as an example of Italy's inability to preserve its cultural heritage. In 2014, the 2,000th anniversary of Emperor Augustus' death, there was a public outcry following a burst water pipe that caused more damage to the ailing building. In view of the rising number of visitors to Rome, the city decided to restore this ancient site to its former glory. Mayor Raggi, while visiting the project, said Rome was full of places that had stories to tell.

Italien Rom Restaurierung Augustus-Mausoleum (picture-alliance/dpa/E. Ferrari)

The mausoleum was created to serve as the final resting place for the imperial family

Ancient heritage as a tourist attraction

Augustus had the mausoleum built 28 BC for himself and the imperial family, in what was then the undeveloped and unspoiled Campus Martius in the north of the city. The emperor did not suffer from false modesty and as a result the completed edifice measured 45 meters in height and almost 90 meters in diameter. Augustus's Mausoleum was far larger than what has come to be called Castel Sant'Angelo, which is located on the opposite bank of the Tiber, 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."

Italien Rom Ara Pacis Augustae am Lungotevere in Augusta (picture-alliance/DUMONT Bildarchive)

"Ara Pacis Augustae" (Augustus' peace altar) in Rome

The mausoleum is only a short walk from the Spanish Steps and the Piazza del Popolo and next to the Ara Pacis, for which star architect Richard Meier created a successful cover, many tourist routes cross at the mausoleum.

Italien Rom 2000. Todestag von Kaiser Augustus (picture-alliance/dpa/O. Blum)

Video projection to mark the 2000 anniversary of Augustus' death

Massive donations are making it possible

Restoration work began on October 31, with the first stage involving clearing out all the trash and weeds that had accumulated in and around the monument, which is crowned with Cypress trees. Then the 13,600 square meters of brickwork will have to be cleaned and repaired and the 8,000-square-meter venue shored up against seeping rainwater.

Some 153 architectural elements from the mausoleum have been relocated while the work is ongoing. The work has also turned up several archeological findings and more are expected as the project continues, according to Claudio Parisi Presicce, a cultural heritage official.

Italien Rom Pressekonferenz zu Augustus Mausoleum (picture-alliance/Pacific Press/A. Ronchini)

Romans are expected to be given free access to the mausoleum

The second stage of restoration work is now underway. Restoration works aims to make the monument not only safe but also suitable to be open to the public - this includes installing lighting, fire protection measures and video surveillance.

These accoutrements come at a price. The city of Rome has committed 4.25 million euros into the project and telecommunications company TIM donated a further 6 million euros to the restoration project. 

This isn’t the first time a business has contributed to restoring Rome's crumbling history. Last year, a three-year cleaning project of the Colosseum was completed, funded by a grant from luxury-goods maker Tod's, which is also funding a new floor for the arena. Fashion brand Fendi has also shelled out millions of dollars in recent years to clean and preserve the iconic Trevi Fountain, and Bulgari funded a similar project for the Spanish Steps.

Italien Rom Pressekonferenz zu Augustus Mausoleum (picture-alliance/Pacific Press/M. Nardone)

Eye-catcher at the mausoleum - the surrounding building fence has a message

Romans to be granted free access

Should everything go according to plan, the work will be completed by April 2019. At which point, according to Mayor Virginia Raggi: "the mausoleum will be given back to the people of Rome and visitors from around the world." However subject to different conditions-  as deputy mayor Luca Bergamo stressed, the city hopes that the people of Rome will be able to enjoy this historical heritage free of charge, unlike the eagerly anticipated hordes of tourists - who will be expected to pay an entrance fee.

At the moment Rome's citizens and tourists can enjoy the view of the building site fence - which also comes free of charge. Depictions of face masks and animated illustrations on elaborate displays spanning 300 meters around the mausoleum site tell the story of the monument.


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