Sunday, 3 March 2013

Brick to Marble

"I found Rome built simply of bricks, I left her clad in marble" claimed the mighty Emperor Augustus. As we shall see, this was by no means an empty boast.
Augustus as Pontifex Maximus
Augustus ruled as Emperor from 27BC to AD14 , one of the longest and most successful reigns of all the Emperors. In his time much of Rome was rebuilt & began to take shape as the city that we know today. An extensive road network that spread across the Italian peninsula was constructed and for most of the Mediterranean region it was a time of stability & calm.
Day 1
We start our exploration of Augustus's Rome on the Palatine Hill. Buy your ticket at the Via di San Gregorio entrance to the Palatine. Your ticket is valid for two consecutive days & covers entrance to the Forum & Colosseum as well as the Palatine. 
Augustus lived very modestly here and today we can still see four rooms of the home that he occupied before becoming Emperor in the House of Augustus (not to be confused with the Domus Augustina which means the private residence of later 'Augusts' or Emperors). Only a few visitors are permitted at any one time but it is amazing to see the frescoed walls & ceilings that Augustus himself would have seen.
Alongside the House of Augustus are the remains of the Temple of Apollo, dedicated by Augustus in 28BC. The God Apollo was said to have helped Augustus defeat Mark Anthony & Cleopatra at Actium  and thus he became the favourite deity of Augustus!
Unfortunately, the House of Livia, wife of Augustus, is closed at the time of writing but we will see beautifully preserved wall decorations from another of Livia's homes later in the itinerary.

Before you make your way down from the Palatine do spend some time in the Farnese Gardens and take in the view of the Forum from the terrace.
View of Forum from Palatine

Obviously there is much to see in the Forum and a good guidebook is essential. The legacy of Augustus can be seen here too, most notably in the Basilica Julia. The basilica was started by Julius Caesar and completed  by Augustus. It was used as law courts and the reconstruction pictured below gives an idea of the huge scale of the building. All that remains now is the vast floor and outdoor steps.

Basilica Julia

If you look closely at the steps you will see gaming boards made by the many onlookers who idled away their time between cases.

Between the Basilica Julia and the Temple of Castor and Pollux are the remains of the Arch of Augustus, built to celebrate the victories of Augustus in Dalmatia, Egypt and at Actium.
The final link to Augustus in the Forum is the Temple of Divus Julius. The temple was built on the spot of Julius Caesar's funeral pyre and was dedicated by Augustus in 29BC. To this day flowers are regularly placed on this spot.

After you have toured the Forum exit on to the Via dei Fori Imperiali and cross the road. Look beyond the statue of Augustus to view the remains of the Forum that he built to commemorate his victory over Brutus & Cassius who were responsible for the murder of Julius Caesar. Most of the remains are now buried underneath the Via dei Fori Imperiali, built by Mussolini but parts of the  temple at the centre of the forum are still visible.
View of Temple of Mars Ultor & firewall
 from Via Baccina

The temple was dedicated to Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) and was erected by Augustus in memory of Julius Caesar who was his uncle and adoptive father.
The temple is backed by a large wall of grey stone which was built to prevent fire spreading  to the forums from the densely populated Suburra which lay beyond it.
From the Forum of Augustus walk in front of the dazzlingly white Vittorio Emanuele monument and around to the steep steps that lead to the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. According to legend the church is built on the spot that the Tiburtine Sibyl foretold the birth of Christ to Emperor Augustus. Augustus raised an altar - an aracoeli, hence the name of the church.
Carry on walking down until you reach Teatro Marcello. This was  completed in 13BC by Augustus who named it in honour of his nephew Marcellus. 80 years older than the Colosseum,whose structure it echoes, Teatro Marcello could seat 20,000 people.   

Carry on walking down to the river, turn right and then left at Ponte Fabricio, past the Synagogue and straight ahead to the Portico d'Octavia. This was an important passage between the forums and the theatre areas. It was originally built in 146BC but was rebuilt in 27BC by Augustus and dedicated to his sister. The portico itself enclosed temples, libraries and public rooms and acted as a foyer to the Teatro Marcello.
You are now in the Jewish Ghetto , one of the most historic areas of the city. In Republican & Imperial times the Jewish people were treated well.The first Jews came to Rome as traders in the 2nd century BC. Later, Many were bought back to Rome as slaves when Pompey invaded Judea. Julius Caesar gave them the right to settle anywhere in the Roman Empire and Augustus even organised the grain distribution to avoid the Jewish Sabbath.It was Pope Paul IV in the 16th century that decreed that the Jewish population should be confined to one area & thus the Ghetto came into being.
For 'foodie' travelers this area is a delight where you can sample typical Jewish cooking which has had such an influence on Roman cuisine. Right next to Portico d'Octavia is Giggetto who serve carciofi alla Guidia (whole fried artichokes) all year round.

Carciofi alla Guidia
Not far from Giggetto is Nonna Betta - a Kosher restaurant and a little further along Via Portico d'Octavia you will find Il Boccione, where the Limentani family have baked traditional Jewish cakes and bread for three generations. The ricotta cakes are a particular favourite. 
Almost opposite Il Boccione, on Piazza delle Cinque Scole, is Sora Margherita. A buzzy, frenetic trattoria with no outdoor sign which serves up Roman classics. 
On Via Santa Maria del Pianto is Beppe e I Suoi Formaggio, a speciality cheese store that also serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, Aperitivo & dinner.
Finally, for that gelato fix there is Alberto Pica, actually outside the Jewish Ghetto, on Via Seggiola. The speciality here are  flavoured rice gelato.
Hopefully you will have found sustenance before heading back to your accommodation. 
We start today's journey at the Pantheon or 'temple of all gods'. The building that we see today was actually constructed by Hadrian but the original Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa, friend and son in law of Emperor Augustus. Hadrian acknowledged Agrippa's work in the inscription that we see on the front.

The temple was part of a huge leisure complex which included public gardens and baths which were fed by the Virgo aqueduct, again constructed by Agrippa.

The aqueduct is still in use today.Indeed the water in the Trevi fountain is supplied by the very same aqueduct.
Walk along the left hand side of the Pantheon to Piazza della Minerva and continue on to Via Cestari. A slight detour on to Via dell'Arco della Ciambella will take you to the remains of the Baths of Agrippa. 

Remains of Baths of Agrippa on Via dell'Arco della  Ciambella
Retrace your steps, cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele II & continue down to Via delle Botteghe Oscure. Here you will find the Museo Crypta Balbi. This area was once part of the Campus Martius, land used for military training. In the time of Augustus it was intensively developed by his associates & family members, one of whom was Lucius Balbus. He built the Theatre of Balbus. A crypta is a courtyard in which the theatre goers would have taken refreshment, the remains of which can be seen as part of the guided tour in this museum.  The purpose of the museum is to show the changes in the city over the centuries.
After your visit to the museum, walk to Via di Torre Argentina and purchase a bus ticket from the automated machines or kiosk. You can catch any of the following buses : 87,492,628,70 or 81. Take the bus four stops & alight at Lungotevere Marzo. From here walk to Piazza Augusto Imperatore and your lunch stop - ReCafe. The specialty here is Neapolitan pizza but more importantly, for our itinerary, a table near the second floor window affords a marvelous view of of the tomb of Augustus. 
Much more modest than the mausoleum built by Hadrian the Castel Sant'Angelo, the tomb of Augustus reflected the more restrained spirit of the Roman Republic. Augustus began the tomb for himself and his family in 27BC. The first person buried here was Augustus's nephew, Marcellus, who died young in 23BC. Augustus was laid to rest here in AD14. Originally the tomb was planted with cypresses & topped with a bronze statue of the Emperor. The obelisks that now stand in Piazza del Quirinale & Piazza dell'Esquiline once flanked the entrance to the mausoleum. 

After lunch it is time for the Ara Pacis, the most complete (and beautiful) monument to Augustus in all of Rome. The Altar of Peace was built in 13BC to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories in Gaul & Spain. It didn't always stand on this spot , as we will see later, but fragments were reassembled here in the 1930's to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Augustus's inauguration as Emperor.
Before we look in detail at the altar itself,we should look at the museum in which it is housed. I personally love the Richard Meier designed building, the first modern architectural project to be built in the historic centre since the second world war. It did attract a lot of local criticism initially, despite being such a democratic design which allows passers by to look in and see the Ara Pacis in marvelous surroundings. It is constructed in Travertine marble, an historic Roman material.

Once in the museum it may be a good idea to purchase the booklet that will identify the faces depicted on the walls that surround the altar itself. The frieze on the front wall shows the celebration of Lupercalia, the founding of Rome, with a procession of the Emperor's family. The back wall has a depiction of Mother Earth holding two babies, supposedly Lucius & Gaius - Augustus's grandchildren & planned successors.The veiled figure is believed to be their mother, Julia, Augustus's daughter. Both children died young.
When you have finished studying this Ancient Roman version of a home movie, walk along Via Ripetta to Piazzo del Popolo. In the centre of the Piazza is an obelisk bought from Egypt to Rome by Augustus. It originally stood in the Circus Maximus.
Take the middle road from the piazza - the Via del Corso. This was originally known as the Via Flaminia and was the road that Augustus would have taken on his military campaigns in Gaul and Spain.
Look for the church of San Lorenzo in Lucinda, a liitle way along on your right. The Piazza of tha same name is where the Ara Pacis originally stood. It was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial , which we shall see shortly. On Augustus's birthday the shadow from the sundial fell upon the altar.                                                                                         
Carry on walking until you reach Piazza Colonna, dominated by the column of Marcus Aurelias and Palazzo Chigi. The latter is now the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister.
 If you cross the piazza you will come to Piazza Montecitorio and the aforementioned sundial which was moved here in the 18th century. The obelisk on which the sundial is mounted was one of the first that Augustus brought back from Egypt and is the fourth biggest of the thirteen obelisks now standing in Rome.
From here take Via Guglia then turn right on to Via Pastini which will bring you back to the Pantheon where we started our journey this morning.
Day 3
Today we will explore Palazzo Massimo which is very easy to reach as it is within sight of Termini station. Your ticket from Crypta Balbi includes entrance to this museum too. Palazzo Massimo is a fascinating museum which is often overlooked. From the point of view of this itinerary I will concentrate on those exhibits that relate to Augustus but you could easily spend the whole morning taking in the various collections.
The first item of interest is in room V - the statue of Augustus as Pontifex Maximus, head of the Roman priesthood. The head & hands of this statue are made of the finest Greek marble whilst the body is made of Italian Luna marble.
Make your way up to the second floor where you will find jaw dropping wall paintings.You could almost imagine that you are a guest of Livia, wife of Augustus, when you enter the room that holds the wall decoration taken from her villa at Prima Porta. Originally the decoration would have been in the triclinium, a dining pavilion half buried to keep guests cool in summer. Even before restoration took place over 20 botanical species and more than two dozen birds were identified in the wall painting.

In other rooms you can see wall paintings rescued from the riverside villa of Julia, daughter of Augustus, and her husband, Marcus Agrippa. The villa was built for their wedding, however, Agrippa died of a fever nine years after they were married. The decoration depicts theatrical masks, landscapes and mythological subjects.
This concludes our Augustus itinerary but I do have a couple of suggestions for lunch. If you like the idea of a picnic you could pick up food & drink from the supermarket situated downstairs in Termini station. Once you have the makings of an outdoor feast cross the bus station in front of Termini & head to the Baths of Diocletian/Terme Museum. You will find yourself in a garden that is a little oasis amongst the traffic chaos & a perfect place to picnic.

If you are not suffering from museum fatigue at this point you can use your ticket from Crypta Balbi & Palazzo Massimo to enter the Terme Museum. The ticket office is beyond the garden. Once inside you can admire the Michelangelo Cloister & the huge animal heads dotted around the fountain in the centre. Inside are hundreds of epigraphs which are fascinating........if you understand Latin!

If the idea of a picnic doesn't appeal then take Via Viminale from Palazzo Massimo. Almost opposite Teatro dell'Opera at Via Viminale 2, is Er Buchetto, a tiny 'hole in the wall' kind of place that serves authentic porchetta from Ariccia. You can wash this down with wine from Frascatti on tap. For next to nothing you can enjoy delicious food & a truly Roman experience.


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