Monday, 30 January 2017

Rome 365 - Ara Pacis

The Ara Pacis is the most complete (and beautiful) monument to Emperor Augustus in all of Rome. The Altar 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.

The decorative reliefs on the screen that surround the altar are divided into two sections. The lower level is richly decorated with intertwined acanthus plants as well as birds, small animals and insects.

The upper frieze on the front wall shows the celebration of Lupercalia, the founding of Rome, with a procession of the Emperor's family, led by Augustus himself. 

 The upper 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.

The ornamentation on the inside walls are a series of esquisite garlands sculptured in relief that resemble the painted ones in the House of Livia on the Palatine.

The Ara Pacis originally stood in the Campus Martius, in what is now Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucinda. It was positioned near a huge obelisk sundial, the shadow from which fell upon the altar on Augustus's birthday.

The aforementioned sundial was moved in the 18th century to
Piazza Montecitorio. 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.

All this would be reason enough to visit Ara Pacis but now there is an added bonus that enables you to go back in time with augmented reality. Slipping on a visor, the fully glory of the monument with its original bright colours comes to life right in front of your eyes and you also get to see its transformation over time. Details here


The exterior wall of the museum contains the Res Gestae which lists all the achievements of Emperor Augustus throughout his reign.

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