Tne Ara Pacis Augustae, or altar of Augustan Peace, is a 2000 year old altar that takes pride of place in one of the only contemporary buildings within Rome’s city centre, designed in the early part of this century by architect Richard Meier.
That building is certainly an impressive one bordered with a wall made of local travertine (the real colour of the Colosseum that’s being uncovered bit by bit).
Inside it’s an oasis of cool and calm where Augustus’s marble creation takes centre stage. Overall the museum makes great use of video, interactive exhibits, models and interpretive panels to explain both the history and significance of this structure
So why an altar of peace? This beautiful structure was designed to commemorate Augustus’s victories in Spain and Gaul. Unveiled in July 13 BC, it was dedicated to the Roman goddess of Peace, and portrays Augustus’ vision of both civic and family life.
While today we are left with an exercise in white marble coolness, as the museum explains, the panels would originally have been beautifully decorated.
Outside the building, to the right in the picture below lies Augustus’s mausoleum, which itself looks set for something of a renaissance.
The mausoleum, one of the city’s obelisks, a sundial and the altar all originally were located on the Field of Mars (remembered in today’s Campo Marzio district) roughly in the area of the Via del Corso and built to interact with each other, and possibly the Pantheon too as this little model shows.
As the museum’s website explains, the site became lost to history with development and flooding caused by the Tiber. Rediscovery of its elements occurred from the 16th Century onwards under a later palace, with much of the work being supported by the Italian government in the 1930s to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Augustus. At this point the decision was made to rebuild the altar from the fragments available and house it a specially-designed pavilion close to Augustus’s Mausoleum. To safeguard the rebuilt structure, a more modern pavilion – today’s structure – was proposed in the late 1990s and finally opened in 2006..
And Augustus watches over the whole complex along with casts of other family members…
The Ara Pacis itself features in Augustus’s Res Gestae and so it’s appropriate that, back outside, the walls of the museum are decorated with that wording celebrating his achievements. This building certainly does that!