The Ara Pacis or "Altar of Peace" was erected in the first century B.C. to commemorate victories by the Emporer Augustus - and probably to be thankful that his rise to the emporership brought an end to a century of civil wars in Rome.
The altar was rebuilt during the Fascist era and is now a prime example of a Roman public monument as seen by the Romans. It is a square wall surrounding an altar. The wall is covered with Roman friezes.
“When I returned from Spain and Gaul, in the consulship of Tiberius Nero and Publius Quintilius, after successful operations in those provinces, the Senate voted in honor of my return the consecration of an altar to Pax Augusta in the Campus Martius, and on this altar it ordered the magistrates and priests and Vestal Virgins to make annual sacrifice.”
— from “Res Gestae Divi Augusti” the autobiography of Caesar Augustus (63 BC–AD 14)
SOMETHING NEW FOR SOMETHING OLD The 10 years that it took to complete a new building to house the Ara Pacis, gave renewed meaning to the phrase, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ Designed by American architect Richard Meier, this was the first new building in the heart of the city in almost 70 years! The inaugural opening was held on the 21st of April 2006, the city’s 2,759th birthday.
Finally we had an opportunity to visit this Roman treasure, a sacrificial altar. We tried on each of our previous two visits; each time it was closed. And now that it was open to the public, there was very little public there. More guards and staff members roamed the museum than did visitors. Sadly, this sight is not high on most tourists’ must-see lists; that is too bad for them, but good for those who do visit. It is possible to enjoy the altar in its new, bright and airy space, as well as the informative display in the basement, without fighting crowds.
A relief from the Altar’s eastern façade, Tellus, Mother Earth, is one of the most complete (see photo #5).
Inaugurated in 2006, the controversial Museo dell'Ara Pacis was designed by the renowned architect Richard Meier. This seemingly out of place, ultra modern structure was built to house and display the Ara Pacis Augustae, an important Roman "Altar to Peace" built by Emperor Augustus in the 1st century BC to celebrate the Pax Romana he established. This altar is considered to be a masterpiece of Roman art and sculpture. It was originally located in Campus Martius (near Teatro di Marcello) and was moved in the '30s by Mussolini to the existing location. Fragments of the Ara Pacis can also be found at Musée du Louvre in Paris. While I am not fond of building modern structures in the midst of older architecture, I must stay I did not find the museum offensive. You can be the judge.
The Mausoleum of Augustus lies east of the Castel Sant'Angelo just off the banks of the Tiber, and contains just about every member of the family. The plan of the tumulus was later redone on a larger scale in the design of Hadrian's Mausoleum, now the Castel Sant'Angelo. Today Romans walk their dogs at the base of the tumulus, which is all but ignored in favor of the Ara Pacis nearby.
The Ara Pacis (the Altar of Peace) is justly celebrated for its symbolic and religious friezes, most of which had been lost for centuries before being rediscovered and collected at their present site. This is a fee area, though often disregarded by the attendants.
After a seven-year wait, the Ara Pacis is finally open once again to the public. This monument is an altar of peace which was built in 9 B.C. to honour Augustus for his conquest of Gaul (France) and Spain, and to symbolise the peace and prosperity he brought to Rome and its empire. There has been great controversy surrounding the new building designed by architect Richard Meier to house and protect the monument, which is why it has been closed for so long. The building is actually not finished yet, but the scheduled opening went ahead anyway on April 21st because this is an important date in the history, or at least the legend of Rome. This is considered to be the date that Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus, on April 21st, 753 B.C., so the altar was opened on Rome's 2,759th birthday.
“I found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.”
— Augustus Caesar (63 BC-AD 14)
THE ETERNAL CITY Consecrated on the 30th of January 9 BC, the Ara Pacis was placed in the Campus Martius. That’s rich: an altar of peace on a field of war! After Rome fell to the Barbarians, the Altar was destroyed. Early in the 20th century, parts were traced to museums in Florence, Rome, the Vatican, and the Louvre. Other pieces were found during excavations in Rome during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1937 Mussolini ordered that the altar be reconstructed in a building beside the Tiber. Mussolini saw himself as a new Augustus! Il Duce’s pride in his new Ara Pacis was so strong that he included it on Hitler’s 1938 tour of Rome.
The new museum still stands by the River Tiber in the same spot where Mussolini built his enclosure for the Ara Pacis, and next to the very large, round, over-grown-with-grass, but closed, family tomb of Caesar Augustus.
This was a sacrificial altar and it was animals that were sacrificed; a marble cow’s scull, complete with horns à la Georgia O’Keeffe, can been seen amongst the flower garlands (see photo #3). Members of Augustus’s family are shown in procession in a high relief around the outside of the altar (details, see photos #1 & #2). Intricate vegetal forms from the Roman countryside are illustrated in low-relief friezes throughout the altar (detail, see photo #5).
The friezes on this 1st BC sacrificial altar are matched in few other places in Rome, though rivaled by the reliefs on the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the commemorative and victory columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius.
The Museum of the Altar of Peace is the first architectural work to have been built in the historic centre of Rome from the fall of Fascism until the present day. The project was carried out by Richard Meier and Partners Architects, who have designed several of the most noteworthy museums of the second half of the twentieth century.
The Altar of Peace is one of the finest examples of classical art. The Roman Senate voted for its construction in 13 B.C., to honour Augustus' return from the Provinces of France and Spain, where the emperor had been for the previous three years, consolidating both his own personal power and that of Rome, creating new roads and founding colonies. The altar was built next to the Via Flaminia, at the northernmost edge of the Field of Mars, but the alluvial nature of the ground and the repeated flooding of the Tiber, leaving layers of lime across the area, meant that the Altar was soon buried, and its memory lost completely. The bimillenium of Augustus? birth fell in 1937/8 and the decision was taken to rehabilitate the monument.
The project was entrusted to the archaeologist Giuseppe Moretti, and was achieved in the summer of 1938, inside a pavilion on the Via di Ripetta, built in great haste and based on a design by the architect Ballio Morpurgo.
The combination of its position on the Lungotevere and the inadequacy of the building it was housed in put the Altar of Peace at risk: it could not be protected from damage from traffic, exhaust gases, overheating, rising humidity and, finally, the oily and acidic dust which was being deposited on the marble and plaster surfaces.
The new museum complex has therefore been designed with a view to the monument?s conservation as well as to the atmosphere it creates. It also includes an anti-earthquake system.
What to see?
- Arch of Constantine
- The Roman Forum
- Palatine Hill
- Trajan's Markets
- Mamertine Prison
- Flavian Palace
- The Circus Maximus
- Colle Oppio Park and Domus Aurea
- Largo di Torre Argentina (where ancient temples where discovered)
- Castel Sant' Angelo (built as a Mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian)
- Baths of Caracalla
- The Old Appian Way
- Baths of Diocletian
- Museo Capitolino
- Palazzo dei Conservatori
This stunning monument dating to 13 BC is an altar commissioned to honor the return of Augustus from Gaul and Hispania. There is a freize representing figures advancing towards a Thanksgiving celebration for the Peace brought about by the Emperor. He is depicted on the altar along with other members of the imperial family. There are also freizes depicting a sacrifice and parades of captives.
The Ara Pacis today is enclosed in a new state of the art building. Admission is charged.
This is the Altar of Peace which "Emperor" Augustus had built as a propaganda piece to reflect the peace, order, and prosperity which his leadership brought, the beginning of the Pax Romana. Although relatively little-known, this is one of the outstanding artifacts from Augustan Rome. Of particular importance is the rich detail carved along it, showing propaganda symbols as well as members of Augustus's family and ruling circle.
Although I wrote this tip in October 2004, soon after joining VirtualTourist, I'm finally updating this and adding some pictures in 2013. Apparently, since 2006, it has a new museum building, although since I was last there in 1994 I am not familiar with that personally.