Augustus’s Mausoleum was one of the emperor’s first major building projects in Rome. Built in 28 BC, August is said to have been inspired by the mausoleum of Alexander the Great in Alexandria, Egypt. Although this is the largest circular funerary monument in the world, it was left in a ruinous condition until restoration started in earnest in October 2016. The restored mausoleum is due to open in Spring 2020, with free entry to visitors.
The Mausoleum of Augustus in 2016 before restoration. Photograph © Ethan Doyle-White
After a restoration project costing €6.5 million funded largely by the Italian telecommunications company TIM, the Mausoleum of Augustus will once again welcome visitors. Besides being the final resting place of the Roman Empire’s first Emperor, the ashes of a number of other important people were also laid to rest here. These include Augustus’s wife Livia, Germanicus – a prominent general in the Roman Empire, and the emperors Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. Nerva, the last Roman Emperor for which the mausoleum was opened, was also laid to rest here.
Description of the Mausoleum
This great tomb is the largest in the Roman world. It was only matched, not bettered by Hadrian’s Mausolem – now on the other side of the Tiber River, the Castel Sant Angelo is open to the public.
Given the poor state of preservation, the original appearance is not known. Some suggest it was a large mound on a 12 metre high foundation that had an external facing of travertine. Others suggest the structure had a stepped profile, facilitated by a series of concentric walls made of concrete, joined to each other by buttresses. The completed circular mausoleum had a diameter of 87 metres and it is thought a height around 42 metres. At the heart of the mausoleum there were a series of chambers, which once held the urns of the Imperial family. The innermost probably held the remains of Augustus himself.
These inner chambers were reached by a narrow corridor from the entrance, on either side of which stood two pink granite obelisks. These were removed and now stand in the Piazza dell’Esquilino (north west side of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore) and at the Quirinal fountain.
A Brief History of the Mausoleum
Like many ancient sites and monuments that have survived intact or partially intact, the Mausoleum of Augustus has had an interesting history. It was not simply a funerary tomb that decayed over time only to be salvaged by antiquarians and archaeologists. It was even used as a concert venue!
28 BC Construction started on the mausoleum, and until 217 AD the ashes of the Julio-Claudio dynasty Emperors (excluding Nero) and their family were placed in the inner chambers.
12th century The Colanna princes fortified the structure, much like Hadrian’s Mausoleum was turned into a fortress at this time.
1241 Pope Gregory IX expelled the Colanna family, and destroyed the fortress.
18th century The Soderini family bought the site and created an ornate garden within the enclosure. Subsequently it was used to stage bullfights, then for theatrical and circus performances.
1907- 1936 The inner enclosure was converted into a concert hall, known as the Augusteo it seated around 3,500 people.
Mussolini put an end to the concerts, the last one performed on 13 May 1936. He rather fancied it for a tomb for himself as part of his regeneration of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore. This never happened.
For a more detailed history of this important monument, have a look at the official website and the interactive experience of the history of the Mausoleum of Augustus.
An Interactive Experience
In the following promotional video, we learn that technology will play an important part of the visitor experience at the newly restored site.
Map – Where is the Mausoleum of Augustus?
The Mausoleum was built on the Campus Martuis in Rome, north of the Capitoline Hill.
Today the mausoleum is on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, between the church of San Carlo al Corso and the Museum of the Ara Pacis. The map also indicates the position of the two obelisks that once flanked the entrance to the mausoleum.
For added interest, click on the yellow ‘pegman’ in the lower right corner of the map and drag it on to the map to the light blue lines or dots – they give you street views and 360 photographs from that spot.
Visiting the Mausoleum of Augustus
Currently the site is closed for renovation and due to open in spring 2020. It can be viewed from the street.
Reports state that entry to the site will be free.