The Ara Pacis is at the same time a monument and an exhibition space in Rome. The former “Altar of Peace” is now the Ara Pacis Museum (Museo dell’Ara Pacis) and generally hosts some of the best exhibitions going on in the Eternal City. The Ara Pacis itself was constructed in order to celebrate the peace restored in the empire after Augustus had returned from Spain.
Ara Pacis Museum Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Lungotevere in Augusta – Rome (tel. +39 060608, which is the information number for the city of Rome). Opening hours: 09.30 till 19.30 (December 24, 31 from 09.30 till 14.00). Admission: 10,50 Euros (Rome residents 8,50 Euros); concessions: 8,50 Euros (Rome residents 6,50 Euros); age 0-6: Free. On the first Sunday of the month the museum is free for Rome residents.
After Augustus, between 16 and 13 BC, had conquered Gallia and Spain, says Augustus in the Res Gestae, the Senate decided to build an Altar of Peace in his honor. The Ara Pacis was inaugurated on January 30 of the year 9 BC (Livia, Augustus‘ wife’s, birthday).
It was put up on a highly visible spot on the Campus Martius near the Via Flaminia. The location was not accidental. At the time this was the main entrance road into the Eternal City for pilgrim’s arriving from the north, and all these pilgrims would therefore realize straightaway what a great and important man the Emperor was.
Near the monument a sundial was built, which was called the sundial of Augustus.
Unfortunately the river Tiber flooded very often in those days and its sediment ended up covering the Ara Pacis completely. The monument came to be forgotten until, by chance, a piece of the Altar was found in 1536.
The Ara Pacis was surrounded by a wall measuring 11.65 by 10,60 meters. There were doors on both the east (Via Flaminia) and west (Campo Marzio) sides. The walls were decorated with depictions of important events in Roman history, in particular events that featured Augustus, his second wife Livia and her son Tiberius, who was to be the next emperor.
The decorations, often including flowers and animals, show a wealth in detail. Unlike in Greek art they do not come across as stiff and idealized, but are very lively. Unfortunately the original colors have completely disappeared.
The reliefs on the short sides depict mythical events in the history of Rome. The long sides feature a procession led by the emperor, who is followed by his relatives.
The material used was the famous white Carrara marble.
The altar itself consists of a table on raised platform, and was used once a year for animal offers.
The base of the altar is decorated with a text called Res Gestae Divi Augusti, which is really a list of all the important feats performed the emperor himself.
In the year 1903 Friedrich von Duhn realized that the many fragments unearthed throughout the years might actually have formed the original Altar of Peace. Excavations were started in a more systematic way, but were interrupted when the Palazzo di Via Lucina, which stood on top of the former Ara Pacis, came close to collapsing.
In 1937 (not coincidentally exactly 2000 years after the birth of Augustus), excavations were re-started. Modern technology facilitated the excavations and in 1938 Mussolini inaugurated the monument.
To rebuild the monument in its original spot would have been impossible, so it was placed in the vicinity of Augustus’ Mausoleum. The architect Dita Vaselli proposed to build a glass wall around it, but the war and lack of money, intervened and his project was never even started. In the end it became necessary to protect the Altar of Peace by, first, sandbags and, finally, an anti-shrapnel wall.
From the end of World War II onward, several attempts were made to restore the monument. However, it was not until 1995 that the Municipality of Rome entrusted the American architect Richard Meier to redesign the Ara Pacis building. He came up with a rather controversial design, since the Museo dell’Ara Pacis is now the one completely modern building in an area characterized by ancient monuments.
In 2012 the Ara Pacis was very much in the news for a while. Rome’s then mayor decided that the architect Richard Meier‘s controversial project would have to be changed. The high wall obstructing the view of the two nearby churches, San Girolamo and San Rocco, would be torn down and the Fountain of the Navigator on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore was to be moved. In the end the plans were discarded.