The Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome is the biggest tomb with a round floor plan in existence. After having been closed for a very long time, it has now been restored and reopened to the public in March 2021. It was constructed by the emperor, for himself, his family members and his successors.
Mausoleum of Augustus Rome
Address, opening hours and entrance fee
Address: Piazza Augusto Imperatore. Telephone: N/A. Opening Hours: The Mausoleo di Augusto will reopen on March 1st, 2021. Opening times are not available yet. Entrance fee: Until April 1st the visit will be free of charge. From December 21st onward, it will be possible to book visits to the monument. (NB: Opening hours, availability etc. can be subject to change).
After Emperor Augustus had visited the tomb of Alexander the Great, he decided to construct an equally grandiose tomb for himself and his family in the Campo Marzio district. Construction started in 30 BC, on his return to Rome after having defeated Anthony and Cleopatra and thus having conquered Egypt. It was inaugurated by the emperor himself, in 28 BC. Augustus was then 34 years old.
A succession of possible heirs died before Augustus did, however, so he was not the first one to be buried in the mausoleum. When he finally died the funeral pyre was so big that it kept burning for no less than five days.
It was used as a burial place by the emperors from the beginning of our era. Their ashes were stored there in golden urns.
The exterior was then still covered with marble and around the round building were cypress trees and symmetrically arranged Egyptian obelisks.
In the 5th century, everything precious was stolen from the mausoleum. The ashes of the various emperors were thrown on the ground outside the monument.
During the middle ages the mausoleum was left abandoned and plundered. The structure itself came to be used for different purposes. In the 12th century the family Colonna used it as a fortress. Later it became a garden, in the 18th century an amphitheater and in the early 20th century a concert hall. At some point it was even used as an arena for bullfights.
Between 1936 and 1938, Mussolini had the entire area surrounding the monument demolished. The Piazza Augusto Imperatore was created and the monument restored.
What to see
The Mausoleum of Augustus has a diameter of 87 metres. It consists of a cylindrical building with another, smaller cylindrical structure in the middle. A bronze statue of Augustus was placed on top of this central structure. A high wall that used to protect the structure has completely disappeared.
A small staircase leads to the entrance of the monument. The two pillars flanking the staircase used to support bronze panels with inscriptions narrating the life of the emperor. This autobiography had been dictated by Augustus himself, just before he died. Although the original panels have disappeared, the words are known, since they were copied onto other temples in the empire. The best copy can be seen in Ankara, Turkey.
A long hallway leads to a round cell with three rectangular alcoves. These used to contain the tombs of the emperor’s family members.
Augustus‘ own tomb was probably placed inside a square room inside the central cylindrical pillar.
During his life, Augustus appointed several men, mostly family members, he considered worthy successors. All of these were either murdered or died through illness before the emperor himself died at the age of 76.
Augustus ended up being succeeded by his stepson Tiberius, a general the emperor was not very fond of. Apparently neither were the general’s soldiers, since they called him Biberius behind his back, because of a drinking problem.
The first person to be buried in the mausoleum was Marcellus, the son of his sister Octavia, who died of malaria when he was only 19 years old. Octavia is best known because she was married to Mark Anthony, who ended up eloping with Cleopatra.
Augustus did not allow his daughter Julia to be buried in the mausoleum. The reason was that she was supposed to have made love to five nobles at the same time. “Making love”, in this case, was probably a euphemism for political betrayal.
Another member of Augustus‘ lineage who did not make it into the mausoleum was Nero, who was not deemed worthy by the Senators at the time.
Nerva, who died in 98 AD, filled up the last remaining spot inside the mausoleum. Hadrian, therefore, had to build a new one, which he did across the river. His mausoleum is now known as the Castel Sant’Angelo.
The last person to cremated at the spot was not an emperor, however. The revolutionary Cola di Rienzo, who had been killed by a mob, was taken to the Mausoleum of Augustus to be burned there. This was probably a form of mockery, since the man is supposed to have claimed to be a “new Augustus“. History has been kind on him though, since he did end up having one of Rome‘s most important shopping streets named after him.
The word Mausoleum was taken from a famous tomb, which had been built for King Mausolus of Halicarnassus (an ancient Greek city, now Bodrum in Turkey).