It is with these words that Augustus, in his spiritual testimony, the Res Gestae, tells us of the Senate's decision to construct an altar to Peace, following the conclusion of his labours North of the Alps from 16 to 13 B.C.
The Ara Pacis Augustae
(Latin, "Altar of Augustan Peace"; commonly shortened to Ara Pacis
) is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 BC to honor the triumphal return from Hispania and Gaul of the Roman emperor Augustus, and was consecrated on 30 January 9 BC by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories. The altar was meant to be a vision of the Roman civil religion. It sought to portray the peace and fertile prosperity enjoyed as a result of the Pax Augusta
(Latin, "Augustan peace") brought about by the military supremacy of the Roman empire, and act as a visual reminder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that was bringing it about.
The recovery of the Ara Pacis began in the sixteenth century, and finished four centuries later, after many chance discoveries and amazing excavations, with the recomposition of the monument in 1938. The first sign of the resurgence of the altar from the foundations of the Palace of the Via di Lucina (successively owned by the Peretti, then the Fiano, then the Almagià families) came from an engraving made by Agostino Veneziano some time before 1536, which represented a swan with spread wings along with a sizeable piece of spiralled frieze. This is a clear sign that at that date the corresponding plaster-work of the Ara Pacis was already known. A subsequent recovery attempttook place in 1566, the year in which the cardinal Giovanni Ricci di Montepulciano acquired 9 large blocks of carved marble, which came from the Altar.
After this rediscovery, we hear nothing more about the altar until 1859, when the Peretti Palace, which had by now become the property of the Duke of Fiano, needed structural work, during which the base of the altar was seen, and numerous other sculpted fragments, not all of which were extracted "due to the narrowness of the site and fear of endangering the walls of the palace". Numerous fragments of the spiralled frieze were recovered on this occasion, but it was only in 1903, following Friedrich von Duhn's recognition of what the Altar was, that a request was sent to the Ministry of Public Education to continue the excavations. Their success was made possible by the generosity of Edoardo Almagià, who, as well as giving his permission for the exploration, donated in advance whatever should be discovered underneath the palace and made an ongoing financial contribution to the expenses of the excavation.
In July 1903, after the work had been started, it quickly became obvious that the conditions were extremely difficult and that the stability of the palace might well be compromised in the long-term. Therefore, when about half the monument had been examined and 53 fragments recovered, the excavation was called to a halt. In February 1937, the Italian Cabinet decreed that, as it was the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Augustus, the excavations should recommence, using the most advanced technology.
Between June and September 1938, as the excavations continued, work also began on the pavilion intended to house the Ara Pacis by the banks of the Tiber. On the 23rd September, the date on which the Augustan year ended, Mussolini inaugurated the monument.
The new museum complex for the Ara Pacis
The museum space was designed by the architectural studio of the American architect Richard Meier. It modulates around the contrast of light and shade: the first two parts of the building, particularly, are governed by this concept: visitors pass through the access gallery, an area in shadow, to reach the central pavilion which holds the Ara Pacis in full natural light filtered through 500 square metres of crystal panels. This expanse creates an uninterrupted continuity with the outside world, and also helps to create the silence necessary to enjoy the monument in full. In the tranquillity of the acoustic isolation, it is possible to appreciate the calm rhythms of the decorative motifs; to attend to the procession passing along the sides of the enclosure of the Altar, made up of the massed priests of the Augustan age and of members of the imperial family, guided by Augustus himself; to revisit the founding myths of Rome and the Augustan glory that brought the empire the enjoyment of such contented times that the period came to be called the Age of Gold.
Intero € 8,00; Ridotto € 6,00
Adults € 8,00; Reduced € 6,00
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