The largest circular tomb in the world, and the resting place of Rome’s first emperor. The Mausoleum of Augustus is one of the city’s lesser known Roman sites, for the very good reason that it was derelict for many years, and closed altogether in 2007. However, following a major programme of renovation, the Mausoleum re-opened to visitors earlier this year.
What Is The Mausoleum Of Augustus?
The Mausoleum of Augustus was one of many new buildings created by Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, who ruled the city from 27 BCE to 14 CE. He was known for his reforms to all aspects of Roman life, from the army to politics and religion. As part of these reforms, he re-shaped much of the city itself, building roads, aqueducts, and public places (the Circus Maximus also dates from this period).
The Mausoleum was built in 28 BCE on the Campus Martius (“Field of Mars”), an area beside the river previously used for military training. Its design was influenced by other ancient tombs, including the famous Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, in what is now Turkey. It was a massive white circular structure, with concentric walls separated by a passage leading to a central tomb. And it was topped by a bronze statue of the Emperor. At 87m wide, the Mausoleum of Augustus is still the largest circular burial place anywhere in the world.
Augustus himself was buried here, as were his wife, several later emperors, and other local dignitaries.
Restoration And Re-Opening
The Mausoleum was damaged during the Sack of Rome in 410 CE, but restored and used as a castle during the Middle Ages. It was briefly used as a concert hall at the beginning of the 20th century, until Mussolini closed it in the 1930s. He hoped to include it in a programme of excavation and restoration of the city’s Roman sites, but in the end the Mausoleum was untouched until 2007.
The site was eventually excavated, and a major restoration project began in 2016. The building was made safe, rubbish was cleared, and vegetation that had grown up around the monument was removed. At the same time the inner chambers were reconstructed. Despite the medieval modifications, it is thought that around half of the walls that you see today are from the original mausoleum. Unfortunately there is little now to be seen of the groves and walkways that once surrounded it.
The excavations revealed that the structure also included cellars, storage rooms, stables and even toilets. Two pink granite pillars that originally stood at the entrance were moved to the Piazza dell’Esquilino and the Piazza del Quirinale. And a sacred stone linked to the ancient legend of the founding of Rome is currently housed in the nearby Ara Pacis Museum (based around another of Augustus’ works, an altar to peace).
The site re-opened to the public in April 2021.
Visiting The Mausoleum Of Augustus
Your visit takes you along the corridors where funeral processions once took place. Then you reach the inner chamber, at the heart of the Mausoleum. This is where urns containing the ashes of the emperors and other important Romans were once kept. Plaques show the names of each person buried here. There are information boards, as well as augmented reality and virtual exhibits explaining the history of the site and of those who lay here.
Visitor numbers are currently limited to ten per hour, and pre-booking is essential. A tour of the site takes around 50 minutes. Note that there are several flights of stairs and the site may not be suitable for those with restricted mobility. The closest Metro station is Spagna.