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Augustus in the 21st century

Now that work is completed on the new Ara Pacis museum in Rome, it seems that Augustus' Mausoleum is at last to get the attention it deserves.

I know not everybody likes the new Ara Pacis building, mainly on the grounds that it looks too 'modern' to fit in with Rome's other monuments. And to be fair, although I've looked at it from the outside, I haven't actually been in, so I haven't quite had the full experience.

What I did see of both the Mausoleum (foreground - all overgrown and gated up as it has been for years) and the new Ara Pacis building (background, left) when I went to Rome in June.

But from what I've seen of the building, I actually rather like it. Of course I love Rome's past, but half of the joy of Rome for me is seeing so many different pasts co-existing and interacting. One era building on and responding to another. I don't see why the process should be arrested now - an Eternal City, by definition, can't be set in aspic. It has to be allowed to grow and develop with each succeeding generation. To me, the new Ara Pacis building is part of a new chapter in Rome's history - a chapter enriched by its responses to the ones which came before. It's a bold statement of Rome's place in the 21st century - and I think Augustus would have been more than capable of appreciating that.

But perhaps what I really like about the Ara Pacis building, and the plans for the Mausoleum, is that they testify to a continuing interest in Rome's past. Even the controversy around the Ara Pacis building proves one thing above all else - that Romans today still care about how Augustus' monuments are presented in the urban fabric. They may not agree about how best to do it, but they do agree that it's a matter of great importance.

So long as that continues, I'm happy.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 26th, 2006 03:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's great news. The mausoleum just made me so sad, all covered in weeds and garbage. It wasn't even a friendly, pleasant kind of overgrown -- it was truly ugly and forgotten. Here's hoping they do something worthwhile with it.

I have nothing against modernity per se, and I actually like some of Richard Meier's other work, but the new Ara Pacis museum made me physically ill to look at it, seriously. One of my colleagues at the BSR put it this way: she said that the Ara Pacis is two immense egos that are competing for space and refusing to communicate with one another. I thought that was the perfect way of putting it.

This same colleague held up the new room for the Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue (and the temple of Jupiter they unearthed while digging that room) as a good example of a modern architect in dialogue with the past. I'd probably agree with her but I got so tired of seeing Marcus Aurelius' stupid curly beard that I just couldn't get excited about it. I fully realize that this my personal issue and not a fault of the architect :)
Aug. 26th, 2006 03:59 pm (UTC)
It wasn't even a friendly, pleasant kind of overgrown

No indeed - more like a refuge for empty beer-cans, stray dogs and graffiti artists. It appears to great effect in that guise in Peter Greenaway's Belly of an Architect (which if you've not seen, you must). But poignant film images aside, I'd prefer it to be better looked-after!

Like I said, I haven't experienced the Ara Pacis museum from the inside - only the out. So I might change my opinion if I actually saw the altar itself within that setting. But it's principle of doing something new with it that I really find exciting anyway.

Marcus Aurelius' stupid curly beard

And this phrase just had me doubled up with laughter.
Aug. 26th, 2006 03:42 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. I'd say more, but I've been promising myself a big catch-up academic blog posting for ages, and this may the the weekend I actually get to do it, and I was already planning on touching on the new Ara Pacis Museum there.
Aug. 26th, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
OK - then I look forward to hearing what you have to say in your own post.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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